Priests hit hard as income dries up amid COVID-19 crisis

Kolkata: With several weddings and religious functions being put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Hindu priests in Kolkata and its vicinity are in dire straits, some even looking for an alternative source of income to make ends meet.

Sushanta Chakraborty, a priest in Agarpara on the northern outskirts of the city, is selling vegetables in his locality, something that he said his “ancestors couldn’t have thought of, no matter what the circumstances”.

“Some households which I had been visiting for decades to perform rituals on auspicious occasions wouldn’t invite me anymore. Since March, I have been sitting idle. With four mouths to feed — my aged parents, daughter and wife — I finally decided to sell vegetables on a cart.

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“Before March, I used to earn anything between Rs 35,000 and Rs 40,000 every month. Now, I barely manage to take home Rs 800 per day,” Chakraborty said.

Vijay Upadhay, a priest in the city’s Kestopur area, has taken to Facebook to urge people that they be allowed to perform household rituals.

“Narayan puja rituals are now taking place without the presence of a priest in many households. I appeal to all of you to remove the misgivings and allow priests conduct the rituals,” he said.

Vinod Jha, a committee member of a Hanuman temple in Kamarhati, said the management has decided to retain just one of the three priests on its payroll.

“The number of devotees has declined and so have the earnings. We have decided to let go of two priests and retain only one for performing the daily rituals,” Jha said.

Montu Chakroborty, a priest in south Kolkata’s Chakraberia area, believes that the situation will change for better during Durga puja.

“Some Durga puja committees have assured me that they would invite me. I am pinning my hopes on them. My earnings per month have come down to Rs 6,000 from Rs 11,000. But I know Maa (Durga) will set things right,” he said.

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