Masks, sanitisation, no prasad: Char Dham pilgrimage in times of Covid-19

Pilgirms to the Char Dham shrines in Uttarakhand have been strictly following the Standard Operating Procedure, including wearing of masks and observing social distancing, to curb the spread of Covid-19 disease in the state.

The Uttarakhand government allowed people from the state to visit the four shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri from July 1. Since then, 5,000 e-passes have been issued to pilgrims from the state. The number of e-passes has increased for Kedarnath and Gangotri shrines as the Hindu month of Savan began.

Pilgrims have to undergo thermal scanning and sanitisation before they are allowed to enter the shrines. Wearing of masks has also been made compulsory at all the shrines.

Bhuwan Chandra Uniyal, dharmadhikari or senior priest at Badrinath shrine in Chamoli district of the state said that none of the pilgrims have violated any of the norms till now.

“Pilgrims are strictly following all the rules. They are not allowed to touch the idols, enter the sanctum sanctorum, there is also no distribution of Prasad nor any kind of offerings to the deity are being allowed. Earlier, we used to apply tika or tie the holy thread on pilgrims’ wrists. But none of that is being done this time. Despite all these rules, the devotion by pilgrims is the same and that is the only thing matters, especially in such tough times,” he added.

Deepak Semwal, the secretary of Gangotri Dham Committee said even though ritualistic prayers are not being offered this time, it is important to follow all the norms so that priests’ and locals remain safe.

“For Gangotri, 15-16 priests are appointed every year before the portals of the shrine opens. These priests are the only ones allowed to perform prayers and other rituals for the next one year; so all the norms need to be strictly followed to keep the priests and the locals safe. If a priest gets infected then the whole ritual of offering prayers can get affected,” said Semwal.

Pradeep Uniyal, priest at Yamunotri shrine, said that around four to five devotees are reaching the shrine on a daily basis.

“Pilgrims who come to the shrine are only being allowed to worship from outside. No one is allowed to enter inside and there is no system of offering prayers inside the shrine this time,” Uniyal said.

Harish Gaur, media in-charge of the Board, said that there is great enthusiasm among pilgrims for visiting the shrines and the organisation’s portal is constantly flooded with requests for generation of e-passes.

The Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board has also opened guest houses situated along the routes to the shrines so that pilgrims can stay at the nearest lodging facility.

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