Shrawan crowds at Shiva shrines could further complicate pandemic, experts fearPeople and businesses are flouting the Covid-19 restrictions due to lack of effective monitoring.
Hira Pandit of Jorpati was among hundreds of devotees who went to visit the Pashupatinath temple on Monday despite knowing that the temple is closed for worshippers due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I just wanted to pray from outside as I observe a fast and visit the temple on Mondays during the holy month of Shrawan every year no matter what! I have immense faith in the lord,” said Pandit, who is in her forties.
After offering prayers at the western gates of the temple complex, she received chandan [sandalwood paste] from the priest who was at the gates. “Had I not visited the temple, my fast would have been incomplete,” said Pandit. “Now, I feel blessed.”
Despite the huge risk of Covid-19 transmission, hundreds of Hindu devotees thronged Pashupatinath and other major temples across the country from early Monday morning. Mondays of the Nepali month of Shrawan are considered auspicious for worshipping Lord Shiva. Devotees observe a fast and offer worship to pray for their own and family members’ good health and prosperity.
This year, however, the Pashupatinath Temple and most other shrines remain closed for worshippers due to the Covid-19 prohibitory orders.
But still hundreds of devotees, especially women, were to be seen crowding at major shrines no matter whether they were open or closed. Throughout Shrawan, devout Hindu women, both married and unmarried, wear green, turn vegetarian and visit Shiva shrines.
The prohibitory orders, which were introduced in the Valley two and a half months ago, have been largely loosened over the past few weeks, but mass gatherings are still banned. But in lack of effective monitoring by the authorities, both the public, transporters and businesses are flouting the restrictions.
Health experts, however, have been warning that the pandemic is not over yet and a third wave could hit the country soon as nearly 2,000 Covid-19 cases are being registered every day.
“Due to the negligence by the people in observing the health safety protocols, Covid cases are gradually rising again,” Dr Anup Bastola, spokesperson at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told the Post. “The only way to curb the spread is to avoid forming crowds. Even vaccinated people are getting infected.”
“People need to respect the restrictions otherwise a third wave could hit the country very soon. Considering the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic, people this time should offer prayers and worship at home and avoid flocking to temples or other crowded places,” said Bastola.
On Monday, the country reported 1,642 new cases of Covid-19 with 32 fatalities. Of the total infections, Kathmandu Valley recorded 474 new cases in the past 24 hours. According to the Ministry of Health and Population, 330 cases were confirmed in Kathmandu, 56 in Lalitpur and 88 in Bhaktapur.
The Chief District Officer of Kathmandu Kali Prasad Parajuli, however, said he was unaware of the crowding at temples.
“I will discuss the matter with security agencies,” said Parajuli. “People themselves should act responsibly, take precautions and respect the restrictions as police cannot reach everywhere.”
However, for devotees, Shrawan is once a year opportunity to pay obeisance to the lord.
"The entire month is dedicated to Lord Shiva. We observe strict religious discipline throughout the month and observe a fast on Mondays. We avoid non-vegetarian food and garlic and onions, which are considered impure," said Laxmi, a devotee who was offering prayers at the Shiva temple at Har Har Mahadev in Kathmandu.
According to religious belief, one's wishes are fulfilled and Lord Shiva showers fortune on the devotees who visit his shrines on the first Monday of Shrawan.