Durga Puja may remain low-key this year: No pandals, cultural programmes
Despite the Centre relaxing limits on religious and cultural gatherings in its latest reopening plan on Wednesday, several Durga Puja committees in Delhi said they have decided to tone down festivities this year for fear of the spread of Covid-19. Organisers said they will do away with pandals, cultural programmes, and the worship of large idols this year.
“It would be immensely risky to organise a community Durga Puja this year. First, there is the general risk of transmission. Second, visitors will not be allowed to be frisked while entering the venue, adding to a security risk. Third, if Covid-19 cases surface, the venue will have to be sealed under the current protocols,” said Debashis Saha, chief coordinator of the Durga Puja Samiti at Matri Mandir in south Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave.
Saha said there will be no idols this year, no cultural programme, gatherings for reading the shlokas (popularly known as anjali), decorated pandals and bhog (food offerings to the deity distributed among devotees).
Other organisers that have decided to cut down on the celebrations in a similar manner this year — and go only by the bare basics — include those in Kashmere Gate, the city’s oldest Durga Puja Samiti (committee), B-Block and Mela Ground in Chittaranjan Park, and Mayur Vihar Phase 1.
These are some of the prominent Durga Puja venues in Delhi, that witness around 500-odd community pandals each year.
Tamal Rakshit, executive committee member of the Durga Puja committee in Chittaranjan Park B-Block, said, “Community celebrations involve immense amount of risk for both the organisers and the devotees. No matter how much prepared the organisers are, the situation can get out of hand in multiple ways. We have to be scientific here. We have decided to keep the celebrations low-key with no idols and cultural programme.”
New guidelines on gathering
The central government’s guidelines relaxing Covid-19 restrictions, issued on Thursday, which removed the maximum limit on the size of religious and cultural gatherings in case of an open venue, could decide the future course of action.
For halls and closed venues, the maximum limit has been extended from 100 to 200 individuals.
The guidelines, however, are yet to be notified in the Capital by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA). This essentially means any gathering beyond 50 individuals (as per the last notified guidelines) is still prohibited in Delhi.
The DDMA is chaired by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is its vice-chairperson.
A senior official of the DDMA said organising Durga Puja would still require separate permission – to be cleared by police and sub-divisional magistrates. The matter is likely to be discussed by DDMA later this week.
“Even if the administration gives us permission in the days to come, there is hardly any time to prepare now. So, we are left with no option than to go ahead with celebrations without idols, pandals and cultural programmes. The rituals will be done on a smaller scale,” said Robin Bose, general secretary of the Durga Puja committee at north Delhi’s Kashmere Gate.
Preparations for the festival take anything between two and three months, several organisers said. They involve rounds of planning, getting sponsors, hiring idol-makers, which many organisers get from West Bengal.
Dr Jugal Kishore, head of community medicines department, Safdarjung Hospital, said: “At this point, people should prioritise social distancing above everything and anything. They should avoid gatherings and follow rituals at homes or indoors, without any community participation. It is for their safety.”