New Delhi: Shortly after the Kerala government decided to reopen temples across the state following the guidelines of Central government on reopening places of worship, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in the state have started attacking the state government for the “haste”, alleging that it was to malign devotees with regard to ‘social distancing’.
BJP leader and Union Minister of State, V Muraleedharan, tweeted against the move, saying: “The Kerala government’s decision to reopen temples despite opposition from devotees smell foul. Neither the devotees nor the temple committees demanded the opening of temples”
“What is the haste? Is this a deliberate attempt by the atheist @vijayanpinarayi Govt to denigrate devotees? Govt must heed to the voice of devotees and withdraw its decision,” he added.
Incidentally, the same minister had been blasting the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government for not re-opening temples. However, he did a volte face when the Pinarayi Vijayan government announced that they would follow the BJP-led Central government guidelines.
On May 28, Muraleedharan had stated that if the beverage corporation (Bevco) outlets across the states are open, temples too could be opened. He even urged the state government to “show mercy” on devotees by opening the temples and suggested a virtual queue that had been implemented in the case of Bevco (which sells liquor).
The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for opening restaurants, malls and places of worship, as part of guidelines of Unlock-1 to lift the COVID-19 lockdown gradually, were issued by the Centre on June 4. Chief Minister Vijayan had, in one of his press conferences, clearly stated that Kerala would follow the guidelines issued by the Centre in this respect.
However, seemingly caught on the wrong foot, the state BJP and Hindu Aikya Vedi are now alleging that the state government was eyeing more revenues for its coffers. BJP state president K Surendran said the state government should instead provide financial help to shrines and its employees in view of the pandemic, instead of opening temples.
The state government, however, said it failed to understand why those who were opposing the move now, were earlier pushing for re-opening of temples and shrines. Responding to BJP allegations, Minister Kadakampally Surendran said that the state government had decided to open places of worship only as per the Centre's guidelines, adding that the decision was taken after consulting heads of all religious bodies.
"The decision was taken by them (religious heads) as they understood the situation. Kerala decided to open religious places as per the Centre's direction," he said.
Exposing the double standards of the BJP and its allies, he said those who are now against opening the temples had earlier clamorued for allowing devotees. "The Hindu Aikya Vedi has backed off from their earlier stand," he added.
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Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) president N Vasu also said that the decision was taken keeping in mind the needs of the devotees, dismissing the allegation about revenue being the motive behind reopening temples.
While malls, restaurants and places of worship opened in Kerala on Tuesday morning after over two-and half months of coronavirus induced lockdown, there were very few visitors in the early hours and people preferred takeaways in eateries. Various temples, including the famous Lord Krishna temple at Guruvayoor, a few churches and mosques opened in the state.
As per the Centre’s SOPs, social distancing should be followed in all the places of worship and devotees should wear face masks. Those above 65 and children below 10 years are not allowed in places of worship, distribution of food, refreshments and offertory blessings (prasadams), sandalwood paste or ashes should be avoided.
Thermal scanners to check body temperatures, sanitisers, arrangements for washing hands, were all provided in the temples and other places of worship which opened.
The Guruvayur shrine opened at 9.30 a.m and around 150 people, who had booked through virtual queue system, offered prayers. Devotees wearing masks were seen standing adhering to the social distance norm, as per media reports.
In the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, while the famed Lord Padmanabha Swamy, Pazhavanangadi Ganapathy and Attukal Bhagavathy temples remained shut, the SreekanteshwaraShiva shrine and Lord Hanuman temple near the State Assembly were among those that opened. The names, age and other details of the worshippers are also being collected by the temple authorities before letting people in.
The virtual queue booking for devotees to offer worship at the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala will commence from Wednesday. Devotees from other states have to produce a COVID-19 negative certificate while booking, sources in the Travancore Devaswom Board said.
The Ayyappa shrine would open from June 14 to 28 for the five-day monthly pooja and temple festival and only 10 people would be allowed inside the shrine at a time, sources said.
Many Mosques and Churches Remain Shut
Many mosques’ committees in the state, including the famous Palayam Juma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram, have decided not to open till a further decision is taken.
“We are unable to impose restrictions and hence decided not to open the mosque till further notice,” said a statement from the administrative committee of Palayam mosque in Kozhikode.
Mosques in Kochi city and other parts of Ernakulam will also remain shut and those will be opened only after the pandemic is under control, stated a coordination committee earlier. Famous Mampuram Maqam in Malappuram along with many other mosques across the state will remain shut.
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Along with these, many churches also remained closed. Churches under the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church will not open till June 30, Archbishop of the diocese Antony Kariyil stated on June 7. The Changanasserry archdiocese has also decided not to open the churches immediately.
Churches will be opened for personal prayers, weddings and baptism. At most 50 people can be the part of wedding ceremonies in churches. While in the case of funerals and baptism, the limit is 20 people.
The Orthodox Church synod is being held on Tuesday which will take a decision on whether or not to open their places of worship. A few mosques were also open in some places.
(With Inputs from PTI)