Thousands of devotees gathered for a chariot pulling ritual on Thursday (April 16) that was part of the Siddalingeshwara fair in Chittapur village of Kalaburagi district, Karnataka amid the lockdown imposed to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
This comes after Kalaburagi was named a COVID-19 hotspot since the district had reported the first death in the country.
A video put out on Twitter shows devotees crowding at the ritual site, thereby neglecting lockdown restrictions and norms regarding social distancing. People are seen pulling the five-storey chariot on the road in the video, with a huge crowd walking alongside the chariot as part of a procession.
Following this, Chittapur’s tahsildar Umakant Halle accused the Siddalingeshwara Trust, which runs the temple, of ‘misguiding’ the local administration.
As per custom, the temple would generally conduct a ‘Pallaki Seva’ ritual – where an idol is carried in a palanquin, a day before the procession. The administration had asked the temple trust to hold this ritual symbolically, with priests and trust members present, and not to have a chariot pulling event.
Sources claimed that, however, the ritual had taken place despite both district officials and the temple trust members “agreeing not to go ahead with the event”.
According to The Indian Express, “The chariot pulling was to take place on Thursday evening and the Siddalingeshwara Trust agreed to cancel it. But without informing the taluk administration, the chariot was pulled on Thursday morning at 5 am in the presence of many devotees.”
Initial media reports also claimed that despite the massive crowds, neither the police nor the district administration intervened at first. It is said that the district police registered a case against the temple trust after videos of the incident went viral on Twitter.
Media reports said the deputy commissioner of the district was informed of the situation and he had assured that necessary action will be taken. The state government’s information department also said permission had not been given for the ritual.
The tahsildar said the police in that area have been asked to file an FIR against the Siddalingeswara Trust management and the devotees who pulled the chariot.
According to the Union health ministry, Kalaburagi district has one of the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Karnataka.
As of Thursday, the district had 20 cases, the fourth highest among all districts. There have been three deaths in the district, which is the highest among all districts in Karnataka.