KASARAGOD: FOR years, Ajitha T, a homemaker, has been waking up to the devotional songs played
from the centuries-old Nilamangalathu Bhagavathi Temple. But for the past week, the 4am wake-up call from the influential temple at Thuruti in Cheruvathur panchayat is different.
For one hour from 4 am, the temple of the Thiya community plays out the Covid prevention and control protocol, asking people to avoid needless visits of neighbours' houses, sending children out and organising birthday parties. The four wall speakers facing the four directions call on people cutting across faiths and occupations to properly wear masks, not on the chin, maintain social distance when out, and not to spit in public places.
"It is our social responsibility. What we need is awareness, not fear," the message goes.
The eight-minute audio clip plays in loops for one hour at 5pm too.
"Given the times we are living in, I think this message is more important than devotional songs. It's having an impact," Ajitha said.
For Nilamangalathu Bhagavathi Temple, the decision was not an easy one to take but the right one, said Manoj Kumar M P, an autorickshaw driver, part-time film production manager, and member of the powerful 11-member governing council of the temple.
The temple is one of the four 'khazhakam' -- administrative seats and social courts -- of the Thiya community in northern Malabar. The Nelikathurthi Khazhakam has 4,500 families as members spread over Kanhangad and Nileshwar municipalities and Cheruvathur and Valiyaparamba grama panchayats.
"We have members in all political parties and we had to reach a consensus. But in the end, the 11-member council decided to go ahead with the decision," he said.
The sound from the temple's speakers travel up to 2km covering at least 1,000 houses, said Vinodan V V, who transports dry fish from Gujarat to chicken feed units in Tamil Nadu. "I was in Gujarat when (US President Donald) Trump came there," he said. Now, he is grounded because of the lockdown and rise in covid cases.
Vinodan, who is also a member of the council, said the temple enjoys considerable influence among Muslims and nine other Hindu castes. "That is because all of them have a right on the temple," he said.
During Perumkaliyattam -- the festival of multiple theyyams celebrated once in 14 years -- the contributions from members from nine different castes and the Muslim community were mandatory.
The Muslim families donate the salt needed for the preparation of food during the week-long festival. Around one lakh devotees have meals every day from the temple.
The Muslims have a special courtyard in the temple because centuries ago, the Olavakanar family from the community donated land for building the Poomala Bhagavathi temple adjacent to the Nilamangalathu Bhagavathi temple.
"Even now, the members of the family have a place of honour in the temple," said Vinodan.
Abdul Muneer, the member of Thuruthi ward, said three other temples in Cheruvathur panchayat -- two in Achanthuruthi and one in Mayyicha -- are playing Covid control messages to coax people to follow the protocol. "It is having an impact. Today, there are zero cases in Achanthuruthi and Thuruthi," he said.
Muneer, who works as an accountant in Thuruthi Juma Masjid, said his mosque was also planning to do an encore.