KOLKATA: Over two lakh Hindu priests in West Bengal have become jobless as various social functions, rituals and religious festivities have either been cancelled or postponed to prevent public gatherings in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, a pandits' organisation spokesperson said on Monday.
They are in distress with no earnings as rituals usually organised at home have been cancelled while weddings and other social programmes postponed, he said, adding that several devotees are not visiting temples during the ongoing lockdown.
"If there are no pujas and other religious functions in the next few months to prevent gatherings, how the priests will survive," the spokesman of the Paschim Bango Sanatan Brahman Trust, an organisation of Hindu priests in the state, said.
The coronavirus-triggered lockdown has left over two lakh priests across districts jobless, the spokesman said.
The organisation has planned to write a letter to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to seek help from the government, he said.
Many priests don't have any other steady income and their families solely depend on their earnings from rituals like pujas, and weddings, he said.
Anindyo Mitra, father of a software engineer Prithviraj Mitra, said his son's wedding reception was scheduled to be held in mid May, which has been cancelled for the time being.
"Our family priest requested us to go ahead with the scheduled ceremony on a smaller scale.
But we have cancelled it for the time being.
We are hopeful about organising the reception by November this year.
"Our family priest has lost many other contracts in this season," Mitra said.
Sharing his experience during the lockdown, Prashanta Chakraborty, a priest in Agarpara area of North 24 Parganas, said three household 'Annapurna' pujas in Sodepur and Belgharia localities, had been cancelled at the last moment in March end, and that was the beginning.
Many shopkeepers, traders and businessmen, who usually observe the "haal khata" ceremony -- opening of new books of accounts on the occasion of 'Bangla Nabobarsho', new Bengali year,-- are also cancelling their programmes to avoid gatherings, he said.
This year, 'Bangla Nabobarsho', is scheduled on Tuesday.
"I used to earn around Rs 4,000 in total on 'Poila Boisakh' (the first day of the first month of a Bengali year).
I would have earned around Rs 2,000-2,200 from 'Annapurna' pujas. Hopefully, things will not be that bad during Durga Puja and Kali Puja to be held later this year.
"If the situation during that time remains as it is today, we will die," Chakraborty, who has a 10-year-old daughter and wife, said.
Upen Mukherjee, an elderly priest in Tollygunje area of the city, said he joined the profession seven years ago after his retirement.
The last function that he had managed was a 'griho probesh' (puja to mark entering a new house) on February 24, Mukherjee said.