The Madras High Court on Wednesday refused to interfere with any of the restrictions imposed by the Tiruvannamalai district administration with respect to conduct of the Arunachaleswarar Temple’s 17-day Karthigai Deepam festival which began on Tuesday and is scheduled to end on December 3.
Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and R. Hemalatha took judicial notice of numerous lives that had been lost due to COVID-19 and also the fact that lakhs of devotees congregate in the temple every year to witness various rituals associated with the annual festival. They felt that it would be very difficult to follow the COVID-19 standard operating procedures.
Disposing of a public interest litigation petition filed by V. Sakthivel, State vice-president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bench observed that people in such gatherings generally lack self discipline and hence relaxing any of the restrictions might make it difficult for the police to control the crowd and lead to other complications.
Though the petitioner’s counsel insisted that the Urchavamoorthy must be taken in a temple car on the four Mada Veethis around the temple on November 26, the judges said they were not inclined to interfere with the decision taken by the district administration as well as temple management to take the Panchamoorthigal only on the fifth Pravesam within the precincts of the temple to avoid gathering of large crowd to witness the car festival.
The judges hoped that the restrictions imposed on the festival would be for this year alone and normalcy would be restored from next year. The observation was made since the petitioner feared that permitting any change to the mode of conduct of the festival would become a new normal and the temple management might not revert to old practices thereafter.
Explaining the restrictions imposed, advocate AK Sriram, representing the temple management, told the court that only 800 devotees would be permitted inside the temple every two hours after insisting upon wearing of masks, checking their body temperature and so on. The devotees would be allowed inside the temple only till November 28.
The Bharani Deepam would be lit at 4 am and the Maha Deepam at 6 pm on November 29 when no devotee would be allowed inside the temple. “We will not be able to control the crowd, if we allow devotees inside the temple on that day. When it comes to the question of health, we must strike a balance between it and the need to follow religious practices and rituals,” he said.
The counsel added that the Theppa Utsavam would generally be conducted at Ayyankulam which was about two kilometres away from the temple. However, this year, it had been decided to conduct the ritual in the Brahma Theertha Kulam inside the temple. Only those required to conduct the Utsavam would be allowed inside the temple on that day and entry shall be barred for devotees. The entire festival would come to an end with the Sandikesavar Urchavam on December 3.
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