Amid an outbreak of COVID-19 across the country, there has been concern regarding the Ram Navami mela on 2 April with lakhs traveling for celebrations to Ayodhya every year.
While several saints have appealed devotees to not come to Ayodhya and cancelled large-scale events, the Ayodhya district administration finally broke their silence on the matter on 21 March evening.
Addressing the media, Ayodhya DM Anuj Kumar Jha said, “Devotees will not be allowed to enter Ayodhya from now (21 March) to 2 April. Along with that community bathing in Saryu river and all other places in Ayodhya have been stopped. Advanced bookings in all lodges, hotels etc to be cancelled till 2 April 2020. No crowds at temples will be allowed.”
Before DM Spoke, Hindutva Outfits Appealed Devotees to Not Leave Homes
The latest amongst those who have made appeals due to the Coronavirus scare, is the Shri Ram Janma Bhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, which is tasked with building the Ram mandir in Ayodhya. The trust, which includes the district magistrate of Ayodhya, had appealed to the district officials to avoid the Ram Navami fair.
Additionally, they also asked devotees to not come to Ayodhya for Navrati.
Earlier on 21 March and 20 March, The Quint had spoken to leaders of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Vikramaditya Mahtosav Samiti and the chief priest of the Ram Temple, who said that no grand celebrations for Ram Navami will be held in Ayodhya.
Champat Rai, who is Ram Mandir trust general secretary and senior VHP leader appealed to people to not step out for Ram Navami celebrations in a video message.
“The Ram Navami festival is going to come soon in the country. Thousands have visited pilgrimage centers for these festivals for thousands of years. This year, however, the coronavirus pandemic is upon us, it is only a matter of 15, 20 to 25 days. Hence keep yourself from getting sentimental and follow the rules of the government. Take care of yourself and your family, neighbours. Only leave the home for essential work, otherwise stay at home and conduct the pooja,” Rai said in his appeal.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Lucknow office also confirmed, “We have been intimated by authorities that the celebrations have been cancelled. None of the grand celebrations will happen.”
Dr Surendra Kumar Jain, All India Joint General Secretary of the VHP, told The Quint that “All big ceremonies of the VHP have been cancelled in Ayodhya as well as across India. Smaller celebrations will happen only after taking into consideration the local rules regarding the health emergency. All rules will be followed. For example, in Delhi not more than 50 can gather, so in mohalla and temples, we will keep that in mind. For mass awakening, we will hoist small saffron flags at every Hindu house across India. The spread of coronavirus is a global emergency, so it is important to respect the law and order of the country and we will.”
Mahant Satendra Das, head priest of the Ram Mandir, as well as Mahant Kalyan Das, both of whom are close to the members of the Ranjanmabhoomi Vyas, told The Quint, that “No big celebrations are going to happen anymore. We will conduct smaller celebrations. We are in support of this government. We are going to help the government in every possible way.”
The Vikramaditya Mahotsav Samiti had also said they have cancelled the Ramkot parikrama, he said, “In the circumference of the the Ramkot comes the birth place of lord Ram. Due to the scare of coronavirus the Ramkot parikrama, organised on 24 March, will not happen.”
The Chief Medical Officer, Ghyanshyam Singh, reiterated that it was important to impose curfew.
“I have advised the government to impose curfew in Ayodhya in the light of the coronavirus scare. What PM Modi said in his address yesterday (19 March) is what I have said. Avoiding massive crowds is essential.”
A footfall of lakhs is expected on the Ram Navami mela of 2 April in Ayodhya. With COVID-19 taking four lives and infecting 195 more, the cancellation will help curtail spread of disease.
Change in Stance of District Admin In 1 Day
Before the DM announced restrictions on movement, repeated calls were made to the Ayodhya district magistrate and circle officer which went unanswered.
The Quint spoke to Deputy Director of the Information Department for Ayodhya District, MD Singh on 21 March. He had said that the mela, which is to happen for one day on 2 April, has not been called-off as yet.
“The fair will happen, but the work will happen according to the appeals made by PM Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath. The job of the administration is to only ensure arrangements for the fair while actual festivities are carried out by the saints. Currently, all saints in Ayodhya and otherwise are appealing to the people to not leave their homes and travel for Ram Navami,” Singh said.
When asked if those above the age of 60-65 years will be allowed to enter, as PM Modi had advised them to not leave their homes, considering their vulnerability to COVID-19, Singh said, “First of all they will not come out. If they do, we will see. The government is also looking at the situation currently. The mela is on the 2 April. There is still time.”