The pilgrim season to Adam’s Peak is set to begin on December 29 (Tuesday) and the challenge would be to control the crowds that would throng the jungle paths to make the 5-6 hour journey.
During the COVID-19 pandemic Sri Lanka, despite being one of the least effected country’s by this virus, showed that its citizens might not care about health guidelines. Hence the authorities have limited the daily travel of pilgrims to the mountain peak to 200.
That means the pilgrims traveling from the main four routes would allow 50 pilgrims each on any given day. Staying indoors is the most suitable thing to do during this pandemic, but when it comes to matters of religious importance the authorities have tried to be somewhat lenient and allowed for travel while trying to make everyone remain within the boundaries stipulated by the health authorities.
There is a perception that religions and science have both failed in addressing this pandemic which has accounted for the lives of both the young and the old. It’s an illness which has not only tested Science, but also our faiths. A hopeless situation nudged a local native medicine practitioner to introduce a concoction out of utter desperation. Even this native medicine practitioner is reported to have asked for the blessings of a female Goddess who is worshiped for her disruptive powers as well as her fondness to care for the helpless.
We have enough shrines dedicated for Gods and Goddesses in this island nation. And this is a time when devotees have worked on their chanting and worshiping; largely out of the fear of succumbing to the disease rather than for the love for their deities.
When devotees start the climb to reach the peak unnecessary or lose talk is halted. And a pure mindset is cultivated; all because there is fear that the wrath of the God would be terrible to endure.
And many believe that this pandemic is the wrath of some God. They believe it surfaced to make the people more humane and to destroy the evil. There is traditionally a lot of camaraderie during the climb, but this time around people might be to themselves because there could be COVID-19 virus carriers due to the fact that this stage of the pandemic gives rise to those carrying the virus sans symptoms.
As a result the authorities have banned the organising of dan sal (Outlets offering free meals) along the path to the peak and instead encouraged individuals to put up stalls which give away masks, gloves, sanitizer and soap. Volunteers will be made to undergo a PCR test before being allowed to offer their services.
The authorities haven’t opened the country to foreign visitors as yet. The pilgrim season attracts foreign tourists. And this time around too there could be foreign tourists because this place of worship attracts devotees of all faiths. The footprint on the mountain is believed to be that of Gautama Buddha, but devotees of other faiths have their believes which differ with that of Buddhists. The Christians believe it was left by St. Thomas’, the Muslims believe it’s the footprint of Adam while the Hindus believe it is Lord Shiva’s. Culturally different pilgrims have made the trek joining hands and helping each other and never have there been clashes as to who is right and who is wrong with regard to the footprint.
Devotees will be expected to follow strict COVID-19 related guidelines; some of which are laws already passed in parliament. This is a country where pilgrims fear the Gods and goddesses, but not the law. Let’s hope pilgrims would keep the laws related to health guidelines at least in the back of their heads because we are a nation where people often become blind when intoxicated by a heavy dose of religion!