Nothing unites people in Bengal than Preparations for Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal and capital Kolkata have begun in full swing. However, this year, Kolkata's famous pandal samitis will have to follow strict safety protocols and guidelines issued in wake of coronavirus pandemic. Needless to say, the Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata and the entire state will be different this year. Here's what changes during the Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal in the year of the pandemic.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has asked Durga Puja organisers to set up open-air pandals and implement COVID-19 safety protocols.
Prominent puja committees in the city on Friday started making arrangements to follow the guidelines. Major Durga Puja committees said they decided that visitors' flow to open-air marquees will be continuous to ensure social distancing, people will be asked to bring their own flowers for the 'pushpanjali' ritual, and none will be allowed to enter the pandal without a mask.
Shiv Mandir Sarbojonin, a prominent puja committee, said it will do away with the usual practice of setting up intricately carved large pandals and settle for a simple airy marquee which will not hinder the view of the idols from outside. "This time the idol can be seen from a distance. We will not allow any visitor to walk into the pandal without a mask. The entry of visitors will also be continuous," a member of the puja committee, Partha Ghosh, told PTI.
For people of the locality, there will be time slots for the 'pushpanjali' ritual, an occasion which generally witnesses large turnouts to offer prayer to the goddess, he said. "We will also ask people to bring flowers themselves (for 'pushpanjali'). We are also thinking of live streaming of the rituals on social media. We are much relieved as the chief minister has come in support of the puja committees in the pandemic situation, Ghosh said.
How things will be different this year during Durga Puja celebrations
- Only Open-air pandals
- Max 25 people allowed inside pandals at a time
- Devotees to bring flowers for Pushpanjali
- Face masks mandatory
- Minimum art installations to avoid clogging space
Besides providing a guideline for the puja organisers, the chief minister also announced a grant of Rs 50,000 to each Durga Puja committee in the state. Samajsebi Sangha, another big-ticket puja committee in the southern part of the city, will draw 'rangoli' on the road resembling footsteps of goddess Lakshmi leading to an open-air marquee where pandal hoppers can have the darshan maintaining social distancing norms.
25 people at a time in pandal, masks mandatory
"Our around 10 feet high idol can be seen from the adjacent Southern Avenue (a major road), while volunteers will ensure that there is no crowding inside the marquee," puja committee office-bearer Arijit Moitra said.
"Our puja started in 1946 when Kolkata was gripped by communal violence. In the 75th year, we are again holding the puja in an unusual situation," he said. Unsure about organising the puja till a week back, Dumdum Park Tarun Sangha also started preparations from Friday.
"Our pandal will have a simple pattern with two sides largely open. Visitors will enter in ones and twos from one side and exit via another. The crowd, if any, will be spread out," a spokesman of the puja committee said.
"We were not sure whether to go ahead with the puja this year. We were waiting for the guidelines. Now thanks to the initiative of the CM, we have started preparations on a full swing," he said. Sikdarbagan Sarbojonin decided to erect a minimalistic pandal with lots of open space where visitors will enter through a sanitiser tunnel and have their temperature checked.
"Not more than 25 people will be allowed inside the pandal at a time," a puja committee member said. Kumartuli Sarbojonin, which was also undecided about whether to put the deity for public view or opt for closed-door puja, finally settled for a large marquee.