With places of worship being allowed to re-open after nearly 80 days of lockdown, several temples, mosques and churches across south India cautiously opened their doors to devotees on Monday. Some of the major temples in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, including the Tirumala, Yadadri and Dharmasthala temples, opened while following the COVID-19 precautions.
Following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by the Central and respective state governments, temple and mosque authorities put in place elaborate measures to ensure safety, including use of face masks, thermal screening of visitors, physical distancing and provision of sanitisers and disinfectants.
Several major Hindu temples opened based on trial runs, to assess the capacity of the temple to accommodate visitors while adhering to the guidelines.
One of the most popular Hindu shrines in the world, the Venkateswara temple at Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh opened for darshan at 6 am on Monday, with the entry restricted to Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) employees and their family members. The temple will conduct trial runs for three days before opening to the general public from Thursday.
TTD employees and their family members will be allowed inside for the first two days, while on the third day, devotees in Tirumala will be permitted to have darshan.
About 500 TTD employees wearing PPE kits were deployed in the temple premises to regulate the queues, according to IANS.
Srikalahasti temple, another key pilgrim site in Chittoor district, remained closed as it is located in a containment zone.
The Srisailam temple in Kurnool district also resumed darshan on a trial run. Executive Officer KS Rama Rao told IANS that on the first day, only temple employees were allowed inside. Others will be allowed to have darshan from Tuesday.
"We are ensuring compliance with all safety measures laid down by the government. Every devotee must wear a face mask and undergo thermal screening. Six feet distance between two devotees is mandatory," he said.
The Srisailam temple has decided to allow only 3,000 devotees per day. The authorities asked people to book darshan tickets online. The temple will also arrange 'anna prasadam' (offerings) with safety guidelines.
The Simhachalam temple in Visakhapatnam district also re-opened for darshan on a trial basis. The public will be allowed to visit the temple from June 10. Temple officials asked the devotees to book their slots online, and visit the temple accordingly, with identity proof.
Vijayawada's Kanaka Durga temple also opened its doors only for temple staff and locals on Monday. The trial run will continue for two days. The temple officials said that from June 10, only those who book tickets online will be allowed for darshan.
Temples across Telangana also re-opened with temple authorities implementing a 'no mask no entry' policy, on the direction of the Endowments Department.
The Endowments Department made it clear that theertham and prasadam (offerings) will not be distributed. It issued detailed guidelines to the temples on the precautionary measures to be taken.
Devotees have been asked to wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before entering the temples. Common practices such as touching statues, idols and holy books, and taking a holy dip in the water bodies near the temples have been prohibited.
According to the guidelines, if a person showing symptoms of COVID-19, or has already tested positive for the virus, is spotted at the temple premises, he/she should be immediately isolated in a room, and medical officials must be alerted.
The famous Sri Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy temple at Yadadri re-opened at 8.30 am on Monday following the SOP prescribed by the state government. The temple authorities allowed only the temple employees and devotees in the neighbourhood to have a free ‘laghu darshan’.
Visitors had to undergo thermal screening before entering the temple. In the queues for 'darshan', a distance of six-feet was being maintained between two devotees. The temple employees provided clear markings on the ground to ensure physical distancing.
Temples at Basara, Bhadrachalam, Vemulawada and other places in Telangana also re-opened on Monday.
The priest of the Nalla Pochamma temple at Begumpet in Hyderabad told TNM that regular devotees and residents had started to visit the temple in small numbers while wearing masks.
Nalla Pochamma temple in Begumpet, Hyderabad
In Hyderabad, the Mecca masjid continued to be closed to the public, The Hindu reported. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board reportedly issued guidelines for having multiple congregations, in anticipation of more visitors on Friday. Several other mosques in the city also chose to remain closed to the public, with only employees allowed to offer prayers.
Devotees thronged temples in coastal Karnataka as they were opened after more than two months.
At the Manjunatheshwara Temple in Dharmasthala, temperature checks were conducted and sanitisers were made available for devotees who turned up early on Monday morning. The temple officials had already held a trial run ahead of the temple's reopening on Monday. Devotees were seen entering the temple premises maintaining distance and wearing masks.
In the Gokarnanatheshwara temple in Kudroli, Mangaluru, a 'Dhanvantari Homa' was held on Monday morning by the temple authorities.
A few temples in Bengaluru were reopened to low footfall. Lakshmi, a flower seller seated outside the ISKCON temple complex at the Kacharakanahalli lakebed, told TNM that there were very few visitors on Monday morning. Lakshmi said, "Since I also sell other items, I have kept the shop open, but nobody came to the complex. I open the shop, and then close it without seeing customers. Today wasn't any different."
The Shirdi Sai Baba temple, which is situated in the same temple complex as ISKCON, was open but was completely deserted. Meanwhile, a small wedding ceremony had been organised in one of the halls in the temple complex. All those who were entering were being screened for temperature, and all the tables were arranged at a distance from each other. No music had been arranged for the wedding.
However, there were others who said they weren't affected during the lockdown. Ramesh Dixit, the purohit of a standalone Shiva temple in Kacharakanahalli, said that it has been business as usual for him. Although all religious institutions were asked to shut when the lockdown started, Ramesh said he kept his temple open throughout the period.
Shiva temple in Kacharakanahalli, Bengaluru
"Last month, I held a total of four weddings. I am open every day from 6.30 am to 11 am. But expecting more people, I decided to open the temple at 5 am on Monday and had devotees as usual,” he said.
Two other temples in Bengaluru that TNM visited were locked, and residents said that the temples had been shut for the past month, and had not been opened since.
Mosques in Bengaluru have also been sanitised and prepared for visitors. The main masjid in Bengaluru’s Benson Town saw about 35 visitors for the morning prayers. “We are taking measures as per the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) guidelines. Two days ago, we sanitised all the three mosques under our trust. We have procured equipment for sanitation, like blowers for fumigation, instead of employing people from outside. Our staff has been trained to do cleaning and fumigation themselves. We have marked out areas for physical distancing and have purchased around 20 sanitisers, 10 in the main mosque and four each in the other two mosques. We are also carrying out thermal screenings,” FS Afsar Khadri, secretary of the Jumma Masjid Trust Board in Bengaluru, told TNM.
Sanitisation work being done at the Benson Town mosque, Bengaluru
He added that the coming Friday will be more of a challenge for them, with more visitors expected.
“It will be an experiment of sorts, since that is when the most number of people usually come to the mosques. So we have planned to have three congregations in one mosque, and two each in the other two mosques. Since children and senior citizens will not be allowed (as specified by the Centre), we will have to make sure that there is only one-third of what the normal turnout usually is,” Afsar Khadri added.
In Kerala, the Guruvayoor temple in Thrissur district will open on Tuesday, while the Sabarimala temple is expected to open on June 14 at 5 pm, and close again on June 19 at 10 pm.
Major churches and mosques in Kerala have chosen to wait for a few more days before taking a call on opening.
Although Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan gave the go-ahead for places of worship to open from June 8, the Palayam Juma Mosque in Thiruvananthapuram and the Palayam Muhiyudheen Palli in Kozhikode decided to wait a little longer.
Similarly, churches in Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala will remain closed at least till June 30, in light of the surge in COVID-19 cases within the archdiocese limits.
In Tamil Nadu, places of worship remained closed. The state government is yet to make an announcement on the matter.
With inputs from Prajwal, Alithea, Sanyukta, Rajeswari and IANS