The upcoming Durga Pujo in Pune, from October 22 to 26, will be a mere shadow of its usual colourful and extravagant form. Pushpanjali (offering of flowers) will be online, Sandhi Puja will be telecast live, and there will be no prasad distribution or sindoor khela (smearing of vermillion) on Vijaya Dashami.
“…It is a festival we wait for through the entire year… we get decked up to just see the Durga protima (idol)… it fills one with energy. It saddens us that the celebrations have been toned down but it is for everybody’s safety,” said Antara Choudhary, (25), who has been holding podium positions in Dhunuchi dance competitions, an integral part of the pujo.
While some prominent Pujo associations in the city have decided to go for small and intimate celebrations, some have decided to skip it altogether, citing the possibility of crowding which might have an undesirable effect.
“We did try to hold a pujo this year but it would not be fair to only allow a few devotees, as it may hurt sentiments people associate with Durga Pujo. We will have prayers at home, prepare bhog and make merry with near and dear ones virtually. Members of our committee will have cultural activities of singing or dancing within our group,” said Shompa Bhattachrya, committee member of Bangiya Sansad Nagar, Viman Nagar.
Ashish Roy, president of Nandonik Sansta at Koregaon Park, also cited rules and precautions as reasons to not hold the pujo this year.
Even the low-key celebrations come with several precautions attached, which include a restricted height of about five feet for the idol, a closed venue that houses not more than 20 individuals at a time, a permit from the local authority as well as the staple list of precautionary measures of sanitation and social distancing.
The pujo associations are also planning to activate an open link on their websites and social media pages so that devotees can view the evening aartis (prayers) from the safety of their home.
The oldest pujo pandal in the city, the Pune Kali Bari, will be celebrating its 81st sarbojonin (community) pujo with a small idol and ghot puja (Kalash puja).
“The pujo will be held near the temple premises. Although we are crestfallen that people will not be able to enjoy the pujo with the same enthusiasm, we must adhere to safety regulations. For our patrons, we will have a live telecast throughout the five days so that people can enjoy pujo at home. Our committee members will man the premises to ensure social distancing and restricted entry,” said committee member Sneha Das.
Other pujo associations have opted for smaller closed halls or venues to host the festival within the given restrictions.
Agradoot Bangosamaj, which organises pujo in Kharadi, and Aagomoni Prabasi Sangha, which has been holding Durga Pujo in Vrindavan Lawns, Baner Road, have resorted to small halls or auditoriums in their respective areas.
“The pujo will be held at Hirabai Dhankude Multipurpose Hall this year as open spaces are out of bounds under the Covid-19 rules. It is wise as open spaces attract more footfall and there is only so much we can possibly do to control it. To keep the spirit of the festivities high, we have decided to have online cultural programmes like singing, dancing and art competitions among the members,” said Sandeep Bhattacharjee, committee member of Aagomoni Prabasi Sangha.
Artisans who travel from West Bengal to scuplt the idols, dhakis (traditional drummers who play the dhak) as well as Bengali priests have been severely hit by the curtailing of festivities this year.
Jonaki Bhattacharya, who started the Ananda Mela at Congress Bhavan 40 years ago, said people should share the spirit of the festivities with the less privileged as the pandemic has put many daily wagers in a tough spot.
“I have been actively involved in Durga Pujo in Pune since 1974, and I am among those who indulge in pandal hopping, organising Anand Mela, relishing Bengali dishes and the general meet and greet. But it is a matter of everybody’s health and welfare, so there is no point in grumbling anymore. Instead, people can opt to buy clothes, and provide food and money to those who actually need it in such dire times,” said the octogenarian.
On similar lines, several city associations have aided Bengali migrant workers, provided relief during Cyclone Amphan as well as chipped in to help the dhaki and priest communities monetarily.
“We had also helped nearly 1,200 Bengali migrant workers go back home. We also decided that instead of calling the dhakis, which will incur some travel cost and also put their lives at risk, we will be providing financial help out of goodwill and the relation we have with them over the years of pujo. This year, we will play the tunes on a digital platform,” said Arin Dubey, a member of Agradoot Bangosamaj.
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