Temples around the world have recently been hit hard by the new wave of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus – as has the rest of the world. Many devotees have been infected, including many ISKCON gurus such as Indradyumna Swami, as well as Hrdaya Caitanya, a member of the GBC and co-director of ISKCON Mayapur. In many temples, almost all devotees are quarantined and standards of deity worship have been lowered. In Villa Vrindavana in Italy, a single pujari has to handle all the seva at present. In the midst of this new wave, ISKCON Dwarka in Delhi and ISKCON Juhu Mumbai, for example, are distributing and delivering free meals to covid sufferers.
Worldwide, the numbers of infections with the Omicron variant are currently rising dramatically – 60 percent more are currently reported on a weekly basis.
Particularly hard hit are India – up 520 percent, Australia – up 225 percent, Brazil – up 187 percent, Mexico – up 229 percent but also the Philippines – up 1024 percent. But in the United States, contagions are also on the rise – up 64 percent from the previous week.
In Europe, the contagions are increasing and many ISKCON temples are affected.
Bhaktivedanta Manor, the largest ISKCON temple in the United Kingdom is currently functioning as usual, Radhamohan of the UK communications team writes to us. There are contagions in the community around the Manor. According to the latest government guidelines, wearing face masks is now mandatory in all indoor spaces, this applies in all indoor spaces on the Bhaktivedanta Manor premises.
“Most devotees in Villa Vrindavana are positive, but fortunately the symptoms are light. This omicron is very contagious. The problem is that we have to stay in quarantine and only two devotees can take care of the deities. All standards have been drastically lowered.” Parabhakti Das, the temple president of Villa Vrindavana in Tuscany, Italy, tells us. So far, there have never been any problems at Villa Vrindavana, partly because of the high prevention standards followed there. Due to the recent infections, the temple will be closed for at least 10 days, also because devotees living outside cannot come to offer their services.
At Bhaktivedanta College, in Durbuy in the rural Ardennes region of Belgium, devotees write us that the new Omikron wave will lead to an increase in infections in the area. The college itself offers its studies and courses mostly online, so the service has not yet been restricted.
At the Baltimore Temple, a dozen devotees have fallen ill in the past two weeks. Three of them had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance – but all are now feeling better.
In Chicago, many pujaris tested positive and the temple had to temporarily reduce some Deity worship standards because there were not enough healthy pujaris available.
The Towaco Temple in New Jersey was closed on December 24 and all holiday and New Year’s programs were canceled. Until further notice, the temple remains closed.
In Lusaka, Zambia, the Sunday Love Festival program has not been held for almost two years. Devotees restarted the program in November and December 2021, but have had to discontinue it again due to the recent spread of Omicron.
Since the recent appearance of Covid in Botswana in December 2021, community programs at the temple in the capital city of Gaborone, such as the Sunday program, have been suspended again. However, online Sunday programs will continue.
In Mumbai, as in Delhi, covid cases are increasing exponentially. ISKCON Juhu is taking security precautions in the temple hall, deity department, and ashram. Currently, no devotees have been infected. In Mayapur, the number of devotees suffering from covid increased to 38.
ISKCON Chowpatty has restricted darshan times and is taking necessary security measures.
ISKCON Mira Road as well as ISKCON Kharghar are also taking the necessary security measures.
In general, the Deity Ministry has advised all temples, if necessary, to lower their standards for the necessary time if there is a shortage of healthy pujaris.
For all ISKCON temples, many connections with devotees in the communities have been lost during the pandemic, which has now lasted almost two years. Much of the community relies on in-person programs and gatherings, kirtan, and taking prasadam together. “The online platform has not really caught on in our community,” one of the notes to ISKCON news said. For everyone in ISKCON, a particular challenge is maintaining services in the temples, keeping in touch with community members, and looking out for everyone’s health.
In the midst of the pandemic, ISKCON Dwarka in Dehli, India, has once again launched a sacred initiative to deliver meals to Covid patients. Likewise, this service is being offered by ISKCON Juhu Mumbai. These initiatives are charity in action and a ray of hope for many in these dark times.
We want to continue to report on what impact the Corona pandemic is having on our temples and projects around the world. Keep us updated.
These three questions, in particular, are important for all devotees:
In Kansas City, several devotees were recently sick with covid and the temple was closed for some time.
Jun 25, 2022
Radhapriya Chawla, ISKCON Toronto Communications