In view of the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, the Swaminarayan sect has announced to close all its temples globally and suspend routine activities until further notice as part of its efforts to protect the health of volunteers, visitors and local communities.
COVID-19, which has been declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, has claimed over 5,000 lives, including 41 in the United States, and infected more than 134,000 people globally.
The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam (BAPS) Swaminarayan Sanstha, which runs about 100 temples in the US, over the weekend in particular is visited by thousands of devotees every month.
The BAPS is a volunteer-driven organisation that aims to improve society through individual growth by fostering Hindu ideals of faith, unity, and selfless service.
'To prevent large gatherings, BAPS mandirs (temples) will be closed throughout the world, but devotees will be given daily darshan through the websites of each mandir,' the BAPS said in a media release.
BAPS will continue to provide spiritual guidance to devotees and Hindus around the world to keep their faith and spirituality alive, it said.
The organisation said it is working closely with local authorities in towns and cities in which their temples are located.
It will comply with local regulations and find ways to support the local community to fight the deadly virus as they have been doing during past calamities and disasters, it said.
"Satsang (spiritual discourse) happens in social settings. But in exceptional times, we have to find other ways. We realize that our gurus and seers insisted that we accompany each other and serve each other on the spiritual journey, but this calamity has changed the world – for the moment," Kashyap Patel, a cardiologist in Atlanta, said.
"That doesn't change the fact that my spiritual life gives me the wisdom I need to approach the difficulties my family and I face.
"My gurus, his Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj and his Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, have always stressed the importance of family values, communication within the family, and using spirituality as a means to come together and find pragmatic solutions to everyday issues. Now is the time I apply them," he said.
The sect will continue to assess the situation and develop its guidelines regarding temple visits and resuming activities based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local government authorities, it said.