Smaller idols, day hours pandal hopping, sanitisers to mark Durga Puja during Covid times

A body consisting of many Durga Puja organisers across Kolkata has come up with a 17-point code for the celebrations this year. Check out the do and don't list for devotees and organizers

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Kolkata: A forum, which represents more than 350 Durga Puja committees in Kolkata, has come up with a broad-based code for holding Pujas amidst Covid-19 pandemic, bringing cheer to the emotionally-charged Begalis and pandal hoppers.

The Forum for Durgotsav Working Committee at its meeting on July 10 accepted suggestions from Puja organisers on how to hold the event in Kolkata. The 17-point code list was released by the forum recently.

The much sought after Durga Puja this year falls between October 22 and October 26.

In this Covid era the celebrations will be muted, feel the forum members as well as the organisers of big-ticket Pujas. Among the many codes, the list mentions that the height of the idol has to be kept low which will allow municipal authorities to sanitise it better on a daily basis. Also, there are suggestions that the pandals have to be designed in a manner so that visitors can view the idol from a distance, without entering the main area. There will be barricades which will encourage social distancing. Masks, thermal screening and sanitisers are a must for all visitors.

The forum is also appealing to pandal hoppers to visit pandals throughout the day and not just in the late evening hours. Only whole fruits will be offered to the goddesses, while visitors can buy readymade food from the stalls. There will be no provision for sitting arrangements at the food stalls.

Even the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee greenlighted holding of Durga Pujas in the state on Wednesday saying that the Pujas will be held smoothly and that it is a battle for everyone and has to be fought well.

Saswata Basu, secretary of the forum, who also holds the post of secretary for Hatibagan Sarbojanin Durgotsav Committee, said, “Our body represents all major Puja committee members and it is their collective suggestion. Though we haven’t held any meeting with the government on this, the organisers were eager to know what we felt.” On the attempt to limit overcrowding, Basu said,

“We have seen that during night, more people come out, which is not advisable now. We are asking pandal hoppers to divide their time equally between the day and night. Since there is more dazzle at night due to the lighting arrangements, people love to see that.”

But the forum secretary insists that nothing is concrete at the moment and the codes might change later as per the prevailing situation at that time. “The way positive cases are rising, we will take a fresh call after another month or so. We still have three months to go. This is the biggest festival for Bengalis. We must also not forget that it serves as a livelihood to many, which is worth Rs 50,000 cr. For us this year the celebrations will be a moral compulsion,” said Basu.

Cultural secretary of Hatibagan Nabin Pally Durgotsav Committee and a forum member, Amitabha Roy, said, “We will follow government guidelines whenever it is issued. What we have done is a broad guideline with which all organisers are moving forward. We do not know what the circumstances will be in October. Since budget is a big issue, holding cultural functions looks far fetched right now.”

The Puja organisers are also in a state of flux. Ashok Ojha of Md Ali Park Puja committee said, “We have written letters to the mayor of Kolkata and also to our local councillor, Sudip Bandopadhyay about fire permission few days back. Since last year the puja was held at a different venue, we are not yet sure about the venue. We have also mentioned in the letter that we will follow all the guidelines which will be laid out by the government.”

“We haven’t received any instruction from the mayor yet. Also, the forum has not received any instructions from the government. We are presuming nothing concrete can be known before August. For us, all our planning has gone for a toss. We are hoping to celebrate a traditional puja this year, bereft of all the ostentation. We have not yet made bookings for the idol, pandal or the lighting. We may not even get 100 days to prepare before the Pujas. If the situation turns for the worse, only our committee members will participate in the celebration,” said Ojha.

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