Priests in Vizag are in dire need of blessings


Priests in and around Visakhapatnam are dire straits due to coronavirus induced restrictions imposed by the government. More than 150 of them are staring at a dark future as the offerings from devotees shrank due to low turnout at temples due to a spike in Covid 19 cases at an alarming level. Most of them became jobless as various social functions, rituals and religious festivities have either been cancelled or postponed to prevent public gatherings to arrest the spread of virus.

“Even rituals usually organised at home have also been cancelled. Though the AP government has given one-time financial assistance of Rs. 5000 for performing rituals in small temples without any monthly salary but it will not suffice for a family of four with prevailing Covid 19 times. if there are no pujas and other religious functions in the next few months to prevent gatherings, how the priests will survive”, the head priest of the popular temple in Visakhapatnam said.

Indeed, rituals have taken a hit in this season of pandemic. So have the priests who perform them fear of infection has dissuaded many from allowing priests into the house. “We have a Shiva temple at home. Through Sravan month, we have daily puja and aarti performed by a priest. And on a Sunday, 11 priests perform a day-long puja and all friends and extended family are invited. There’s no chance of any of that this year,” S Venkateswarlu of MVP Colony said. Instead, we have been gathering in the temple to offer panchamrit to the lord themselves. Since the priest stays in the locality, the monetary offerings made individually to the lord are being collected and sent to him, along with the month’s dakshina of Rs 5,000. But this family is an exception in their generosity.

“There were so many wedding dates cancelled. A few of us got work in the 1 percent that happened,” priest Vidya Narayana Swamy said. “A popular priest earns Rs 1-1.5 lakh from weddings in this period. In Sravan, we are called to conduct Rudraabhishek. There are about 100-150 guests. So, the dakshina, too, is handsome. Now, this year’s Sravan Month and Ganesh Chaturthi is approaching while Covid cases are increasing and Commissioner of Police R K Meena said no more pujas and celebrations this time, Swami added.

But for priest Somayajulu of Ramnagar area luck is in his favour. Some patrons trust me enough and have asked me to perform puja at my house in their name. They have offered me the same money as they did when I did the puja in their presence. But not everyone is as trusting.” “Multiple priests are needed for many of the grand rituals. Now, people are doing with just one… if they hold the ritual at all,” he said.

The situation is no different in temples. “Initially, we opened for just half an hour to perform the daily puja. Now, even if we open for longer hours, we have to follow distancing rules; so, pujas in individual names have to be staggered,” other priest of Shivalayam in Sankaramatam road said. “Hands have to be sanitised before the Puja. Even then, we have stopped giving out flowers to avoid infection. Worshippers have to collect flowers from baskets and deposit them in baskets, not before the deity. Only whole fruits are being given as prasad. Attendance on Saturday’s minimum and temple’s earnings have sunk to one-fourth.

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