Durga Puja in the times of social distancing
Photo Credit: PTI

Today is Maha Shaptami, the second day of the Durga Puja and it is celebration times for the city’s Bengalis. The 5-day annual festival sees thousands from the community congregate at the puja pandals. But, with the Pandemic still wreaking havoc and the physical distancing norms strictly in place, puja gatherings are kept at the minimum. The three largest and most frequently visited pandals are in Juhu, Powai and Navi Mumbai, and the organisers are doing their best to keep the festive spirit up while embracing the new normal.

Sourav Mitra, the chairman of the Powai Bengali Welfare Association (PBWA) looks at devotion as a means of spreading positivity. He said, “In times like these, divine intervention is necessary. In spite of the perils we should please Goddess Durga.” This year, the PBWA has decided to celebrate the puja in a very limited capacity. Only five to ten people will be allowed at a time, ten being the maximum during Aarti. It will also be streamed online for those who want to take part in the prayers from the safety of their homes. Along with organising the Puja, the PBWA has also been very philanthropic in nature during the lockdown. “We organised blood donation camps and supplied food, rations and clothing to those affected the worst by the lockdown and the disease”, said Mitra.

Navi Mumbai Bengali Association has organised its Durga Puja celebration for which devotees have to register on the association’s website. The entire event will be online. It will be streamed on YouTube, the association’s web portal and social media platforms. The NMBA ha also organised cultural programmes, which include singers from Kolkata to perform. These will also be live streamed via the association’s website. Ashim Dey, a member of the association says, “Public safety is the main priority. Due to the civic guidelines devotees will have to watch the programme from home.”

Juhu’s Durga Puja organised by Rani Mukherjee’s family is one of the biggest and most spectacular in the city, organised by The North Bombay Durga Puja Samiti. The pandal is visited by lakhs every year. Usually organised at the Tulip Star Hotel in Juhu, this year the Puja has been moved to an undisclosed location. This was done to avoid the crowd. Deb Banerjee, the organiser of the event says, “To avoid any risks the puja will only be attended by members of the association and close family members. Prasad, flowers and other offerings are also prohibited. The Puja will also be live streamed on social media, including their Facebook page.

Singer Abhijit Bhattacharya’s Durga Puja at Lokhandwala is also avoiding the grandiose. “The pandal will be in our hearts but there will be no celebration”, says Bhattacharya. The Puja would have completed 25 years this year.

One of the most authentic Durga Puja celebrations is at Khar’s Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. This year the iconic temple will remain closed to the public but their Puja will be live-streamed. The Mission issued a statement on their website saying, “In view of the current pandemic, the Department of Home Affairs, Government of Maharashtra, has issued guidelines for Durga Puja Celebrations. As per the guidelines, we are sorry to state that the physical darshan of Sri Sri Durga Maa will not be allowed to devotees/ public this year. However, live streaming of the entire Sri Sri Durga Puja event would be made through the link www.youtube.com/rkmkhar/live. Please do join us live online and spread the word around.”

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