The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, one of the most sacred of all Buddhist sites in the world, reopened to the public on 27 August after being closed for five months when a deadly second wave of COVID-19 infections began sweeping across the country.
“We had to, unfortunately, keep the [Mahabodhi] temple closed since around last April for everyone’s safety,” Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee secretary, Nangzey Dorjee told local media. “The good thing is that from today [27 August] the temple has been reopened at normal timings from 5am to 9pm . . . so we did proper preparations and it was reopened.” (WION)
The Mahabodhi Temple was closed to the public on 10 April to curb the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. A subsequent state-wide lockdown was imposed in Bihar on 5 May after a local surge in COVID-19 infections was recorded. According to the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee, a total of 3,400 devotees and tourists visited the temple on the first day of its reopening.
“It feels really good that today we came here for the first time, on the first day as [the Mahabodhi Temple] reopened. We came here to visit and it feels really good,” a local resident of Bodh Gaya named Anurag was quoted as saying. “The temple was closed for many days so the devotees and the tourists who wanted to come could not come. It is good that it reopened now so people will come here to visit and the local who make their livelihood from here can earn well.” (WION)
The Mahabodhi Temple, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, is perhaps the most sacred of all pilgrimage sites for Buddhist practitioners, marking the place where the historical Buddha is said to have attained awakening. There are seven other sacred sites in Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha contemplated enlightenment, including the descendent of the original Bodhi tree beneath which Shakyamuni Buddha sat.
“The state government has given permission to reopen the shrine with strict instructions to follow the standard operating procedure [for the pandemic],” Dorjee explained. “The shrine campus is being sanitized thrice [daily]—in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Masks are mandatory for everyone to enter the campus. Physical distancing is being maintained. We have kept sanitizer at the entry point for everyone. Everyone visiting the shrine has to undergo thermal screening.” (The Times of India)
Only 10 people at a time are currently permitted to enter the temple’s inner sanctum and all visitors to the temple complex are required to wear masks. No religious functions or ceremonies can be organized without permission of the district magistrate.
India’s second and most deadly wave of COVID-19 emerged in February, reaching a peak in May when the country of 1.36 billion people was recording in excess of 400,000 daily infections. In the 24 hours to Monday, India reported 38,94 new infections and 219 related deaths.
At the time of writing on 6 September, India had reported a total of 33.03 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 440,752 related deaths, with 689.2 million vaccine doses administered.* However, experts have expressed concern that an dearth of test kits in many parts of India, particularly in rural areas, means that large numbers of deaths and infections have not made it into official data, and that the actual situation on the ground has been much worse than the figures suggest. India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, has also faced a shortage of vaccine doses amid high levels of demand.
* Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center
Mahabodhi Temple: Popular Buddhist pilgrimage site reopens after months of COVID-19 shutdown (WION)
COVID-19: Mahabodhi Temple reopens for general public after 5 months (The New Indian Express)
Mahabodhi Mahavihara reopens after five months (The Times of India)
Mahabodhi temple reopening enthuses tourism industry (The Times of India)
Coronavirus live updates: Weekly positivity rate less than 3% for last 73 days, says govt (The Times of India)
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