By Arpana Adhikari
Kathmandu, Oct. 19: Bada Dashain, the greatest and longest festival of Nepali Hindus, has begun from Saturday with Navaratri or the nine-night festival which is observed by offering worship and sacrifices to Durga Bhavani, the goddess of power.
Each year, during Navaratri major shrines across the country witness a footfall of thousands of devotees to offer prayers and sacrifices to goddess Durga.
But for the first time in recent history of Nepal, the most visited shrines across the country keep their doors closed during the festival, as no congregation or crowding is allowed at religious sites to contain the novel coronavirus.
All the major shrines of the valley, including Dakshinkali, Guheshwori, Kalikasthan, Maitidevi, Naxal Bahgwati, Sankata, Bhadrakali, Naradevi, Bijeshwori, among others, wear a deserted look during the on-going Navaratri festival.
There was no ringing of bells, chanting of hymns and usual hustle and bustle in the religious shrines on the first day of Navaratri. Only regular worshipping and prayers were performed by the priests. Almost all the temples across the country remained closed ever since the first lockdown was announced on March 24.
Considering the surging COVID-19 cases across the country, the Home Ministry has recently issued a circular to all the 77 district administration offices to not allow the opening of the temples and shrines for the public.
However, such restrictions couldn’t stop some devotees from visiting the temples. Though all the temples remained closed, some devotees were found visiting shrines just to take a look at the pinnacles.
Shankar Manandhar, president of Dakshinkali Temple management committee, said restriction had been imposed on visitors but a number of devotees had reached the temple to offer prayers and sacrifices.
“This popular shrine draws a crowd of tens of thousands of devotees during every Navaratri. But this year only few devotees have visited the temple seeking blessing and some have also offered animal sacrifices,” he added.
Devotees who were eagerly waiting for re-opening of temples for this Dashain are very disappointed because they could not come to pay obeisance to goddess Durga, which they have been doing throughout their life. Sarita Basnet, 54, of Gaurighat wonders why the government is not allowing temples to open up when everything is operating normally across the country. For Basnet, visiting temple is the only way to feel the presence of divine power and temples are the sources of peace of mind.
“My family has a ritual of visiting Guheshwori Temple during Navaratri and offer daily offerings to the goddess. But this year, I was not allowed to perform the rituals which my family has been performing for the ages. I am very disappointed,” she said.
This is quite a dilemma but what can one do where there is a pandemic, said Hareram Baral, a resident of Sifal.
“Temples need to be closed because fighting the coronavirus infection is more important right now. And true believers can offer their prayers from anywhere; one need not visit the temple.” But Krishna Shakya, a local of Sorhakhutte, believes that the government should open temples which are the centre of faith for people and ensure people rights to religious freedom.
Seeking reopening of temples, the Shiva Sena Nepal functionaries along with a section of citizens, have been protesting outside of Pashupatinath temple for the past 20 days demanding opening of temples across the country.
The group of devotees has been organizing a sit-in outside the gate of Pashupatinath demanding that the government throw open the doors of temples for people who wish to seek mental solace during the pandemic.
Similarly, the World Hindu Federation has also asked the government to open the temples for public during Dashain by adopting health protocols and social distancing.
Issuing a statement, the federation said the government should open the temples which are the centre of faith for the Nepalis.
Shutting down temples would be restricting people’s constitutional rights to religious freedom, read the statement issued by the federation President Ram Chandra Adhikari and General Secretary Ganesh Neupane.
– The Rising Nepal