Vrindavan’s ISKCON temple sealed as priests, and many others test Covid-19 positive 

With 22 new Covid-19 cases coming to light, sealing done on the eve of Janmashtami, a major festival in Uttar Pradesh 


Janmashtami is the biggest festival celebrated at Krishna temples across the world, this time, most are said to have muted celebrations minus the crowds. However, the most affected may be the landmark The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple at Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh. On the eve of the festival, the temple was sealed due to a massive spread of Coronavirus on campus. The temple was sealed on Tuesday after 22 people, including some priests, tested Covid-19 positive.

According to a report on Times Now Digital, the temple was sealed just ahead of Janmashtami celebrations due on Wednesday. The report quoted an official stating that, “The movement of people has been restricted and the temple has been sealed.” According to a report in Amar Ujala, the health department officials had collected the samples of 165 people staying in the residential complex of the temple after two residents were found positive. 

So far, the news has confirmed 22 people have tested positive for Covid-19, there and it was reported that the coronavirus spread at ISKCON  was probably caused when people returned to Vrindavan from West Bengal. They had gone there to attend the funeral ceremonies of Bhakti Charu Swami, the ISKCON leader, who died of Covid-19 in Florida (USA) July 4. The Times Now report states that it “is being claimed that a number of people from ISKCON Vrindavan had gone to West Bengal to pay their last respects. They returned to Uttar Pradesh just 10-15 days back.” 

The first two Covid-19 positive patients at ISKCON, were among those 10-15 people who had gone to West Bengal. Now a total of 22 have contracted Covid-19. It is not yet publicly known how many people visited the temple, and may have come in contact with the infected priests and others, before it was sealed. 

According to iskconnews.org, Mamata Bannerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal “arranged the smooth return” of Bhakti Charu Swami’s body to Mayapur from the USA.

The news post published on July 17,  details of how the West Bengal government “facilitated the final journey of the vapu (body of ISKCON-guru Bhakti Charu Swami, who passed away on July 4th in Florida, back to Mayapur.” According to ISKCON the CM “arranged a pilot car, and all the police stations from the Kolkata airport to Mayapur were alerted” before the plane landed. It adds when the body was being taken “from the airport to Mayapur, a VIP corridor was formed, and the traffic was stopped in stretches, so that Maharaja’s vapu could reach Mayapur without a delay.”

The CM tweeted about the passing of the ISKCON leader on July 5 and also sent a condolence letter to the ISKCON Kolkata temple. “On July 13, she had sent a representative all the way from Kolkata to Sridham Mayapur to garland Maharaja upon his arrival in Mayapur.”

It added that evening, devotees were also present outside the airport, where officials donned PPE suits and then transferred the body to the ambulance, which was waiting next to the plane. The samadhi ceremony was held the next morning and “followed all the safety protocols,” stated ISKCON news. It did not state how many people attended the ceremonies.

Meanwhile, another post on the site states that, since July, ISKCON New Vrindaban (INV) has been offering “summer weekend retreats and brunches that connect visitors with a spiritual path and give them a semblance of normality during the pandemic, all within a very safe environment with Covid-19 precautions in place.”

According to the post the organisers say, “We’re also lucky to have so much space, so we’re more easily able to accommodate guests at this time of social distancing.”

The news of a Covid-19 spread at a religious place comes close on the heels of a similar situation at Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) in Andhra. Around 743, staff members, including priests, have tested Covid-19 positive since the temple reopened. Around 338 staff are still undergoing treatment at various Covid-19 hospitals and quarantine facilities in the city. The temple reopened in July, and recorded footfalls of around 2.38 lakh devotees who visited from across the country to worship at the temple in that month itself. 

Thankfully, just like in the news coverage from Tirupati, the media has refrained from calling ISKCON Vrindavan a  Covid-19 ‘hotspot’. The famed Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra too was held on schedule this year at Odisha. However, no lessons seem to have been learnt about the lack of social distancing at religious places in India. 





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