New Delhi: Navratri, the nine auspicious days culminating in Dussehra, begins on October 17. It is a time when people flock to the temples for a darshan of Goddess Durga. Covid-19 has had a say on the festivities this year, however, and the most popular city temples have had to innovate on ensuring the devout get to worship the goddess and do it safely too.
The aim of temples that usually attract huge numbers is to see fewer devotees coming. With this in mind, the Jhandewalan Mandir, for one, will take eight chariots holding Durga’s idol around the central Delhi neighbourhoods in the vicinity so people can seek blessings without having to go to the popular temple. “These are unprecedented times and we wanted to make sure people did not feel they had missed out visiting the mandir,” said Ravinder Goyal, member of the Jhandewalan temple committee.
Goyal added, “Safety comes first. But we want everyone to have mata ke darshan so decorated tempos will carry the idol of goddess with pomp and show.” He said that though the temple authorities did not expect huge crowds, at least 50% of the usual lakhs of devotees are still likely to visit the temple. “We have demarcated social distancing spaces and have at least 100 volunteers to manage the crowd. We have also created sanitisation tunnels at the entries,” said Goyal.
Another temple that attracts massive crowds is the Chhatarpur temple, where over 1.5 lakh devotees congregate on each of the nine days of Navratris. Spread over 75 acres, the temple is now criss-crossed with markings to facilitate physical distancing. More than a lakh eat at the temple langar daily. “Every year, most of the visitors stay back for the langar (prasad),” said Dr Kishore Chawla, CEO of the temple committee. “For the first time since we made provisions for langar, we will pack aalu-poori, sabzi and khichdi and hand the packets to the devotees instead of making them sit and eat.”
Since the temple also has a medical facility, the committee will allow people to get tested for Covid-19 at the facility. “We want the devotees to visit the temple as normally, but remain vigilant about their and others’ safety,” said Chawla.
Similar preparations are being made at Kalkaji Mandir in south Delhi as well. Brij Mohan Bhardwaj, joint secretary of the Kalkaji temple committee, said that all the shops in the congested shrine complex that did roaring business during the nine days of the festival have been strictly instructed this year to remain shuttered to prevent crowds building up and milling around.
Bhardwaj said, “We have made arrangement for disinfection of the area and it will be taken well care of. Every devotee who visits the temple will have his temperature taken and put through sanitisation before being allowed entry into the complex. The shops that sell stuff offered in the temple will all be closed because we will not allow anybody to make any sort of offerings as they do in normal times.”
The popular mandir sees thousands of devotees at this time of the year every year. With the number of visitors likely to decline this year, the temple authorities claimed to have taken care to arrange things in such a manner as to pre-empt any festivities from being stopped midway by the authorities.
“Presuming that devotees will not be here in usual numbers, we have deployed 50 volunteers who will enforce physical distancing and mask wearing by all visitors,” added Bhardwaj.
A smaller temple in Rajouri Garden also sees many locals turning up there every day during Navratri. This year, the committee has decided to go online to dissuade people from visiting the temple. Its YouTube page will carry videos of celebrations from past years. “We will also livestream the aarti so that nobody will feel they are missing out on worship,” said Harivansh Singh, temple committee member.