All temples and places of worship are out of bounds for devotees in the State due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown, resulting in a massive loss of income for priests who are mostly dependent on the donation from devotees. The restrictions have not only dried up their income but also made it difficult for them to sustain their livelihood.
Though temples are closed, priests across the State are carrying out the daily rituals in the morning and evening without any devotees. Now the situation has gone from bad to worse in this second wave of the pandemic, affecting priests across the State as their livelihood is heavily dependent on the offering made by devotees.
Many priests are even finding it difficult to manage two square meals a day. In case of health issues, they are trying out all possible measures to avoid hospitalisation either due to penury or lack of any health insurance to support the treatment.
"Around 100 to 200 servitor families are in dire condition. Extreme poverty has forced their children to stop studying. The government should look into our problems and help us in this time of crisis," said Ramachandra Pani, servitor of Biraja Temple in Jajpur district.
Dhirendra Kumar Rath, priest of Bhagwati Temple in Jeypore, said, "The government is being urged to provide assistance to the servitors of Puri Srimandir but no one is thinking about us- neither the district administration nor the devotees. We are yet to get any type of facility."
The government has announced assistance for street vendors but is yet to consider our plea, said chief priest of Maa Samaleswari Temple in Sambalpur, Ambika Ray. "We perform pujas for the wellbeing of people, but our wellbeing is being neglected," lamented Ray.
"The government should come up with a special package for those who have devoted their entire life for Lord Jagannath. It will help save their community and Sanatan Dharm too," said Kashinath Khuntia, senior servitor of Puri Srimandir.
"We have so far provided an assistance of Rs 10,000 at a time (towards two installments of Rs 5000 each) to 241 families each during this 2nd wave of COVID-19," said Ajay Jena, Srimandir administrator.