Durga Puja Celebrations in India's National Capital Lack Pomp & Splendour Due to COVID-19 Crisis
Amid fears of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, very few Druga Puja committees are performing the puja, while a majority of organisers have gone online. The second wave of COVID-19 was devastating for Delhi, and many organisers are worried that a "grand" celebration would be a super-spreader disease event.
Durga Puja, a 5-day grand festival of India's Bengali Community, has traditionally been a much-awaited annual affair. The ceremonial worship of the Goddess Durga, along with visiting various Pandals (a traditional Bengali themed-marquee), Dhunuchi Naach (ritualised dance worship with Bengali incense burner), lip-smacking feasts and prayer offerings are some of the crucial parts of this ancient festival. Interestingly, the Durga Puja festival coincides with another Hindu traditional festival, the nine-day Navratri celebration, which is mostly celebrated among Indian communities in the north of the country.
These 10 days spread joy, excitement, and happiness across India every year. The colourful festival that celebrates the power of womanhood is an annual occasion to commemorate the Goddess Durga for conquering the demon king Mahishasura in a fight that exemplifies the victory of good over evil. The festival begins with Mahalaya (the day on which Goddess Durga is believed to have arrived on Earth) and ends with Vijaydashmi (the day of Goddess Durga's victory over the demon king) or Dusshera (the tenth and final day of the Hindu festival of Navaratri). However, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has snatched away the usual sheen of this grand occasion.
Last year, most Durga Puja committees performed a ‘Ghat’
(sacred water vessel) puja, but this year, many committees are performing Pratima
puja (idol worshipping) while maintaining COVID-19 restrictions. Delhi's District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) has allowed the celebrations, although Puja committees have decided to keep it low-key due to the fears of an impending third wave of COVID-19
Chittaranjan Park (CR Park), known as Delhi's Mini Bengal, is home to some of the splendid and gorgeous Durga Puja Pandals (Bengali marquee) and they are visited by over a million people every year. This year, however, the beautiful idols are back in some of the Pandals, with food stalls prohibited and restrictions on the number of visitors, while celebrations are being conducted in a plain and sombre fashion, unlike last year's muted tone.
In Chittaranjan Park Kali Mandir, the committee has decreed that the puja will be live-streamed, and Pushpanjali (flower offering) can be performed virtually. The temple is open with strict COVID-19 protocols for only Pratima Darshan (Ceremony of idol worshipping) and visitors are expected to simply enter, pay their respects, and leave.
With several out-of-bound areas, organisers have placed boundaries to ensure that visitors come and go in a line. Separate entrance and exits, sanitisers, police at checkpoints, and "wear mask" posters, have become an essential aspect of this year's Puja.
"The devotees come in batches and do darshan and leave. We are extremely strict about COVID-19 guidelines. Yes, we are upset, we wait one whole year for the goddess Durga to come so that we can meet her, take her blessings and offer her our prayers. That is not possible this year. Yet we are happy as at least we are able to celebrate like this as last year we couldn't," Shubhankar Chatterjee, a member of the Kali Mandir Society in Chittaranjan Park, told Sputnik.
Meanwhile, DDMA has asked Durga Puja organisers to make arrangements for the idols' immersion at or near the venues, as local authorities will not make any arrangements: as in previous years. In the wake of rising pollution levels in the Yamuna river, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued guidelines against immersion in the river.
Earlier, the Delhi government
placed artificial ponds across the city for Durga Puja organisers to immerse their idols. Several organisers told Sputnik that Delhi generally witnesses over 500 pandals every year. This year, however, that number has dropped to around 200.
"I couldn't come here last year because of COVID-19. This year I got the opportunity of Praying in front of Goddess Durga's idol. I am from Kolkata and it feels nice. These measures by the organisers are necessary but it is upsetting to celebrate like this. I will come here till Dusshera", Vikram, a devotee at Chittaranjan Park Kali Mandir, told Sputnik.
The delicious grand-feast of Durga Puja, Mahabhog, which comprises Khichudi (a Bengali dish made of rice and lentils), Beguni (eggplant fritters), a mixed-vegetable dish, tomato chutney (a sweet and sour sauce), and Payesh (a sweet dessert of rice and milk) is extremely important but is also not allowed on the premises. Although it is cooked inside the temple complex, the organisers have put up 14 distribution points across the CR Park. Devotees can order the Mahabhog and collect it from the distribution points.
"This year we are buying the items for the feast as per the number of orders by the devotees. Today (Tuesday) we gave over 500 'Mahabhog'. For Mahaashtami (Wednesday) we will get the maximum order. As per our estimation, it will be over 1000. In pre-COVID years, this place used to be so heavily crowded and the footfall used to be over a million from morning tonight. We used to give over 10,000 'Mahabhogs' on first, on the second day over 15,000, and maximum footfall on Ashtami. It's disheartening, but we can't do anything," Chatterjee said.
in CR Park had a similar presentation and some did not opt for Pratima
puja (Idol worship). Although the spirit of this auspicious festival is dampened again this year, the organisers, as well as participants, are hopeful that next year's celebrations will be without lockdowns and health restrictions
"All of this precaution is necessary. Last year, we prayed to goddess Durga from our homes as everything was closed. I will bring my parents tomorrow for the darshan. This place is so empty and I miss the annual charm of Durga Puja and this place. I am sure we will be able to celebrate in a normal way next year," Savita, another devotee at the Kali Mandir, told Sputnik.
This Indian festive season began with Navrati on 7 October, and Durga Puja began on 11 October. Both festivals will conclude on 15 October, a date marked as Dusshera.