Fear over the spread of Covid-19 has gripped Karnataka’s religious tourism circuit as well. From Madhur on the Karnataka-Kerala border, to Mardol in Goa, several temples in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Chikkamagaluru and Uttara Kannada have seen the number of devotees fall sharply.
Jain tourism centres such as Moodbidri, Karkala in Dakshina Kannada district and Shravanabelagola in Hassan have also reported a major slide in tourist inflow following the virus outbreak.
Many religious institutions have sent advisories to their devotees to avoid visiting temples till the Covid-19 scare mitigates. The first to send an advisory was Dharmasthala Manjunatha temple in Dakshina Kannada’s Puttur taluk. It was followed by Kukke Shree Subrahmanya temple, which gets a footfall of over 20,000 per day even in the off-season, and around 100,000 during festivities.
“We have sent advisories across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa from where we get maximum devotees. The temples have already experienced 40-50% slide in attendance and, in the next week, the numbers might come down further," said Kota Srinivas Poojary, Karnataka’s minister for religious endowments.
“ ...We cannot predict or estimate it in terms of loss of tourism revenue in these difficult times, but certainly extreme restraint has to be exercised by every devotee. The government was advised by medical experts not to allow large gatherings anywhere, especially in religious places, where people do take health risks," Poojary added.
Karnataka Dharmika Parishat members estimate the first quarter (January-March) revenue to be ₹100 crore from 75 “A" grade temples. A grade is assigned to temples that take care of their expenses from contributions by devotees.
Jagannivas Rao, a former member of the State Dharmika Parishat, said: “Financial figures are managed by the department of muzrai and religious endowments in the state, and there is no way that the right figures are put out religiously every year. There will be perceptible financial losses for all temples as the attendance has fallen below par at the main temples".
Between 14 January and 8 May, most jathras, or annual temple festivals, such as “Panchamaharathotsava" of Srikanteshwara temple in Nanjangud, near Mysuru, and “Vyrmudi" festival at Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple at Melukote, in Mandya district, take place.
“These festivals will draw at least 500,000 people on 2-3 April. It will be a challenge as the festivals attract rural people and they are uncontrollable both in numbers and in enthusiasm. At Melukote, we are definitely worried and my friends in the administrative set up at Srinkanteshwara temple in Nanjangudu are in the same boat," said Santhanaraman “Sthanik" (religious guide) of Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple, Melukote .