Sanitisation tunnels, open marquees, drive-in and digital viewings are some of the new ‘normal’ features to be introduced in this year’s Durga Puja celebration in Kolkata to be held amid COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of the premier puja committees of the city have already started preparations for the celebrations with a curtailed budget even as a global advisory board constituted by the state government described organising the festival amidst the pandemic a “big challenge.”
The committees have geared up to take up the challenge, adapting to the new normal. “Like every other year, we will be organising the Durgotsab this year too. But naturally, due to the pandemic, we will be taking some precautionary measures like maintaining social distancing in the pandals, ensuring visitors are properly sanitised and following safety protocols like wearing masks,” said Saswata Basu, general secretary of Forum for Durgotsab, the umbrella body of over 350 award-winning Durga Puja committees in the city.
The biggest challenge for the puja organisers this year would be to ensure a “COVID-19-free” celebration. The committees are drawing up various plans for that.
Most of the puja committees that draw huge crowds every year will set up sanitisation tunnels through which the visitors will make entry and exit from the pandals. Giant screens will also be put up at vintage points so that the “devotees can have darshan” without entering the main marquees.
“Crowd management will be a huge challenge. This time though, we are expecting fewer footfalls because of the pandemic. We will be putting up three giant screens so that the devotees do not have to throng the marquee. They can have their darshan from a distance,” said Proloy Banerjee of the Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharjee Street Club (KNBSC).
“We are exploring various digital options too to live stream our puja for those who would prefer to stay indoors,” Banerjee added.
The club will also put in place three sanitisation tunnels for the visitors. Besides, there will also be arrangements to view the club’s puja celebration from inside the cars.
The KNBSC and two other crowd-pullers in South Kolkata are introducing the drive-in ‘darshan’ concept, Basu said. It will allow people to drive straight to the pandals to view the Durga idol without having to alight from their cars.
Badamtala Ashar Sangha and 66 Palli are the two other pujas that will have the drive-in facilities.
For the pandemic, however, the size of the pandals and the idols would be smaller this time in most of the pujas, Basu said.
Most of the puja committees are also curtailing their budget, anticipating drop in corporate sponsorships as well as personal subscriptions and donations.
“We will be curtailing our budget to 30 to 40 percent,” said Banerjee, who is the treasurer of the KNBSC.
The state government’s advisory to keep the pandals open from three sides to make them more airy and visible from distance also limited the scope of decorating marquees with select themes, some organisers pointed out.
Various police stations have been asked to coordinate with pooja committees for implementation of the various protocols.
The “Global Advisory Board” headed by economist Abhijit Banerjee recently gave some suggestions such as to keep the pandals open to the government for the conduct of Durga Puja celebrations.
During the meeting with puja committees on September 25, these suggestions and other modalities would be discussed, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters at the state secretariat.
Mahalaya (September 17) will ritually herald the beginning of Durga Puja. Usually, as per Hindu calendar, Durga Puja falls seven days after Mahalaya, but this year there will be an unusual gap of one month. This unusual scenario is because of a phenomenon called “mala mash” that is a lunar month which has two new moons (amavashya). During this lunar month, no auspicious rites and rituals can be performed, according to Hindu tradition.