The outbreak of coronavirus, with numbers rising sharply, is set to change the experience of visiting a religious place in the country. Not only will the jostling crowds be gone, making offerings and receiving prasad, vermillion dots or holy water will be a strict no-no. There should also be no physical singing and only recorded music should be played as far as possible, the Centre said in its new safety guidelines issued on Thursday.
All the country's most popular shrines -- from Sabarimala in the south to Vaishnodevi in the north -- had shut their doors to the public days before the countrywide lockdown was announced on March 25.
After more than two months of lockdown, religious places are set to open in most states this month. Many states have already made inquiries regarding guidelines. Others are making preparations for grand openings.
The Central guidelines issued on Thursday underscored the need to continue the use of masks and social distancing as part of the safety measures. Advocating separate entry and exits for visitors, the guidelines also said the devotees should maintain physical distancing of a minimum of 6 feet at all times when queuing up for entry.
Only asymptomatic people can be allowed in and they should wash their hands and feet with soap and water before entering the premises of any religious place, the guidelines said. Common prayer mats should be avoided and devotees should bring their own.
Touching of statues, idols, icons or holy books are not allowed. "No physical offerings like Prasad or distribution or sprinkling of holy water, etc. will be allowed inside the religious place," the guidelines further said, in view of the highly infectious nature of the coronavirus.
As far as feasible, recorded devotional music or songs may be played and choir or singing groups should not be allowed, the guidelines also said.
The lockdown guidelines had expressly barred religious gatherings and other occasions where a crowd might gather, as part of safety measures against the infection. Large gatherings still remain prohibited and the religious places have been asked to stagger the entry of visitors.