In view of COVID-19, on Monday, 16 March, the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) announced that all staff members and devotees need to wear face masks once inside the temple in Odisha’s Puri. I decided to visit the temple myself to see how devotees were going to pray with these new rules in place.
I caught the first train from Dhenkanal to Puri via Bhubaneshwar. I realised that the trains are not as crowded as they usually are. I got down at Bhubneshwar station and was happy to see that the railway staff was sanitising commuters’ hands.
As were the temple volunteers.
I later decided to go to the Bhubneshwar bus depot near the railway station to see whether it’s as empty as the railway station. The picture at the bus depot was similar to the one I saw at the railway station. There were hardly people on the road.
I finally reached Puri and I guess for the first time I actually saw road beneath my feet. Normally, it’s so crowded that every step you take you end up stepping on someone else’s foot. But this time, it wasn’t the same.
Also, there were more locals at the temple than tourists. Visitors at Puri temple need to fill forms and declare their travel history and whether any of their family members suffer from any flu-like symptoms.
All visitors at the temple were wearing face masks despite WHO regulation stating that only people suffering from flu or the one taking care of a sick person should be wearing the masks. When I asked devotees why they wanted to come to the temple when the risk of infection is so high, many said, ‘Lord Jagannath is there to save us.’
I didn’t go inside the temple because I wasn’t carrying a mask.
But the scene from outside the temple gave me an idea of how it would be inside the temple.
On my way back in the train, too, there were hardly any people. In Bhubaneswar, the situation is very similar. I saw a few people on the Bhubaneswar station because they were packed to go back to their hometowns.
Crowded markets are no longer crowded, bustling streets are no longer full.
There is, additionally, Section 144 imposed in a few districts so that movement is restricted. Hopefully these measures will help minimise the spread of the novel coronavirus.
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