The Attukal Pongala festival in Thiruvananthapuram, which drives in women devotees in lakhs every year who queue up in multiple lines in kilometers around the main Bhagavathy Temple and snaking into the city and beyond, will be a muted affair this year with strict Covid-19 protocols limiting rituals to the temple and homes.

Unlike most years when the February sun batters the city, which, combined with the open hearths lit up along roads by devotees to prepare the offering to the deity adds to the ambient temperatures, clouds hung in early on this Pongala morning (Thursday) following late night showers overnight on Wednesday.

Empty streets in capital city

Most streets are empty with lean traffic with a local holiday having been declared, but makeshift pooja pandals dotted every 100 to 500 feet playing loud devotional music. With a view to enforcing Covid protocol, the police have issued a warning against offering Pongala in public places. The sale of bricks and firewood has also been banned.

District Collector Navjot Khosa, also Chairperson of the Thiruvananthapuram District Disaster Management Authority, has issued orders giving permission for the ‘purathuezhunnallippu’ (procession) of the deity of the temple. Only 25 persons, including ‘pujaris,’ will be allowed to take part. All must have taken RT-PCR test in past 72 hours and tested negative in the past three months.

Covid safety protocols

Only official vehicles will be allowed to accompany the procession. Vehicles of the public or microphones will not be allowed. Pujas, other offerings, sale of food, or offering of flowers along the route will not be allowed . The police and organisers should ensure that members of the public do not accompany the procession.

Safety protocols such as mask, sanitiser, and social distancing should be adhered to, especially when If relatives, friends, and neighbours get together for offering Pongala. Special care should be taken if there are children, the elderly, or those unwell are at home. Also, safety from fire and smoke should be ensured.

No food distribution

Those visiting from outside should don masks and not interact with the elderly or the ill. Those with cold, cough, fever, or sore throat should avoid visiting others .Children should be kept away from the fire. Sanitisers too should be stored at a safe distance. Hearths should not be set up near vehicles.

City Police Commissioner G Sparjan Kumar said that use of loudspeakers and distribution of food in public places have been banned. Devotees should offer Pongala in their houses and avoid going to the main Attukal temple in groups, he said. Traffic restrictions have also been put in place in and around the temple.

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