New Delhi: Every morning at 8am, 60 years Durga Prasad Das Mohapatra goes to the Jagannath temple Puri To offer prayers. This has been his routine for the past 45 years. Mohapatra is the general secretary of the Nijog, or general secretary, a group of 185 servants who go on a pilgrimage every year in Puri. Many Hindus believe that the 12th century temple is at the center of the existence of Mohapatra, whose desire for life is to be buried in the cemetery of Paragadwar – Puri. Mohapatra is among the myriad of people who harbor this wish.
But now, the coronavirus has come on the road to faith. Local administration has banned the funeral of Kovid-19 victims in Swagadhwar. And this ban has led to an extraordinary situation. The stigma associated with the disease and the fear of loneliness in the hospital has led to fears of not getting a funeral in Paradise, where people – especially the elderly – are said to be risking their lives. Residents of this beach town of Odisha say that people are avoiding being tested and do not contact doctors when Kovid’s symptoms appear.
During the lockdown, the Puri administration restricted outsiders, even those who did not die from Kovid, to be buried in paradise. Previously, people traveled to Puri to bury their relatives not only from Odisha but also from Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Hattis. More than 100 funeral pyres were lit every day before the epidemic, which dropped to 20-25 from restraints on non-natives, said Bharatharan Sahu, secretary of the Swargadwar Seva Samiti. Currently, Swargadwar sees 40-50 burns per day. The restriction on non-Puri people did not go well with the public, and the ban was relaxed in October.
The Odisha government has created a separate encampment for the Kovid-19 dying in Puri. “People are being trained to bury the Kovid dead and actions are taken according to the protocol,” says Saroj Kumar Swain, Additional Executive Officer of the Puri Municipality. “We care more about the safety of the living than the wishes of those who want to get to heaven after death,” he says.
Sub-collector Sahoo says the funeral ground staff will quiz with the listener and determine the cause of death if a medical certificate is not issued. “Some of the people have been taken back after the details they provided raised suspicions of Kovid’s death,” says Sahoo. Swain says the corpses have not been examined for Kovid but neighbors say they suspect the death was related to the disease.
But there is no answer as to why separate arrangements cannot be made for the Kovid victims in Swargadwar as in many other crematoriums. Repeated calls and messages sent by TOI have not received any response from Puri collector Balwant Singh and municipal executive officer Bijaya Kumar Dash.
On the ground, there is a running battle between faith and reality. Shibasis Tripathi is a native of Bhubaneswar and works in Bangalore, where he lived for 11 years. “But I still want to get the final send-off from Swargadwar,” he says. The impetus is strong in the servants at the Jagannath temple in Puri. Das Mohapatra says, “The servants’ face (the light of the funeral pyre) is made of fire from the Vaishnavagni or the magnificent kitchen of the Jagannath temple.” The servants believe that their life-long service will be nothing if they do not perform their final rites with the holy fire in paradise.
“More than 600 attendants and their family members tested positive for Kovid and nearly 25 people died,” says a senior servant and temple official who did not wish to be named. He adds, “The numbers should be higher because many are hiding the symptoms. This is especially true for elderly people who fear that the hospitals in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack will be packed and denied the final rites at Swargadwar. “People were not only dodging tests but masking Kovid’s symptoms,” says Dr JP Das, a government doctor in Puri. “Fear of being isolated in hospitals and the funeral in Swargadwar was denied,” he says.
How many elderly people have made Puri their home in order to have funeral at Swargadwar? “It’s hard to say no survey has been done,” says sub-collector Sahoo. According to Das Mohapatra, more than 1,000 retirees have built land and houses in Puri. Then hundreds of widows and widows remain in different monasteries and live a religious life with the sole goal of achieving paradise through paradise.
Dr Fitzgerald said the fear and stigma attached to Kovid was exacerbated. And while the Kovid cases are sinking, this temple seems to be bad for the town. Das Mohapatra, himself a Kovid-positive and victorious, said that “since October, cases of infection have decreased among Jagannath temple attendants,” with the blessing of Lord Jagannath and modern medical care at the Kovid Current Center.

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