Temples open in Himachal Pradesh but Covid scare keeps devotees away
Temples opened across Himachal Pradesh after five months on Thursday but the Covid-19 scare was evident as few devotees turned up to offer prayers.
The cabinet had decided on September 4 to open all religious places in the hill state, also known as Devbhoomi, with strict safety guidelines in place.
Bajreshwari Temple, one of the 52 Shakti Peethas, in Kangra town wore deserted look even hours after the temple opened on Thursday morning. Few local devotees turned up.
The situation was similar in other temples in Una, Bilaspur and Hamirpur districts.
Raj Kumar Sharma, a priest at Chamunda temple, said: “Today is just the first day. We expect the number of devotees to increase in the coming days.”
Devotees were allowed to enter the temple premises only after thermal screening.
Chintpurni temple opened at the 9am with a few devotees from surrounding areas. Una deputy commissioner Sandeep Kumar cycled to the temple to review the arrangements.
Chamunda temple was opened at 11am after the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) inspected the premises to review the safety arrangements.
At Jwalamukhi temple, a total 349 devotees came to pay obeisance. However, the priests and the shopkeepers are unhappy over the opening and closing time of the temples.
Kapil Sharma, a priest at the Jwalamukhi Shrine, said the temple trust had fixed the timing from 9am to 5pm like government offices. However, most devotees come early morning or late evening during the aarti, said Sharma. He said the timings should be changed to 6am to 10pm.
Meanwhile, temples in Hamirpur also opened according to the government guidelines.
Mahant Rajinder Giri, chief priest of Baba Balak Nath Temple, Deotsid, has welcomed the government’s decision to open the temples and appealed devotees to follow the norms to prevent spread of the virus.
According to the guidelines, a maximum 500 pilgrims a day will be allowed at the Chintpurni Temple in Una and at the shrines of Kangra and Hamirpur districts, while 1,000 devotees will be allowed to offer prayers Naina Devi Temple in Bilaspur everyday.
Offerings are prohibited and devotees are not allowed to touch anything.
For devotees coming from outside the state, a Covid-19 negative report and two days of prior booking is mandatory.
The pandemic not only hit the income of local residents dependent on the temples for a livelihood but also took a toll on the income of the temples as donations dipped by more than 90% during the lockdown.
Vinay, who runs a shop near Bajreshwari temple, said vendors had suffered huge losses due to the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown. “However, we can now hope our businesses will resume as devotees will start visiting temples,” he said.