Traditionally, many decades ago, the Navratri festival in Kolkata and the rest of West Bengal was a simple affair with humble poju at home performed by a priest, some offerings made to the Goddess by the family and of course celebrating with close friends and family. Gradually over a period of time as Durga Pujo’s social aspect grew, the Pujos began to grow in scale and grandeur. Durga Pujo is now a festival that is beyond religion and brings all of Kolkata under its spell not just for the ten days of the Dusshera festival but all through the months when the city is gearing up for the festivities.
This year, however, the festival will look very different from what it has been in the last few years. Massive, elaborate pandals are predicted to be replaced with simpler ones and the social dimension is going to be heavily restricted as well. Keeping in mind the safety measures for the prevention of COVID-19, organisers are seeking different arrangements that can minimise the scope of people gathering together for their own safety.
While some organisers plan to try paintings of Goddess Durga in place of the usual idols, other plan to have much simpler and smaller idols. These changes are also due to the restriction in the amount of funds that have been available this year in the Corona-infected economy. Some organisers are also considering setting up online streaming of the pandal and the religious proceedings so that people from across the city, and even the world, are able to witness the unmissable Pujo proceedings from the safety of their homes.
A popular idea being considered for the darshan of the pandal is a drive-in pandal where the people can drive past the pandal to witness the idol and seek blessings. While this comes with its logistical challenges, this seems to be the closest that we can get to the pandal in a safe manner. Organisers are beginning to plan ways to sanitise the vehicles as well to minimise any risk of community spread.
Another exciting element for the city known for its artists and love for art is that this year marks the birth centenary of Satyajit Ray. In order to honor the writer-artist-film maker, three close-knit groups from South Kolkata are planning to follow the theme of a highly acclaimed trilogy by the legendary Satyajit Ray. One of these pandals will be themed after Pather Panchali, one will be modelled after Aparajito and the third will be based on Apur Sansar (The World of Apu). The connoisseurs of Kolkata surely know how to bring art and festivity together!
There are a number of artisans and artists in and around Kolkata whose livelihood is primarily dependent on the magnificent Durga Pujo. A number of citizens of Kolkata hope that through these initiatives, the artisans and artists receive support and are able to sustain through the course of the pandemic and disturbed economy.
Pujo won’t be the same without the fervour and enthusiasm of the people coming together at the pandals. However, it is wonderful that thoughtful and responsible alterations are being made so that we may soon overcome the pandemic and the City of Joy is soon able to celebrate Durga Pujo in its trademark style. We hope that through all of the efforts of the citizens and the organisers, Kolkata successfully celebrates a COVID-free, safe Durga Pujo this year.