New Delhi: No teeming crowds, no large pandals, no artisans adding their finishing touches to idols and no food stalls. The run-up to Durga Puja festivities in Delhi this year bears no resemblance to the previous celebrations.
While the government has allowed Durga Puja and Ramleela celebrations in the city, restrictions imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has meant that these events will be a near-dull affair when compared to the extravagant pandals of the previous years.
Large gatherings have been prohibited and only 50 per cent of hall capacity is allowed in enclosed spaces as well as open grounds. Celebrations will also be allowed only under permission from the local district magistrate’s office.
“We are trying to ensure that celebrations take place but on a small scale. We will also deploy volunteers to ensure there are no violations. We are following the Delhi Disaster Management Act (DDMA) guidelines and social distancing is non negotiable this year,” Harleen Kaur, district magistrate South East Delhi told ThePrint.
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‘Kalash pujas’ replace idol
In C.R. Park, the hub of Delhi’s Durga Puja festivities, a total of nine pandals are set-up every year. This year, only two of these nine spots are bringing idols. In the remaining pandals, kalash pujas will be conducted — this involves worshipping a representation of the idol, in the form of a coconut in a kalash (a copper, brass or silver pot).
“Only the C.R. Park Kali Mandir Samiti and the puja at Pocket 40 are getting idols and that too small ones, not more than five-feet. The rest of the puja samitis have decided to hold only kalash pujas, either at their respective clubs or in a committee member’s house,” said Subir Datta, member of the Kali Mandir Samiti as well the Cooperative Ground Durga Puja Samiti which is in-charge of the puja at the K Block grounds in C.R. Park.
The decision to hold kalash pujas was taken in a meeting conducted Monday by the Greater Kailash MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj with all 12 Durga Puja committees in the area — including the nine at C.R. Park and three each in Greater Kailash, Alaknanda and Kalkaji.
“Most of the people at C.R. Park and members of the puja committees are senior citizens and it is important that they remain indoors and avoid contact with unknown people in pandals,” said Bhardwaj after the meeting.
Other puja committee members from C.R. Park ThePrint spoke to also said that the decision to hold kalash pujas was necessary in order to avoid crowds.
“When there’s an idol, people want to come in and take a look, and there are chances of crowds building up. That’s why, in keeping with the Covid-19 norms, we have decided to do away with idol puja this year,” said Sayan Acharya, committee member of the puja held at C.R. Park’s B Block grounds.
Kalash pujas are also being held in other parts of the city. Durga Puja celebration at Anandlok Apartments, in East Delhi’s Mayur Vihar, which is one of the biggest in the area, will also be a small kalash puja.
“Idol pujas requires a lot of work as well as preparations, including offerings which are not required for kalash puja,” said Ajit Chaudhary, one of the committee members at Anandlok Apartments.
Restricted entry, virtual darshan
Committees managing other popular pujas in the city with idols have decided to restrict the number of visitors.
“Instead of the usual celebrations at the DDA grounds here, we are doing it at our club premises,” said Mrinal Kanti Biswas, general secretary, Milani Cultural and Welfare Association in Mayur Vihar.
“Each year, we receive about two lakh people every day. But this year, we are allowing only 15 people at one go. Even anjali (prayers) will be live-streamed and performance of dhakis (drummers) will also be live-streamed from Kolkata,” he added.
At the Dakshin Delhi Kali Bari in central Delhi, which conducts one of the oldest Durga Pujas in the city, there will be darshan without flowers.
“You cannot bring anything from outside, including flowers as offerings. We have placed social distancing markers. If the crowd exceeds more than 50 or if there are too many people we will shut the temple doors,” said Shubhonil Dhar, its manager.
At C.R. Park too, each puja committee has decided to not allow not more than 15 people at a time. “This 15 will include the priest and his assistant, as well as two committee members,” said Sayan Acharya, committee member at the B Block puja.
Many puja committees have also taken the celebrations online. “We will be sharing the link on Facebook as well as YouTube so that people can join in the festivities from their homes,” said Datta.
Norms have also been put in place to avoid overcrowding during visarjan (idol immersion). “We have identified two metal tanks, one at IP Extension and another at Mayur Vihar Phase 1 to ensure all 38 idols in East Delhi are immersed in these tanks only,” added Biswas who also serves in the Purbanchal Banga Samiti that oversees all Durga Pujas in East Delhi.
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Livelihoods take a hit
Puja samitis are dependent on donations as well as advertisements to conduct the events every year. But with the pandemic, both donations as well as advertisements have been affected.
“The larger pujas in C.R. Park get about Rs 85 lakh each year at the end of the five-day celebration. This year, none of that will be possible,” Datta said.
“Usually we collect up to Rs 8 lakh every year. This year, we have collected only Rs 2.5 lakh so far. The donations from advertisers have also been close to negligible this year,” said Chaudhary.
Some committees have decided to use their donations for welfare purposes too. “Usually, our budget is close to Rs 35 lakh but this year it is only about Rs 4-4.5 lakh. Since we are not getting a large idol or any big scale celebrations, we have decided to contribute masks, soaps as well as sanitisers to around 200 sanitation and domestic workers here in Mayur Vihar,” said Biswas.
Small scale celebrations have affected the artisans too whose annual income is dependent on the work they get in the run up to the pujas.
“I have got orders for only seven idols this year, as opposed to the 50-60 orders that I get otherwise,” said Govind Nath, the lone artisan working at C.R. Park’s Kali Mandir.
Nath is a third-generation artisan and ships idols across the city every year. He brings at least 15-20 workers from Kolkata every year to help him make the idols on time. This year, he hasn’t called anyone.
“There’s no work so there’s no point in calling them. With barely seven idols, all of which not more than five feet in height, I have no means to pay them and neither have I made enough to sustain myself,” he said.
For an idol that’s 2-5 feet tall Nath gets at least Rs 25,000. The price increases according to an idol’s size and specifications. They can go up to lakhs for large-sized idols.
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