Kathmandu, Sept. 15: Ever since the first lockdown was announced on March 24 to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Pashiupatinath temple, one of the most important religious sites for devotes of Lord Shiva, has remained closed for the public.
Millions of people would throng this revered temple to offer prayers, especially during the Hindu holy months of Shrawan and Bhadra, which see three major occasions, including Teej and Sorha Shraddha.
But, the temple has worn an empty look for about six months, as no congregation or crowding is allowed at this religious site. Only regular worshipping and prayers are being performed by the priests.
There is no ringing of bells, chanting of hymns and hustle bustle in this pilgrim site. The temple has turned into a mere crematory, where only funeral processions with a few participants can be witnessed.
The country is lately marking Sorha Sradhha or Pitri Pakchhya, a 16 lunar-day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors, especially through ‘pinda daan’ or offering rice ball.
During Sorha Shraddha, the bank of Bagmati River in Pashupati temple is considered as an auspicious place, where devotees visit to offer prayers for the salvation of the departed souls.
But this year the river bank wears a deserted look due to coronavirus pandemic, said Bishnu Poudel, a priest who was waiting for the devotees to perform ritual near Aryaghat, Pashupati, on Sunday.
Poudel said, “People used to visit this place from various parts of the country to perform Shraddha rituals, which frees the souls and prevents people from being tormented by troubled souls.”
However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the temple has no devotees this year. Only a few people are visiting the temple seeking the service, he added.
This UNESCO’s World Heritage Site used to remain overcrowded with domestic and international devotees and tourists on normal days, said Dr. Pradeep Dhakal, Member Secretary of Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT).
Usually, a crowd of 35,000-40,000 people throngs the holy shrine daily in the holy month of Bhadra and during the Sorha Shraddha, said Dhakal, adding that this year only negligible number of devotees have been visiting the temple to perform the ritual of Sorha Shraddha.
“The PADT had not officially permitted devotees to perform the rituals considering the surging COVID-19 cases in the Kathmandu Valley. But a few devotees are visiting the temple to perform the ritual and we are asking them to maintain distancing and take preventive measures while performing the rituals,” he added.
With no congregation allowed at the temple, the local traders, hotel owners and shopkeepers selling prayer supplies are also at loss.
Ganga Karmacharya, a shopkeeper, who has been selling prayer materials for the last 14 years in Pashupati area, said her business had been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We thought we would be able to recover the business losses to some extent when pilgrims come to the temple during the holy month of Shrawan and Sorha Shraddha, but this did not happen due to restrictions,” she added.
Hemraj Bhatta, an old man, who was busy feeding birds near the main gate of Pashupatinath Temple on Sunday, said he visited the shrine every day to seek Lord Shiva’s blessings.
“Though I am disappointed that I cannot go inside the temple, it is necessary to close the shrine in the wake of COVID-19 threat. But this doesn’t stop me from visiting the temple and taking a look at the pinnacle of the shrine,” he added.
Responding to the worries about the stray animals amid the restrictions, Dr. Milan Kumar Thapa, Treasurer at the PADT, said the trust had been managing food for animals like monkeys, stray cows, pigeons and dogs in support of various organisations and individuals.
“The PADT is always serious about the issues of animals and has been trying its best to feed the animals,” he added.
– The Rising Nepal