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Functioning of Places of Worship amidst the Pandemic

Worship Places expected to follow the Covid-19 guidelines amidst the Pandemic. Social distancing, regular sanitization and online worship becomes a part of the new normal

By Aishwarya Seth

The Indian subcontinent has a vibrant landscape of religious communities and places representing all faiths, ranging from mosques, temples, gurdwaras and churches to ashram and synagogues. India prides itself in having it all. But earlier this year, these buoyant religious places were forced to shut down due to the ongoing pandemic. Currently, worship places around the country have approached to work in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines. Restrictions entail practicing social distancing, reducing the number of visitors, and making use of the sanitizer.

Photo credits: dreamtime.com

“It was fascinating to see Tirupati temple without the pushing and pulling of people, there were relatively fewer people and the darshan took place peacefully”, stated Aruna Bhatnagar, a resident of the Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh. The Tirupati temple in the town of Tirumala is flocked with millions of devotees every year. A limited number of people can participate in performed rituals. The entrance of the temple is modified in regard to the social distancing guidelines. Various traditions like cutting of hair or buying Prasad (religious offering) among other traditions are expected to be conducted under the covid-19 guidelines.

Except for a couple of days in 1972, the Jama Masjid in Delhi has never been closed for a long period of time. The majestic red tomb mosque was hailed by devotees who bought their own personal mats and kneeled on the marble floor where designated yellow stickers were placed. “The basic etiquettes of personal hygiene, like a mask and social distancing, are followed inside the mosque. People are also encouraged to bring their prayer mats” said Danish Wajid, a resident of Delhi. Wajid further mentioned that these are not ordinary customs as spacing is severely discouraged or prohibited during a normal prayer session.

The Karya Sidhi Hanuman temple in Delhi reopened with celebratory musicians and a booth that sprayed jet sanitizers on all the visitors. Among them was Supriya Jain, who was waiting to get back on her spiritual track. She lives behind the temple and has been visiting it every week since the past five years until the lockdown did not allow her to continue her weekly tradition. Earlier the temple used to be a vibrant place with tons of people offering their prayers, but now we can’t even put a garland on the idol as there is a ribbon that acts as a barricade to prevent human contact with the Murti (idol),” explained Jain. She further mentioned that at a given time, only three people were allowed to worship the deity and children below the age of 10 were not allowed to enter the temple. “My child was outside while I went inside to worship as they were not letting children enter,” added Jain. Talking about the norms of social distancing amidst the pandemic, pandit Vinod Shastri, who has been serving as a pandit in the hanuman temple for years, said, "All the pandits made sure to wear gloves and a mask while working in the temple, I have observed that the footfall has increased as people feel their prayers can help fight COVID-19”. Shastri further mentioned that they regularly organize Hawans to pray for a happier and healthier world without the coronavirus.

The Sikh community, known for serving people selflessly and relentlessly during protests and natural disasters, altruistically fed the hungry through their langar service irrespective of their religion, caste, or class. They ensured no one sleeps on an empty stomach during these testing times. Through their community spirit and network of Gurudwaras, they’ve helped countless individuals combat this humanitarian and hunger crisis. The Gurudwara's in all parts of Delhi-NCR is promoting safe methods of worship. Be it the Bangla Sahab Gurudwara in Delhi or the Sadht Sangat Gurudwara in Gurgaon, the measures being implemented are quite extensive. Rajinder Ahluwalia, a resident of Gurgaon, shared with the First Draft, “One entrance was opened instead of two and there was a thermometer check for everyone, The shoe collecting place was no longer operational and each individual was responsible for placing the shoes on a rack”, said Ahluwalia. She added small carpet cushions were placed inside the Gurudwara at six distance feet to ensure social distancing.

Sanitization takes place at regular intervals after each person finishes praying from their individual carpet. The practice of offering Prashad in hand has switched to a long-serving spoon to avoid physical contact. Apart from these necessary measures, there are some intriguing techniques being practised in the state of Meghalaya. People there, have resorted to online prayers over the past 8 months as all the churches were closed, the Shiv temple in the state of Madhya Pradesh installed a bell with a sensor which can ring without physically touching it whereas in Tamil Nadu even singing is prohibited as it is believed that it might lead to the spread of the coronavirus.

Edited by Himanya Chadha and Sakshi Jain