'Aashte bochar aabar hobe', and with this we bid farewell to Maa Durga this year too, hoping to see her again. Bengal Durga Puja 2020 was similar to sweets without chashni as restrictions put in place owing to COVID-19. With the pandemic raging all over the country, Durga Puja in Kolkata was a muted affair. However, the pandemic to some extent failed to dampen the festive spirit of the Bengalis. The hustle and bustle was witnessed in South Kolkata. Except for that, most parts of the city, pandals, roadside stalls witnessed less crowd as compared to previous year.
Celebrations of Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the Bengali's, are in full-swing. The festival was celebrated across the state with people engaging in merriment in a safe manner on all the auspicious days due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Though devotees did not queue up to offer prayers at various pandals this year, in order to maintain necessary social distancing protocols, they soaked in the festive spell mostly with families and close friends. This year Maha Ashtami and Maha Navami fell on the same day, on Saturday. It is considered to be the most auspicious day in the ten-day Durga Puja.
All health protocols followed
All the organisers of the Durga Puja pandals made sure that COVID-19 protocols were put in place. People entering pandals were mandated to wear masks and social distancing was followed too.
"We are facing an unprecedented challenge this year. Due to novel Coronavirus pandemic, we couldn't allow devotees inside puja pandals. Ashtami Puja, Anjali and Sandhi Puja were also performed with utmost restrictions," said Mallar Mitra, a puja organiser in Kolkata's twin district Howrah.
Mitra said their organisation was following the Calcutta High Court's guidelines for maintaining the health and safety of every resident in Bengal.
How different was the pandal hopping?
Durga Puja, which attracted huge crowds and involved big scaled festivities was a low-key affair in parts of West Bengal. The Calcutta High order in its order said that Durga Puja pandals across the state be declared as 'no-entry zones' to contain the spread of the virus. The court stated that no visitors will be allowed to visit the marquees. For smaller pandals, barricades were put up to 5 metres and for bigger ones, it was put upto 10 metres.
The original order was modified in the aspects that charts may include 30 names for smaller puja pandals but not more than 15 people can enter inside the pandal at a time. Similarly, 60 names for larger puja pandals but not more than 45 people can remain or stay inside the pandal at a time. Dhakis, the traditional drummers, may be permitted, not within the pandal area but in the no entry zone outside the pandal. Dhakis should wear a mask and maintain hygiene and physical distancing norms.
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With the pandemic in place, pujas of the most famed pandals decided to go online for their devotees. What we could figure out from social media is less people went out for pandal hopping and stayed at home. Devotees were seen soaking in the Durga Puja ambience straight from their homes. This comes in the backdrop of the puja committees not allowing amassing huge crowds.
Kolkata's durga puja, which is known for its varied themes, this year had something different. Most of the pandals of the city were dedicated to corona warriors. The puja pandal of Bondhudol Sporting Club in North Kolkata replicates the Calcutta Medical College Hospital which is now a dedicated coronavirus facility. Hardship faced by migrant labourers during the COVID-19 induced lockdown was also the guiding theme of many Durga Puja committees. Some other Puja committees have shown the coronavirus as demon Mahishasura to be destroyed by the Goddess while others have paid tribute to COVID-19 warriors. Taking up the migrant issue Barisha Club, in the southern fringes of the city, has installed the idol of a woman pausing for a while on the road trail with a baby in her lap and two children.
On the other hand, Swarga Dham Sebak Sangha, a club of Murshidabad replaced the idol of Mahishashur with that of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The pictures of the pandal went viral and garnered lots of views.
Overall, Bengal Durga Puja celebrations were a muted affair. The grandeur and pomp of the celebration was missing, idols were smaller and even artists were less in numbers. In a unique move, collection of stills of Satyajit Ray's ''Sonar Kella' was published in the autumn issue of 'Sandesh', a children's magazine. However, with the detoriating health of veteran Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee people wished for his speedy recovery too. Durga Puja 2020 was very much different but still elegant in its own way.