Festivals In The Times Of Corona: When Devotees Are Asked To Practice Social Distancing With Their Gods

by Harsha Bhat - Jun 21, 2020 01:27 PM +05:30 IST
Festivals In The Times Of Corona: When Devotees Are Asked To Practice Social Distancing With Their Gods Jagannath Rath Yatra in Puri. (STR/AFP/GettyImages)
  • The coronavirus pandemic struck at a time which is otherwise the season of annual festivals and rath yatras.

    Devotees this year have had to be content with low-key, symbolic, or even no celebrations of their cherished festivals.

The chariots have been made. The Lord had begun the preparations with the Snana Purnima and the self quarantine thereafter. He would emerge out of his healing period and was all set to ride atop his majestic chariot on 23 June.

But now, may not.

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that Jagannath of Puri shall not alight his magnificent chariot and parade the streets of Puri.

“Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow this year’s Rath Yatra to go on, as such a huge gathering can’t take place during the pandemic,” said the court.

For the first time in almost 300 years, the rath yatra will not take place, if this order stays.

Talks are on though to reconsider this decision and to finalise the conduct of the rituals.

But this is not the only mega festival that will be missed this year. Given that the pandemic struck at a time which is otherwise the season of annual festivals and rath yatras of most temples across the country, devotees this year have had to be content with low-key, ritualistic and symbolic conduct with zero participation from the community.

Festivals round the corner will all be low-key.

Telangana has prepared to hold its 150-year-old festival that was first celebrated during the cholera pandemic to ward off evil, in a low-key manner.

The festival is scheduled to begin on 25 June, from the Mahakali temple at the Golkonda fort and end at the one at the Lal Darwaza.

Women carrying the Bonams to be offered to the Goddess
Women carrying the Bonams to be offered to the Goddess
(PC: @GampaSD/Twitter)

The colourful festival renders the state, especially the cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, in high spirits, with the month-long celebrations that start as the month of Ashada kicks off.

The Bonalu procession is a celebration of colour, the feminine and wellness.

The deaths during the pandemic in 1813 had steered people to seek the grace of goddess Mahakali and since then, people walk with pots that have rice, jaggery, curd and turmeric to the temple and offer it to the goddess.

And the festivities conclude with a procession of the deity seated atop an elephant. All the vibrancy will have to be sacrificed this year, thanks to the pandemic.

In the other southern state of Tamil Nadu too, this summer saw most of its chariot festivals cancelled.

With the lockdown in the country on, in March and April, none of the car festivals which are held at this time which are the Tamil months of Panguni and Chitharai, were conducted.

The Panguni Uthiram for the first time in recent years was cancelled. This festival sees temples across the state have the deity tour his region seated atop the decorated chariots and is a celebration of the marriage of Parvati and Siva, Murugan and Deivanai, and Aandaal and Ranganatha.

But this year, with the rising corona cases in Tamil Nadu, these celestial weddings too were a low-key affair.

In Karnataka, one of the earliest festivals that was cancelled was the capital city’s famous Karaga.

The annual festival has lakhs of devotees thronging the Dharmaraya Swamy temple in Bengaluru.

On this night, lakhs of people gather in parts of old central Bengaluru to witness the arrival of the divine mother Shakti as Draupadi, who makes her annual visit to meet her Veerakumaras, the soldiers she created to finish Timirasura at the end of the Mahabharata.

But this year, after almost being cancelled, the festival was held with just the temple priests and amid high security and vigilance. This festival, which was said to have taken place even during the plague in British India, was for the first time suspended and the temple stayed shut.

In coastal Karnataka, most of the famous temples have stayed shut, until recently when the government permitted their opening.

But the jatras haven’t taken place.

One of the unique festivals of the region is the Chendu or the football which is played as part of the annual festival of the goddess Rajarajeshwari at the Polali temple. A special leather ball weighing around 20 kg is prepared for this ritual.

For people on the coast, the first mango showers come down on the day of the Polali Chendu. The annual car festival sees villages compete against others to play with this large leather ball that is specially made for this festival. The annual festival this year was cancelled, but the rains did come down on the day of the Chendu.

The ambu bachi mela of the Kamakhya temple of Guwahati too will be held from 22 June, but minus the lakhs of people who make it to this powerful devi shrine each year.

The four-day mela will be held with only rituals being performed.

All the entrances to the temples stay closed. The four-day closure of the temple, which is believed to be the annual menstruation period of the goddess, has people thronging and waiting to seek her blessings on day five.

Around 25 lakh people, a large chunk of whom are sadhus and sants, are said to visit the temple each year, but this year, this too shall have to be given a miss.

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