Chardham priests say no to online rituals, Centre facilitates chief seers’ return to state

The chief priests were not in Uttarakhand and were brought back by road on the request of the state government

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The priests of the Chardham temples in Uttarakhand have rejected the State government’s proposal to conduct the four shrines’ annual opening ceremony online due to the coronavirus outbreak, The Telegraph reported. The temples were closed for winter on October 29 and November 17 last year.

The ceremony was scheduled to happen later this month on April 29 and 30 and the priests of the Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri temples have also brushed away the state government’s appeal to have the devotees offer puja online due to the imposed lockdown.

The spokespersons of the temples and priests’ union said that the tradition was inviolable and that cameras cannot be allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum, and so the rituals cannot be performed online.

Satpal Maharaj, state religious affairs and tourism minister, had said on Thursday after a meeting with chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat that physical performance of the opening-day rituals was not possible as the chief priests of Kedarnath and Badrinath or ‘rawals’ as they are known, were stranded outside the state and wouldn’t be able to arrive on time for the ceremony.

“Both ravals can perform the opening rituals online,” Maharaj had said. However Devbhumi Tirth Purohit Hakhakuk Dhari Mahapanchayat, a union of the priests of four temples, met and rejected the government proposal saying that performing the ceremony online went against “the norms set by Adi Shankaracharya”.

The Mahapanchayat’s spokesperson Brijesh Sati said, “No online ceremony by priests or puja by devotees is possible because cameras are prohibited at the four temples.” He also said that the huge number of pilgrims that visit the temple “is directly linked to the livelihoods of lakhs of people, including the shopkeepers in these temple towns.” “They earn for six months when the shrine is open and survive on their savings till the next season. Online puja will shatter them,” Sati said.

On a request by the State, the Centre arranged to bring the two ravals and their assistants to Uttarakhand by road, he added.

Media reports cite that Rawal Ishwari Prasad Namboodri of Shri Badrinath Temple had reached Maharashtra from Kerala last week, while Rawal 1008 Bhima Shankar Linga of Kedarnath Temple had reached Dehradun and was under quarantine. Namboodiri is to reach Chamoli on Sunday and will be quarantined immediately on arrival.

It is said that the doors of the Kedarnath temple would open on May 14 and those of Badrinath temple would open on May 15 at 4:30 AM.

Maharaj said, “In normal circumstances, someone arriving from another state must be quarantined for 14 days, but we are trying to ensure they can conduct the opening pujas.”

“We’ll draw up test charts for the ravals and send them to the state and central governments to decide on their presence at the opening-day ceremonies,” he added.

However, the Mahapanchayat seems in no mood to back down even during this time. Suresh Semwal, Mahapanchayat convener and president of the Gangotri Mandir Samiti, said: “We have seen many calamities in the past but tradition was never compromised with.”

The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam, a government organization, has also appealed with tourists to not cancel their bookings for April and May at hotels and government guesthouses.

It must be noted that the virus is not going to magically disappear after the lockdown is relaxed. Many religious organizations have taken their services online due to the threat of transmission. Social distancing is to become a way of life. If the priests and devotees do not adhere to these physical distancing norms, will divine intervention save them from contracting the virus?

It is also noteworthy that churches of various denominations across India had suspended congregations from the middle of March with many having moved services online. In fact all special services and mass prayers during the holy month of Lent were performed in deserted churches and broadcast live to devotees. This includes services held on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. Many places of religious significance to Muslims had also put in place stringent anti-Covid measures. Mumbai’s famous Haji Ali dargah had voluntarily shut its doors to devotees in mid-March as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of the virus.  


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