Puri Jagannath Temple Bars Entry of Covid-Positive Servitors as Hundreds Contract Virus
File photo of Lord Jagannath temple in Puri.
: At least 351 servitors and 53 employees of the Shree Jagannath temple in Puri have tested positive for COVID-19 since August and the authorities on Tuesday decided to bar those who have not completed their quarantine period from entering the 12th century shrine, an official said. The temple is closed for devotees since March due to the pandemic but Lord Jagannath's rituals are continuing as usual, Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) administrator (development) Ajay Jena said.
He said that SJTA has received reports that several virus-hit servitors roam inside the temple, thus, spreading the disease. "Security personnel deployed in different gates of the temple have been provided with the list of COVID-19 infected servitors. They will prevent them from entering the temple,"Jena said.
He said that COVID-19 positive servitors will have to stay under mandatory quarantine for 17 days and complaints will be lodged with the police against them if they are found entering the temple. As many servitors are in home isolation after testing positive for the infection, there has been a shortage of knowledgeable persons who can perform the rituals, an SJTA official said.
A group of 13 priests is required to perform daily rituals for each of the three sibling deities – Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath. Therefore, the presence of 39 priests apart from other servitors is essential to perform the rituals, he said. The rituals are interconnected and, if one is not performed, the next one cannot be performed as per the temple tradition, said Bhaskar Mishra, a researcher in Jagannath culture.
So, if more servitors test positive for COVID-19 in the coming days, there might be a problem in performing the rituals, he said. Till date, a total of 9,704 COVID-19 cases have been detected in Puri district of which 1,255 cases are reported from Puri Municipality area alone, health department officials said.
Of the 52 deaths registered in the district, nine are from Puri Municipality area. At least three of these nine are servitors engaged in temple rituals, they said. "Priests and servitors are not willing to open the temple now for devotees due to the prevailing pandemic situation," said Puri District Magistrate-cum-Collector Balwant Singh.