Traders and vendors in several towns of Tamil Nadu were expecting to make up for the losses of 2020 when the lockdown had made it impossible to conduct temple festivals. However with the second wave of the pandemic hitting the state, the government has already brought in restrictions on the number of people participating in the temple festivals.
With the 12-day Chithirai festival at Meenakshi Sundareshwar Temple commencing on Thursday with the hoisting of the flag, local traders and vendors who were expecting a windfall are a gloomy lot.
Rajashekharan Arumukham who runs a small apparel shop near the famous temple while speaking to IANS said, “2020 was a loss and we faced major losses and our bank loans and other commitments had mounted up, however, we were expecting a good season in 2021 to make up for the losses. I have taken another loan with my house as security with the hope that I could make up for the losses in this year’s 12-day Chithirai season as lakhs of people used to congregate here. Now all hopes are dashed and I am ruined.”
The situation is similar across Tamil Nadu with tier-two cities also being hit by the pandemic and the administrations imposing more restrictions.
There are heavy restrictions on the entry of devotees into the temple. Entry is only through the East and South gates and even that for a restricted number of devotees. More than this most of the people are voluntarily opting out of going to the temple due to the fear of contracting the disease. This has affected the business of small vendors and traders who eke out a living from the sale of materials to the devotees who throng the temple during important festivals.
The festival which began on Thursday will end on April 25. The Pattabishekham ceremony is scheduled on April 22, Digvijayam on April 23, Thirukalyanam on April 24 and the car festival on April 25.
Children below the age of 10, pregnant women and senior citizens above 65 years are not allowed entry. Also most of the festivals of the temple are live streamed thus reducing participation of people.
The devotees are also not allowed to bring coconuts or any other fruits inside the temple for darshan and also not allowed to stay inside the temple after darshan.
The fruit merchants were also expecting good business during the season which at Madurai is always linked to the Chithirai festival.
Sundararaj Manikantan while speaking to IANS said, “I don’t know what to do, I lost heavily during last year and the same thing or worse is happening this year also. I will have to wind up my business and work as a daily wage earner to support my family.”
The Trichy Samayapuram Mariamman Kovil Chithirai car festival generally witnesses the participation of lakhs of devotees, bringing cheer to the vendors and traders who surround the temple. With the second wave of the pandemic and the Trichy district administration bringing in restrictions, the vendors have lost hopes of any earnings.
The temple car festival now stands cancelled bringing gloom to almost all the vendors and traders.
Shanmugham, a fruit merchant near the Samayapuram Mariamman Kovil while speaking to IANS said, “We lost everything we had earned over the years in last year’s shutdown and with the second wave of the pandemic and restrictions, we don’t see any future in this trade. We will be on the streets now.”
The traders are of the opinion that the temple administration should allow the devotees to take pooja items inside the temple so that there is brisk business and several families can survive through this.