After exactly 204 days on Sunday morning, the famous Kamakhya Temple in Assam, which was shut since March due to the raging Covid-19 pandemic, opened its doors for the devotees. The devotees, a lot less in number compared to pre-Covid times, thronged the temple since wearing masks and carrying garlands of red hibiscus. This is the new normal at the country’s highest seat of shakti and tantric worship.
“We have set up a COVID Rapid Antigen Camp at the base of the Neelachal Hills. Devotees need to get themselves tested and carry the negative test report when they ascend the temple. If one has a negative test report done from within three days, then he or she can come directly. At the temple entrance, the devotees will get a coupon upon showing the report and then they will have to pass through the sanitisation chambers. We have installed three such chambers for now and if need be, we shall increase the number,” said Kabindra Prasad Sharma, Doloi (chief priest) of the temple.
Perched atop the Neelachal hills of Guwahati, the temple closed its doors to the devotees on March 20, a couple of days ahead of the nationwide lockdown. While most other temples have been fully functional, Kamakhya still has few of restrictions.
“We possibly are the only temple in the country that has not opened its sanctum for the devotees. As the ventilation inside the temple is not adequate and the space is also limited, we cannot take any risks. The devotees can do the parikrama and light lamps at the designated place. As per the district administration, only 100 people can be inside the temple at one point with proper distancing,” said Kabindra Prasad Sharma. “This rule is applicable till October 15 till the new SOP comes,” he added.
The notification by the Kamrup (Metro) district authorities has limited the number of devotees to 500 per day. Children below 10 and adults above 65 will not be allowed to visit. Each devotee will be allowed 15 minutes for parikrama. “Till date not a single priest of the temple has tested positive for the virus and this is the blessing of Maa,” added Sharma.
It’s that time of the year when Durga Puja will be held in the revered temple. The annual puja, which started on September 11, shall be observed for 45 days this year. Navaratras will commence from October 17 where Kaumari or young girls, dressed like goddesses, will be worshiped. One the ninth day or on nabami, girls will be worshiped as part of the puja. Four temple priests who perform the Durga puja stay in the temple for 45 days and fast all through, observing all rituals of the puja.
Ambubachi Mela, the biggest religious congregation of eastern India which is held at Kamakhya atop Nilachal Hills — was cancelled this year in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. It was decided that only priests will perform the rituals in the temple premises for these four days and the main temple door would remain shut following the celebration of the annual menstruation cycle of goddess Kamakhya.
“We are losing revenue to the tune to 1.5 lakh a day due to pandemic lockdown. The temple authorities have, however, ensured smooth functioning of the temple with our funds. We have paid regular salaries to over 350 staff engaged in different works at the holy temple,” Sharma said.