Ram temple rituals continue despite coronavirus pandemic
There has been no break in rituals to temporarily shift idols out of the makeshift temple in Ayodhya to build a Ram temple despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Rituals to temporarily shift the idols of Ram, Sita and Lakshman began at 7.30am on Monday with the chanting of Udaka Shanti mantra, to get rid of negative energy, by 15 priests who have come to Ayodhya from various parts of the state.
Devotees have been told not to visit the temple town and most shrines, including the widely revered Hanumangarhi, have been closed since Sunday and no puja performed.
However, the makeshift Ram temple located in the middle of the heavily cordoned-off and guarded 2.77-acre plot remains open. A temple source said 30 devotees visited the shrine on Sunday, when Janata Curfew was being observed across India. As many as 267 people congregated on Monday, when the local administration claimed to have sealed the borders of the town.
No devotee was allowed on Tuesday as the Udaka Shanti puja would continue till 5am on Wednesday, the beginning of Chaitra Navaratri, when the idols would be shifted to a temporary site about 250 metres from the makeshift Ram temple in a palanquin.
The Uttar Pradesh government on Monday declared a lockdown in 17 districts, imposed restrictions under CrPC Section 144, which prevents gatherings of five or more people, across Uttar Pradesh, and police registered FIRs against 350 people till Tuesday for violating the prohibitory orders.
Awanish Awasthi, additional chief secretary in the home department, said there would be a complete lockdown in the entire state for three days from Wednesday.
The 15 priests conducting the rituals at the makeshift Ram temple reached Ayodhya from Delhi, Allahabad, Varanasi and Mathura on Sunday evening. Some members of the Ram Janmabhoomi Tirth Kshetra Trust, tasked with constructing the Ram temple, have also come. Among them is Anil Mishra, who is also an RSS functionary.
“The idols will be shifted to a temporary place 250 metres east of its present site on Wednesday morning so that the construction of a temple can be started at the original site. The Lord will be brought back to the original place once the Ram temple is built in three years,” said Satyendra Das, the priest of the makeshift Ram temple since 1992.
“There are less than 20 people at the protected area during the ongoing puja and it is not a violation of the government order when (a gathering is) organised on a premise. The entire area had already been sanitised by the local administration. The priests and some of the members of the trust are present here but devotees were not allowed to enter the site on Tuesday,” Das said.
The host of the puja at the temporary site is Vimlendra Mohan Mishra, another trustee. Government sources said Mishra, who belongs to the royal family of Ayodhya, had donated a 9.5kg silver pulpit in which the idols would be kept at the temple constructed to temporarily house them till the Ram temple is built.
A home department official in Lucknow said on condition of anonymity: “There are certain things we cannot stop for obvious reasons. Whatever is happening in Ayodhya has been planned by the trust and we are expected to facilitate it. More precisely, there is no government order that people cannot do puja on their premises on the occasion of Navaratri. Around 313 people have come to Ayodhya from abroad over the past week and all of them have tested negative for the coronavirus.”
Awasthi, the senior home department official, said women had suspended heir protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
“We thank all the women, who have understood the gravity of the situation and suspended their protests in the interest of the country,” he said.
Women had been on dharna in Lucknow, Allahabad, Saharanpur, Moradabad and Aligarh. While the women suspended their protests themselves at some places, the police allegedly used force in Allahabad and Saharanpur.
Pan masala and fake news
Awasthi said the government had decided to temporarily ban the sale of pan, pan masala and tobacco because spitting can aid the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The officer said the government had also decided to take action against those who spread fake news during “this hour of crisis”.