Kedarnath shrine.(HT Photo)
Kedarnath shrine.(HT Photo)

Amid Covid-19 lockdown, religious rituals, ceremonies take digital avatar

Those who used to start their day with a visit to the temples are now performing online darshan to start their day.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON MAY 02, 2020 09:11 AM IST

In the wake of the nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus, many religious places have gone online to stay connected with their devotes.

Those who used to start their day with a visit to the temples are now performing online darshan to start their day. Most of the temples in Uttar Pradesh are webcasting artis, darshans and other rituals.

“We’re under complete lockdown, but we’re trying to stay connected with devotees who keep on calling us for performing pujas inside the temples like before. We just tell them to wait for some more time. They can go online to our Facebook page where evening arti is webcast,” said Mahant Divya Giri, head priest of Mankameshwar temple.

The devotees of the Golden Temple, a famous Sikh shrine in Punjab, who are not able to physically visit the holy site have turned to live streaming of kirtan on Facebook to stay connected with the age-old rituals that have been traditionally performed there.

Keepers of the faith, including granthis (Sikh priests), ragis (traditional Gurbani singers) and sewadars (persons who render their services in performing rituals), begin their day as early as 2 am for the Amrit vela (the pre-dawn) ceremony that starts with the opening of the kiwars (doors of darshani deori). The rituals continue till 11.00 pm.

Earlier, the kirtan was broadcast for a few hours in the morning and evening on a private channel which also used to share it on its Facebook page. Ever since the lockdown is imposed, the kirtan is telecast the whole day on a newly-created FB page, enabling the devotees to listen to the kirtan at home while being locked down.

Chief secretary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Roop Singh, said, “Crores of devotees listen to kirtan through online live streaming across the world”. The SGPC, which manages the affairs of the shrine, has been providing non-stop audio live telecast of kirtan on its official website for many years.

In Uttarakhand, after the portals of three of the Char Dham shrines opened amid the lockdown, priests said they would opt for digital worship/webcasting if required, especially in case the lockdown continues and pilgrims are unable to attend.

The Char Dham yatra, which continues for six months, attracts lakhs of pilgrims and tourists to the state from across the world. Portals of the Gangotri and the Yamunotri shrines opened on April 26 while portals of the Kedarnath shrine opened on April 29. Portals of the Badrinath shrine will open on May 15.

Deepak Semwal, secretary of the Gangotri Dham Committee said even without pilgrims, the rituals will continue as per the tradition.

Semwal said, however, pilgrims will have the option of booking slots for online prayers in these difficult times when they cannot come for the pilgrimage to the Char Dham shrines. He said digital and online methods are some of the safest options these days.

“If the pilgrims are not able to reach the shrines and want to offer prayers, then they can book slots online and see the ritual and prayers being offered here. We have facilities for digital worshipping and we will use them if needed. We will not be able to telecast rituals being performed in the sanctum sanctorum as photography or videography is not allowed but pilgrims can see other rituals,” said Semwal.

In Himachal Pradesh, the Baba Balak Nath Temple, Deotsidh trust webcasts live arti twice a day. Temple official OP Lakhanpal said that the number of viewers varies and on an average, there are 2,000 to 3,000 attendees daily.

 “Offerings and donations during the lockdown period were negligible. The month-long Chaitra fairs were also cancelled which will result in the downfall in the overall annual income,” he said.

 At Chamunda temple in Kangra, Suman Dhiman said that earlier the temple trust had roped in a private firm for webcasting the arti which is performed twice a day. However, the same has now been stopped as the cost was high. However, a TV channel webcasts the arti daily on its own.

In the south Indian states of Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, no live streaming of any rituals in important temples like Guruvayur, Sabarimala and Sree Padmanabha Swami temples is being carried out.

Even when there was Chandanotsavam, an important religious ritual at the famous Simhachalam temple in Visakhapatnam on April 27, no webcast was done. It was attended only by few priests and the trust board chairman.

Rituals are quite different in south and north India. In the south, only priests are allowed to the inner precincts of the sanctum sanctorum.

Not only temples but Islamic Centre of India Darul Uloom Farangi Mahal is also live streaming evening Taraweeh (prayer). Head of Islamic Centre of India Darul Uloom Farangii Mahal Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahali said, “Yes we started webcasting the namaz on our Facebook page because It is not right for people to congregate at one place. It’s for the first time we are not allowing any gatherings at the Idgah mosque, that’s why we decided to webcast evening prayers.”

Meanwhile, churches in Uttar Pradesh are also organizing Sunday Mass on Facebook pages. “Technology is a blessing from God and we are using it to reach out to our church members. Even during Good Friday, the sermons were delivered in the absence of any gathering,” said Father Donald De Souza, parish priest St Joseph Cathedral Church, Hazratganj.

The webcast of rituals and practices has also led to a fall in the revenue of the religious places like the Golden Temple in Amritsar. From an average collection of offerings of Rs 23 lakh a day (Rs 85 crore for the year, including those received online) in 2019-20, its collection during the curfew has dipped to between Rs 10,000-15,000 a day, said an SGPC official who did not want to be quoted. The Golden Temple sees an average daily footfall of 1 lakh devotees which has now dipped to around 1,000 a day, with devotees mostly coming in from areas near the shrine. 

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