Bhaderwah (J&K), Oct 17 (PTI) A large number of devotees thronged two ancient temples in this town of Jammu and Kashmir's Doda district on Saturday, the first day of the Navratri festival, as the local management opened the doors of the shrines for the first time in seven months.
The ancient Mahakali and Maa Chandi temples were closed in March in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. While most of the places of worship reopened in August after the government eased the lockdown restrictions, the management of the two shrines had decided against opening the gates as a precautionary measure.
Devotees from Bhaderwah and its peripheral areas started gathering at the 600-year-old Mahakali temple located at a hilltop in the famous Bhaderwah fort to offer special prayers on the first day of the nine-day festival, officials said.
On this auspicious occasion, the 'kalasastapa and hawan' rituals, followed by 'puran-aahuti' and 'bhandara' (community food) marked the beginning of the event in a traditional way, they said.
Besides several groups of pilgrims from different parts of Bhaderwah Valley and elsewhere, the main 'charri' (holy mace) was taken from Atalgarh, led by religious preacher Satya Devi Manhas.
Neeraj Singh Manhas, a devotee hailing from Atalgarh village, said he is happy to be back at the temple to offer prayers and seek the blessings of Mahakali.
'We observed Navratri in March at our homes (due to the lockdown) but now, after some relaxations, we are here after seven months to take the blessings of Mahakali,' he said.
The devotees also made a beeline at the Maa Chandi temple located at Chinote.
'We reached here early in the morning to seek the blessings of the goddess. I am feeling relieved,' Ronika Rajput, who along with a friend, Shilpa, visited the shrine to offer prayers, said.
There was no distribution of 'prasad' and offerings were also not taken at the temples as part of the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Elaborate security arrangements have been made at both the temples in view of the expected rush of pilgrims.
Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO), Bhaderwah Abdul Gafoor said troops of police and CRPF personnel have been deployed in strength in and around all the temples to ensure a strict adherence to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and guidelines for the safety of people against COVID-19. PTI CORR/TAS RC