MUMBAI: Maharashtra government’s decision to reopen places of worship from Monday felled the final hurdle in the path of normalisation amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The wait for an effective mass vaccine could be long, and until then, caution rather than closure seems the best option.
Sunil Tambe of the Shirdi Sai Baba temple was pleased that the deserted precinct would be populated once more. “We will follow all the rules although lakhs of devotees are keen to return to worship. We receive 40,000-50,000 visitors daily, up to one lakh on festival days like Ram Navami and Dussehra.” The shrine’s annual turnover of Rs 400 has shrunk considerably owing to the lockdown this year.
In Mumbai meanwhile, Siddhivinayak temple chose to not comment on the development.
Hemant Jadhav, manager of Mumbadevi temple, termed it a “great decision by the CM of Maharashtra that is a wonderful gift to followers of every religion. Hindu devotees will get darshan of their deities at the Hindu new year after almost nine months of temples’ closure. Now, the mandir management’s responsibility increases. Now onwards we have to take care of our staff as well as devotees. We will follow all the rules and guidelines of the government including sanitisation, social distancing, compulsory wearing of gloves and masks.”
Mumbadevi temple, like Siddhivinayak, was being cleansed at frequent intervals during the lockdown. “Now too, we will close the temple after every two hours for sanitisation. We will neither accept nor distribute offerings of coconut, sweets or prasad in the temple. And only five to six devotees will be allowed into the main precinct at a time,” Jadhav said.
He added, “All security persons will get mask, hand gloves and face shields to wear while on duty. And the pujari will also get the same facility from the management. These two departments are the ones most exposed to devotees visiting for darshan.”
Mosques received the news with relief. Maulana Mehmood Daryabadi, general secretary of the All India Ulema Council, said, “We have been awaiting the reopening since many weeks. One by one, markets, malls, trains and buses had resumed operations. We welcome the CM’s announcement but have yet to see the detailed guidelines. Some mosques that are able to fulfil the requirements may reopen immediately on Monday while the rest may do so slowly, in a day or two.”
Suhail Khandwani, who manages the Mahim and Haji Ali Dargah, listed a series of SOPs that are already in place for the reopening. Haji Ali manager Mohammed Ahmed Taher said security personnel would ensure that people wore masks and observed physical distancing.
The Archdiocese of Bombay has always advocated a cautious end to the lockdown. Spokesman Fr Nigel Barrett said “We welcome the state government’s decision to open places of worship. As an archdiocese, we will proceed with caution and ensure all SOPs are in place. We totally identify with our people who are eager and anxious to return to Church and normal worship, but we will proceed with caution for it is our responsibility to ensure those who come to our churches enter into a safe environment. The Cardinal is studying the matter and will issue appropriate directives.”
Interestingly, certain gurdwaras, especially those affiliated to the nodal Sri Guru Singh Sabha, have reopened since the past few days, even in the absence of government permission. Ram Singh Rathor, spokesman of the Sabha, said, “Only a few gurdwaras were open but not for any function or ceremony. No langar is being distributed. Some were open in the morning and evening, but people are also scared and not many people are visiting. We are making announcements urging people to pray at home only.”