Corona Virus Threatens To Sting Bengal’s Famous Durga Puja

COVID-19 looms like Mahishashura over Durga Puja and casts its shadow on the business surrounding it

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Kolkata: It is a common that almost every year incessant rains dampen the festive mood during Durga Puja. This year however, the weather is the last thing on the minds of the sculptors or organisers of the Pujas. The Corona Virus is the bigger devil mankind is fighting now. The real Mahishashura is the virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to ruin the livelihood of many who look forward to the festive time to earn some extra bucks.

Basanti Puja or Annapurna Puja, which is said to be the actual Durga Puja didn’t bring much joy to the artisans of Kumartuli as despite having over two hundred orders for clay idols, their final sale didn’t even cross 10.

Talking to eNewsroom, Apurva Paul, a sculptor at Kumartuli said that so far they have only managed to send one idol to foreign shores, while a few other idols are still lined up for delivery and waiting for the lockdown to get over.

“Only one idol could be sent to Europe. Last year, we had received an overwhelming number of orders. From France to Germany, from Spain to Italy, we receive orders every year. Durga Puja is an important time especially with foreign orders as we earn a hefty sum from them for our livelihood. But this year everything is uncertain. Going by the current situation, I think the orders will be cancelled as conditions abroad are really bad. Don’t know how we will manage. If not from the virus, we will die of hunger,” claimed Apurva.

Watch an old video of women idol makers of Kolkata

The artiste added that he had received several orders for Annapurna Puja but almost every order got cancelled at the last moment, causing him huge losses.

“Last year we had received a few orders based on NRC theme. Those idols are almost finished but the problem is we don’t know whether those organisers are still planning to hold their pujas in a big way as they had thought earlier,” sighed Apurva.

Bitanu Paul, an Octogenarian sculptor, a third generation artiste from his family has never faced such a situation before.

“Most of our artisans have gone back to their village. After the situation improves we hope to pick up from where we left off. But the budget of most of the Puja committees will shrink. This is the peak time of the year when most of our idols are made. Rath Yatra marks the ‘agomoni’ (arrival) of the goddess and this year we have not even made many idols except those whose orders we had receive earlier. Several big-budget Puja committees have cancelled their orders and said they will get in touch once the situation improves,” said Bitanu.

“We are hopeful that the orders from domestic pujas will not be changed. After incurring huge loss during the lockdown we too will have to lower the price of the idols otherwise it will be difficult for us to sell even a single idol,” the artisan further added.

Babu Paul, spokesperson and former general secretary of Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskritik Samity (Kumartuli Potters Cultural Association) felt after the artisans return, it will be a challenge to complete the idols before Puja and earn some cash to keep their kitchen fires burning.

“We will hardly in a position to make any profit. We don’t know what the quantum of demand will be this year, but we still will have to be prepared,” said Paul.

Working ahead of time

One of the renowned sculptors in the city, Pradip Rudra Pal considers himself fortunate to have started early, just after the Jagadhatri Puja, last year.

“My idols are in various stages of completion. But right now, I have no artisans. By this time we would have already finished quite a few of the idols. There were around 35-40 artisans working before the lockdown. During the peak season, the number of workers gets almost double. Every year I do around 65 idols and right now almost 50 idols would be almost ready. I may have to work overtime or employ more artisans to complete them on time,” said Pal.

But he is more worried about his orders from abroad. “A couple of them will be taken to US. I am yet to start them as the condition there is graver than ours. I am in talks with the organisers. The delivery may have to be postponed by another 4-5 months, which will still give me some leeway as it takes around 45 days to reach a destination abroad,” said the worried sculptor.

Glimpse of last year’s Durga Puja

Scaled down budget a Reality

If the sculptors are worried about orders, organisers too are tense about budgets.

Ashok Ojha of Md Ali Park Puja committee said, “We had plans of holding our puja meeting after Saraswati Puja but now it can happen after the lockdown ends. We will have a trying time to arrange for funds. Most of the Pujas are heavily dependent on advertisements and it will be hard to secure them. The budget will definitely take a hit. Right now, the only concern is the wellbeing of the people.”

Soumya Banerjee, joint secretary of Darjeepara Sarbojanin Durgotsav Samity is looking at a bleak puja. “We had already paid an advance to the artist. Now, we will have to climb down from our earlier budget allocation. The corporate sector is almost shut. It is estimated the loss to the industry will be to the tune of Rs 5.5 crore,” said Banerjee.

Subir Das, secretary Bhowanipur 75 Palli, Kolkata said, “The real challenge will be the budget. The corporate sector is already in cost-cutting mode. The budgets for most of the Pujas will be small due to low cash flow and also on humanitarian grounds. The budgets of most pujas will be slashed by 50%. All these years we were in the race for trophies, themes, telecast rights. This year we may see a traditional puja. The planning time has also shrunk.”

Dhaki Gautam Bag, who is a regular at Sealdah railway station just before the Pujas starts is battling his fears on two fronts. The Bankura resident said, “We are worried what will happen in days to come. Right now, we are all living in fear of this virus. Survival is difficult for us. We look forward to the Durga Puja time for some extra income which helps us tide over the difficult times. But I fear loss of business. I don’t even know if we will get work this time.”

The Corona scare is already taking its toll on the Puja business and the Puja is still nearly six months away.

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