As the State of Texas and the City of Houston have slowly started to re-open after the Covid-19 lockdown, it is indeed a welcome relief for the community to see the premier religious institution Sri Meenakshi Temple leading the way in re-opening with an abundance of pre-cautionary measures in place. The Texas Governor had issued the directive that houses of worship can open at a 25 % capacity from May 1st. The MTS Board had already set up four different task forces that were putting together detailed plans for a safe re-opening. Procurement of masks, gloves, other PPE, cleaning supplies as well as equipment such as digital non-contact thermometers were already well underway. Detailed procedures were developed based on many hours of discussions among the Temple Board members.
A safety orientation was conducted for the benefit of the priests, staff and volunteers. Safety posters with clear instructions were posted at strategic locations throughout the temple.
The floors at the Main Temple, Corner Mandapams and Ganesh temple have been clearly marked to help the devotees practice safe distancing. The Board members did a dry run to make sure that all the safety measures are in place. The decision was made to officially re-open the temple, at a 25% capacity limit from May 14th.
Since then, the devotees have started slowly and steadily streaming in. The West side gopuram to the Main temple is the only gate for both entrance and exit. Here, as well as at the entrance to the Ganesh temple, a volunteer or staff member checks their temperature, makes sure visitors are wearing their masks, directs them to the hand wash station to wash their hands with soap and dry them before they can proceed into the various sannidhis.
The volunteer keeps a running count of the number of devotees inside the temple quadrangle, so that the 25% limit is not exceeded. Other volunteers or staff members keep a watch inside and around the premises to make sure that proper safe distancing is being practiced and that there are enough safety supplies.
The priests had been doing a remarkable job during the lockdown with daily homams and pujas that were livestreamed and watched by hundreds of people worldwide. Many believe that these pujas and the chanting of the divine Vedic mantras have protected our community from any major calamity. Also, the silpis and the staff have also put in a lot of effort to keep things going during the lockdown.
For their own safety and for the safety of others, the priests have been instructed to keep a safe distance from the devotees. No vibhuthi, Kumkum or theertham are offered by the priests directly to the devotees. On Sunday May 17th, there were two major pujas, Hanuman Jayanthi and Sri Raja Mathangi Homam that took place simultaneously per the regular schedule. The temple was able to manage this flawlessly to the full satisfaction of the devotees who participated.
The next step in the process was to re-open the Temple Kitchen for the benefit of the devotees. This was done a week later, on May 22nd, with a limited selection of items. Great care and strict hygiene measures are in place in the kitchen. The food items are packed in ready to go boxes and there is no dine in facility at this time. The devotees, especially those coming from afar are very happy that the Temple Kitchen facility is open now.
It is the expectation that within a few weeks, there will be more relaxation of rules by the State of Texas. At that time, the MTS Board will reevaluate the situation and implement further re-opening measures.