Dubai temple to close ahead of big Hindu festival

Bur Dubai shrine will close on Thursday and Friday so thousands do not congregate for Shivratri prayers

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A temple in Bur Dubai will temporarily shut on Thursday and Friday on health grounds to stop tens of thousands of people from queuing to offer prayers for Maha Shivratri, a major Hindu festival.

Trustees chose to close the temple because it would be difficult to manage crowds and keep to mandatory coronavirus safety measures.

"The temple will be completely closed with no darshan or visits because we do not want to take any chances of people congregating and standing in the streets," said Raju Shroff, a trustee of the Sindhi Guru Darbar temple.

"We have permission to open for half an hour in the morning and evening but this is one of the biggest festivals and we want to avoid any crowds."

More than 60,000 devotees prayed at the small Dubai temple on a single day for the Shivratri festival February last year during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when regulations were not yet in place.

The temple plans to post a video on its website and on Facebook for Thursday at 5am so worshippers can watch a live abhishek or prayer ritual when the idols are washed with milk and water.

Hindu devotees pray and fast through day and night, make offerings of flowers to Shiva to celebrate the Maha Shivratri or night of Shiva festival.

It is a day of thanksgiving to the deity for protecting the world from destruction when he swallowed deadly poison, according to Hindu legendThe festival also celebrates Shiva's marriage.

"We are requesting people to pray at home with a photograph of Shiv. We want to make it clear to people that they should not come to the temple because this would lead to a breach of social distancing norms," Mr Shroff said.

The Sindhi Guru Darbar temple trust runs two Hindu shrines in small buildings in Bur Dubai.

The temple trust is building another bigger shrine in Jebel Ali that will be ready in time next year in October for Diwali, the festival of lights.

The Bur Dubai shrines usually attract between 3,000 to 5,000 people daily and about 15,000 devotees over the weekend.

The temple was allowed to reopen last year along with other places of worship.

Worshippers are permitted entry for a few minutes in the morning and evening as per rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

People are not allowed to gather inside the shrine, perform pujas or ritual prayers or offer food to the gods.

Safety measures such as regular deep cleaning are in place.

Prayers at the temple can be watched from 5am here.