Coronavirus in Bhopal: No carnival-like atmosphere in Navratri celebrations; Pandals set up sans shops, joyrides

BHOPAL: The number of people visiting the Durga Puja Pandals has dropped by 99% in the city due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Only a few pandals can be seen in the city, that too much smaller in size. No shops, joyrides or stalls selling eatables can be seen.

The organisers blame delay in the issuance of guidelines by the state government for the lowkey celebrations. As per the organisers, the government issued the list of do's and don’ts just a week before the beginning of the festival and there was no way they could have made grand preparations in the time available. The carnival-like atmosphere is missing from the Navratri celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, say organisers of Durga Utsav Samitis.

The celebration of the festival by the New Market Vyapari Durga Utsav Samiti is an example. Last year, the pandal was spread over an area of 20,000 square feet. This year, it just covers 320 square feet. The Samiti has spent only around Rs 5 lakh on the celebrations, down from Rs 50 lakh last year. “There are just two loudspeakers. Even birthday parties have more,” said Ajay Agarwal, convener of the Samiti.

The height of the idol of the goddess is 6 feet. Last year, the idol was 12-ft tall. The Samiti is sanitising the area every day and circles have been drawn on the ground to ensure social distancing. Face masks with the name of the Samiti are being offered to the visitors not wearing them. “Around 25,000 persons used to visit the Pandal every day till last year, not only from Bhopal but also from nearby towns. Now, we are getting just around 1,000 footfall a day,” Agarwal said.

The situation is the same in Bittan Market. The idol is just six-foot-tall and the Pandal, just 30x45 ft. "Last year, the pandal was 80x450 ft. Besides, a fair was organised in another Pandal of 100x300 ft. The cost incurred on the celebrations has come down from Rs 60 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. We didn’t even seek contributions from the people. 151 members of our Samiti collected the fund from among ourselves,” said Hariom Khatik, coordinator, Jai Maa Vaishno Devi Durga Utsav Samiti of Bittan Market Vyapari Sangh. “Last year, around one lakh persons visited the Pandal every day, which has fallen to 1,000 this year,” he said. Devotees without masks are not being allowed insides, he added.

President of the Maharana Pratap Nagar Vyapari Utsav Samiti, Vipin Goswami, said that they have not organised the usual fair this time. “There are no shops, joyrides and celebratory mood,” he said.

Goswami said that last year, the area of the Pandal was 3,200 square feet. Now it has been reduced to 300 sq feet. “But we are adhering to the worship rituals,” he said. The number of visitors is down from around 50,000 per day to less than 1,000, he said.

The Vijay Market Durga Utsav Samiti, Berkhera is not celebrating the festival at all. Rambabu of the Samiti said that the COVID guidelines came too late. “It is for the first time in the past 32 years that we are not holding any celebrations,” he said. The Samiti is organising health camps, instead and also distributing masks.

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