Prayers amid pandemic: Maha shrines reopen after 8 months

·4-min read

(Eds: with updates) Mumbai, Nov 16 (PTI) With prayers on their lips and devotion in hearts, people in Maharashtra visited places of religious worship which reopened on Monday after remaining shut for nearly eight months due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, marking further easing of restrictions in the state.

The state government has put in place strict COVID-19 protocols for devotees to ensure there was no spread in the infection when temple and other places of worship are thrown open for members of the general public.

Wearing of face masks and maintaining social distancing at shrines have been made mandatory.

Places of religious worship were shut nationwide in late March due to the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown.

Devotees were seen visiting the famous Siddhivinayak temple and the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, and some other prominent religious places in the state.

The reopening of the places of worship coincided with Diwali 'Padwa' (Marathi New Year), an important festival in the state, and 'bhai dooj' which were celebrated on Monday.

Early in the morning, devotees were seen visiting Lord Vitthal's temple at Pandharpur in Solapur district, Saibaba's shrine in Shirdi, Goddess Tulja Bhavani's temple in Osmanabad and the Siddhivinayak temple and the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai.

The renowned Grishneshwar Temple at Ellora in Maharashtra's Aurangabad district also saw a stream of devotees.

The Grishneshwar temple trust's chairperson, Shashank Topre, said all COVID-19 norms, including social distancing and wearing of masks, were being followed strictly and devotees not adhering to them were being turned back.

The Siddhivinayak Temple Trust's chairman, Aadesh Bandekar, on Sunday said only 1,000 devotees will be allowed inside the temple every day in staggered time slots to be booked through a mobile phone application.

Talking to PTI over the phone on Monday, Bandekar said, 'We have received good response today...we are letting in 100 people per hour (to ensure physical distancing). Body temperatures and QR codes of devotees are being checked.' 'The temples access barrier is being opened only if a devotee is wearing mask. A proper system is being followed, he said.

The temple trust will review the situation after two days and may allow more devotees to have darshan of Lord Ganesh based on the assessment, Bandekar said.

He urged senior citizens, pregnant women and children -- considered as more vulnerable to novel coronavirus infection -- to take care of themselves given the prevailing situation.

'Senior citizens can download our mobile app, they can get darshan of Bappa live 24X7...hence, they should not hurry (into visiting the temple). Bappa is there to take care of you, but take care of yourselves,' he said.

Bandekar said the trust has not said 'no' to senior citizens for visiting the temple. 'But, it should be avoided given the pandemic situation,' he added.

Body temperatures of devotees were also being checked and their hands sanitised outside the Haji Ali Dargah.

As per the standard operating procedures (SOPs) released by the state government, religious places located out of COVID-19 containment zones have been allowed to reopen as per the timings decided by authorities, and devotees will be allowed inside in a staggered manner.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday announced reopening of the places of worship, but also cautioned people, saying it cannot be forgotten that the 'demon of coronavirus' still persists and called for following discipline.

The opposition BJP had been seeking reopening of the places of worship and earlier questioned the Thackeray governments decision to not reopen temples at a time when bars were allowed to resume services.

The chief minister, however, had defended his decision, saying it was difficult to follow physical distancing at the places of worship.

Last month, the issue had also led to a stand-off between Thackeray and Governor B S Koshyari, who reminded the Shiv Sena president of his Hindutva credentials and asked if he had turned 'secular'.

Koshyari's letter to the chief minister was criticised by constituents of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government.

Thackeray had said that after places of worship are reopened, rules and safety protocols have to be followed strictly, and laid stress on wearing masks.

'If we follow discipline, we will get God's blessings,' the CM had said.

The state had also seen a string of agitations demanding reopening of shrines.

According to the SOPs laid down by the government, only asymptomatic people will be allowed inside places of worship and wearing of face mask is mandatory for devotees.

The number of people to be allowed inside such places in a particular time slot will be decided on the size of the structure and ventilation.

Devotees will have to maintain social distancing, while management of such places will have to conduct thermal scanning and make available hand wash or sanitisers, according to the SOPs. PTI ENM AW GK RSY RSY