NAGAPATTINAM: The annual Festival of Nativity in Velankanni has ended as a low-key event this year
unprecedentedly due to the pandemic. The Holy Car which carries the Idol of Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus moved swiftly without believers, within the premises of Shrine Basilica on Monday evening.
The car is usually carried on the shoulders of hundreds of devotees. However this year, it was moved on wheels with less than 30 people and only a few priests singing songs. The annual festival started on August 29 and ends on September 8.
Parish Priest Fr SA Susai Manickam of Shrine Basilica said, "it was disappointing to not see devotees and pilgrims in the biggest festival in Velankanni. We were able to keep in touch with the people through live relays."
"We did not miss a single mass or prayer. We gave spiritual counselling over the phone for the devotees for whom we could not give any sacraments," he added.
Devadass Ambrose Mariadoss, the Bishop of Thanjavur led the formalities by conducting finishing rituals and a mass with the church staffs. The festival flag would be lowered on Tuesday. A 'quasi curfew ' was observed in the streets of Velankanni with police personnel in every street.
The Velankanni parishioners who were briefly allowed to visit the Shrine Basilica were banned from getting out of their streets. The waves hitting the seashore were devoid of people who had violated the 'bathing restrictions' in past years.
The pandemic has affected the livelihoods of several thousands of people like lodge owners, lodge workers, eatery owners, eatery workers, traders, sweet sellers, rental vehicle drivers, head tonsure artists, gift item sellers, and other vendors in Velankanni who used to make money at this time of the year.
"We really cannot express how affected our business is. Our business took a hit in the past week," said A Muruganantham, a flower merchant of Annai Flower Shop in Velankanni main Road.
The traders say they hadn't been this affected even when Tsunami and Gaja Cyclone struck. There are about 500 lodges which have about 5000 rooms of capacity in Velankanni. They usually become full and overflowing during the festival week.
All the lodges were banned by Nagapattinam district administration from admitting guests during the festival week. S Jayasuriya, the proprietor of Suriya Lodge in Sebestiyar Nagar said, "we did not take any guests, but we still had to pay bills and minimum tariffs. We had to cut down the pay of workers by 50 %,
let alone paying anything in bonus. Some of them went for '100-day work' (MGNREGS works)."