Durga Puja, Diwali turn virtual in UK in wake of Covid-19
The Midlands city of Leicester is reputed to hold the largest Diwali celebrations outside India, and Durga Puja in the popular London Sharad Utsav attracts many, but the Covid-19 pandemic has forced organisers to adopt innovative ways to ring in the festive spirit this year.
The Leicester City Council that funds and promotes celebrations on the arterial Belgrave Road said that this year will be the city’s first virtual Diwali Day celebration. There will be no gatherings on the road for traditional entertainment and fireworks.
Instead, the council has invited people to join the celebrations from the safety of their homes.
It said in a statement: “Members of the public can send in their personal video messages, which could feature in an hour-long package of entertainment that will be streamed on the Visit Leicester website on Diwali Day – Saturday 14 November.”
The council said each video filmed on a mobile phone should be around 30-45 seconds long, shot in landscape format and recorded in English. People can use their video to wish a friend, or a family member, a Happy Diwali, or they could share their tips for a socially-distanced celebration with people around the world.
Leicester has a large population of Indian origin, many of whom migrated after being expelled by Idi Amin in Uganda in the early 1970s. Several Indian banks, shops and restaurants catering to the population are based on Belgrave Road.
Deputy city mayor Piara Singh Clair said: “We all need to find different ways to celebrate important festivals like Diwali and Christmas this year. Although we can’t meet up with our extended families in person this year, our virtual Diwali celebration will help bring people together”.
“We hope that people will enjoy recording their messages, and we look forward to sharing as many of them as possible as part of our Diwali Day programming,” he added.
The council said that besides the video messages, the Diwali Day programme will feature music, story-telling, dance and the traditional lighting of the ‘diva’ lamp. It will not organise fireworks, but footage of the spectacular displays from previous years will be included in the virtual event.
In London, this year’s theme for the London Sharad Utsav is ‘A Ray of Hope’ to pay tributes to the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) on his birth centenary year, as well as reflect optimism in the time of pandemic. Its organisers are also making use of innovative technology.
Suranjan Som, vice-president of London Sharad Utsav, said: “No one will miss our Pujo. Anyone will be able to offer Anjali or pray during Sandhi Pujo from their home. We are using Google VR technology to ensure London Sharad Utsav reaches every home and mobile device across the world.
“With a relatively inexpensive Google Cardboard VR headset, they will feel that are sitting right in front of our idol, while our priest carries out the regular ceremonies.”