COVID-19: Religious places in Maharashtra open doors after more than a year

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray with his family offering worship at Mumbai's Mumba Devi temple.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

After a COVID-19-induced hiatus of more than a year, religious places across Maharashtra opened their doors to devotees on Thursday with several big temple trusts making online booking compulsory in a bid to preclude overcrowding.

Also read: Maharashtra BJP launches protest for reopening temple

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who, along with his wife Rashmi Thackeray and State Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray, offered worship at Mumbai’s Mumba Devi Temple, cautioned the public to strictly adhere to COVID-19 protocols.

“While everyone has a right to enjoy, I urge people to remain safe by heeding pandemic regulations and behave like responsible citizens,” Mr. Thackeray said.

Also read: Uddhav Thackeray performs ‘mahapuja’ at Pandharpur Temple, prays for end of Covid-19 scourge

The Chief Minister noted that arrangements made by trustees and priests at all religious places across the State were designed in a way so as to prevent a spread in the contagion.

“With the COVID-19 threat yet to subside, I appreciate the fact that temple authorities have used technology to arrange ‘darshan’ in temples by using the e-pass system and QR code scanning,” Mr. Thackeray said.

The opening of temples and other religious places, shut since March last year, had snowballed into a political battle between Mr. Thackeray’s Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition and the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties such as Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA).

In August this year, the BJP had staged an aggressive statewide protest demanding the re-opening of temples on grounds that the government gave more importance to the opening of liquor bars than religious places. Symbolically blowing conches in their ‘shankhnaad’ agitation and defying COVID-19 regulations, hundreds of BJP activists and State leaders had participated in protests in key temple town areas sited in Pune, Mumbai, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Nagpur and Solapur districts while throwing pandemic norms to the winds.

Last year, just after the first wave, Mr. Ambedkar and his VBA activists had staged a big agitation outside the Vitthal-Rukmini temple in Pandharpur (in Solapur district), demanding the re-opening of all religious spots in the State.

Meanwhile, all major temples across the State, including the Shirdi Saibaba in Ahmednagar, Pandharpur’s iconic Vitthal Rukmini in Solapur district, Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak Temple and Pune’s Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati, made it mandatory for devotees to book an online slot for worship, while permitting entry of devotees in limited numbers.

Police patrol

In many cases, double-vaccinated police personnel were seen patrolling temple premises to monitor large crowds for thronging outside the gates.

The famous Ekvira Devi Temple in Lonavla, perched high atop a hill, opened its doors early in the morning with the Pune rural police strictly enforcing rules by controlling the crowd of devotees. The temple houses the family deity of the Thackeray family. Policemen were seen monitoring crowds outside the historic Tulja Bhavani temple in Osmanabad district as well.

Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak Temple permitted entry to only 250 devotees, who had booked an online slot previously, while putting up large boards detailing COVID-19 appropriate behaviour.

The Shirdi Saibaba temple has restricted the flow of people to 15,000 while the Vitthal-Rukmini Temple has limited the flow of devotees to 10,000 per day.

Deputy Chief Minister and senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar, who visited the Siddhivinayak temple, impressed upon people the need to follow norms to ensure that the religious places could remain open in the future.

“We have opened all temples and other religious places on the occasion of Navratri with certain conditions to avoid overcrowding. There will be a series of festivals after this, with Deepavali and Christmas not far behind. So, to ensure that this festive atmosphere prevails, people must follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour at all times,” Mr. Pawar said.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 6:14:36 AM |

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