The massive crowds of devotees in temples, elaborately decorated tableaus and Dahi Handi revelry were all missing this year on Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, as celebrations were dampened by COVID-19 restrictions.
IMAGE: A child dressed like Lord Krishna at the Bhikham Das Thakurbari mandir on the occasion Krishna Janmashtami, in Patna. Photograph: ANI Photo
Amid blowing of conch shells and beating of drums, priests offered prayers since early morning in temples but there were no special religious discourses, 'Krishnalila' dance dramas and community kitchens as the entry of devotees had been either banned or restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The rituals were, however, streamed online from some temples. In North India, families usually observe a day-long fast and hold special prayers at midnight.
Tight security arrangements were made outside the main temples to ensure that people followed social distancing.
The festivities were also relatively low-key in the main temples of Mathura, the birth place of Lord Krishna, Vrindavan, Nandgaon, Mahaban and Baldeo, which are usually visited by lakhs of pilgrims on the occasion.
Soaked in religious fervour, devotees would throng decked-up temples and take out colourful processions to mark the birth of Lord Krishna, but like other festivals in COVID-19 times, rituals have been restricted on Janmashtami too in the country.
Though the entry of devotees was banned, a large number of people assembled outside the Sri Krishna Janmasthan in Mathura and greeted each other with chants of Lord Krishna.
IMAGE: riests offering prayer to Lord Radha Krishna at Sri Krishna Janambhoomi temple on the occasion of Janmashtami festival in Mathura. Photograph: ANI Photo
The temples of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which celebrate the festival with great fervour and attract large congregations, also allowed only a limited number of devotees.
In the national capital, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia prayed at the ISKCON temple in East of Kailash.
"This year the devotees were restricted in numbers due to COVID-19 pandemic. Also, the jhanki (tableau) of Lord Sri Krishna could not be readied due to unavailability of special craftsmen based in Kolkata," a temple spokesman said.
Groups which organise Dahi Handi festivities in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra opted for low-key celebration unlike in past years when massive crowds would gather to cheer Govinda squads.
These youngsters would move around the city in processions, make human pyramids and break pots filled with butter or curd, which are hung at a considerable height, to win prize money.
It is inspired by the tale of Lord Krishna's boyhood trick of stealing butter from a suspended earthen pot.
Adhering to the social distancing guidelines, Dahi Handi mandals did not form human pyramids this year.
Instead, they carried out health and social welfare drives, like blood donation camps and removal of plastic, organisers said.
IMAGE: Devotees celebrate Dahi handi festival in Mumbai's Vile Parle area. Photograph: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com
Dahi handis were broken in a symbolic manner with those involved maintaining social distance and wearing masks.
Ram Kadam, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Ghatkopar in Mumbai, said in normal times, his mandals Dahi Handi celebration saw five to six lakh footfalls.
"Ours was the biggest Dahi Handi celebration in India in normal times. But this year, we celebrated in a very simple manner, observing social distancing given the COVID-19 crisis.
"No human pyramid was formed. A child climbed atop a table and broke Dahi Handi to mark the festival in a symbolic manner," Kadam said.
"This year, we gave a message of boycotting Chinese products and working for an aatmanirbhar (self-reliant) India," he said.
IMAGE: Devotees celebrate Janmashtami in Mumbai. Photograph: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com
Bala Padalkar, chief of Dahi Handi Utsav Samanvay Samiti, an umbrella body of over 950 mandals (groups) in the state, said that the enthusiasm was not the same this year and members of various mandals agreed not to travel in the city to break dahi handis.
In Mathura, Kapil Sharma, the secretary of Sri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan in Mathura, said devotees assembled outside the temple, and as soon as they heard the drums and sound of clarinet, they greeted each other with oud chants.
Bathing ceremony of the deity - 'Abhishekam' - was performed with milk, curd, honey, ghee and khandsari.
Normally after 'Abhishekam', 'Charnamrit' is distributed among devotees in the Radha Raman Temple, Radha Damodar Temple and Shah Ji Temple.
However, there was no distribution of 'Charnamrit' in Radha Damodar and Shah Ji temples this year since priests have expressed their inability to control crowds.
A large number of devotees, therefore, gathered outside the Radha Raman temple Vrindaban and Charnamrit was distributed among for over one hour, while ensuring that devotees maintain social distancing and wear masks, Padmanabha Goswami, the secretary of the temple, said.
A heavy police contingent had been posted at the entrance of main temples in Mathura to prevent the entry of devotees, District Magistrate Sarvagya Ram Mishra said.
'Dadhikana', an annual ritual to mark the arrival of Krishna in Gokul on the next day after Janmashtami, has been cancelled this year owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The festival was celebrated in some parts of the country on Tuesday.
IMAGE: A boy dressed as Lord Krishna breaks the earthen pot on the occasion of Janmashthami (Dahi Handi) in Mumbai. Photograph: Mitesh Bhuvad/PTI Photo
>Amid chants of vedic hymns, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath celebrated Janmashtami at the Gorakhnath temple on Tuesday night, temple manager Dwarika Tiwari said.
On Wednesday morning, the chief minister visited a cow shelter in the premises of Gorakhnath temple after taking blessings of Mahant Digvijaynath and Mahant Avaidyanath.
Bal Krishna Sajja competition was not organised this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tiwari added.
With people being apprehensive about venturing into markets for festival shopping due to the raging coronavirus pandemic, businesses too have taken a hit.
Several artisans who make clay models of Lord Krishna and stitch dresses for the idols incurred losses.
Navin Paul, a clay modeller at Kumartuli in Kolkata said, "I made around 40 small idols of Lord Krishna but managed to sell just 10. I don't know what to do with the rest."
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had greeted citizens on the eve of Janmashtami.
In his message, President Kovind had appreciated the efforts of all corona warriors who are at the forefront of the country's fight against COVID-19, according to an official statement.
"Lord Shri Krishna inspires us to establish a society that is just, sensitive and compassionate. His message of Karmayoga is a call to focus on our responsibilities rather than caring for rewards. This spirit has been evident in the working of all our corona warriors who act at the forefront of our fight against COVID-19," he said.