At a time when places of worship outside COVID-19 containment zones are all set to open their doors for the people, the state government, in association with the administration of these religious sites, is busy in ensuring that the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in this regard are followed in letter and spirit.
The state government on Sunday also issued guidelines in this regard, based on MHA’s guidelines.
To maintain social distancing and avoid crowding, some of the religious places have decided to organise prayers in shifts and even start a token system to specify time slots to devotees for visits.
The famous Somnath temple in Gir Somnath district will open for local devotees from Monday, but visitors from other districts will have to first register themselves online, starting June 12, an official of the temple trust said.
Devotees have been asked to mandatorily wear face masks, get sanitised before entering the temple premises, and not bring elderly people (those above 65 years of age) and children (below to 10 years) with them, he said. The temple will only allow priests to conduct the ‘aarti’ with no presence of devotees, the official said.
The Ambaji temple in Banaskantha district, a major pilgrimage in north Gujarat, will open from June 12 and allow devotees to visit the place in three shifts every day, starting at 7.30 am and ending at 10.15 pm, the temple trust said in a statement.
It will not allow ‘aarti’ or special prayers, and visitors will be given a token specifying the time for visit, to ensure they enter and leave the temple premises without crowding the place, it said.
The district administration and the temple trust have made arrangements for sanitisers and to ensure social distancing during visits by devotees, it said.
Mosques and churches are also making arrangements for prayers while ensuring that social distancing is maintained.
The historic Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad will allow Friday prayers in shifts, said Anis Desai, a member of the Gujarat Chand Committee, which manages the mosque.
“We will ensure social distancing during prayers and keep sanitisers for devotees. Since people gather in large numbers during the Friday prayers, we are planning to organise prayers in shifts so that social distancing is maintained,” Desai said.
The St Thomas Catholic Church at Gandhidham in Kutch district is also making arrangements to allow people to offer prayers by following the social distancing norms. Only one or two devotees will be allowed to occupy each of the 80 benches during the Sunday prayer at the church, Father Joychen Paranjattu said. “We will follow all instructions of the government regarding this. We will open from next Sunday. Prayers will be held in shifts with a small number of people in each shift,” he said.
On Saturday, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani held a video conference with religious leaders from different communities and urged them to ensure adherence to lockdown guidelines while opening the places of worship for devotees. Rupani asked the religious places to make arrangements of token systems for visitors so that they visit the religious place at the specified time slot to avoid crowding.