Religious Voices Divided over Reopening of Temples in Odisha

The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in March signalled an abrupt halt for almost all sectors and industries across India. For what is today a cataclysmic disaster for the world, even the divinity was not spared the trouble. In compliance with the protocols, all religious shrines and mass-gathering programmes associated with such activities had to be cancelled in the greater interest. However, with rising uncertainty about an end date to the pandemic, several voices of dissent have been growing, with a clarion call for reopening temples in Odisha.

While the revised unlock guidelines have provided leeway to major religious spots throughout India, the Odisha government is treading the cautious route by opting for a lockdown of all forms of religious congregations. The Jagannath Temple in Puri, an undisputed attraction for pilgrims, has been shut down ever since the lockdown was announced. And due to the recent surge in COVID cases across the state, the servitors are not willing to take a chance by reopening the temple at this moment.

“COVID-19 cases are at its peak in Puri now. Around 40% servitors have tested positive for COVID and if the rate of infection continues then soon we may not have an adequate number of servitors left for conducting the daily rituals in the temple. In such a situation when most of us are in a state of fear of the deadly disease infecting us, it is not at all advisable for reopening the temple for the safety of both priests as well as devotees,” said Ramachandra Das Mohapatra, who is a senior servitor and member of the Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA).

This prolonged shutdown has resulted in grave financial problems for servitors, priests, and vendors. Moreover, several priests from other parts of Odisha have questioned the government’s rationale for keeping the temples shut while permitting the shopping malls and liquor stores to reopen without a hindrance.

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