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Friday, October 2, 2020

Durga Pooja 2020 ~ Kolkata and elsewhere

                     Needles and thimbles do not seem to serve their purpose anymore. Red, blue and green threads no longer appear vibrant. Sequins and zari do not shimmer. For artisans and karigars, life isn't as colourful as it was prior to the coronavirus pandemic. For those artisans, there is no work from home !   

The most  prominent feature of Durga Puja celebration is the gorgeous Pandal or Durga dalan in which the worship is conducted.  Durga Puja is meant for public worship, in which a large number of people participate. Its rituals and paraphernalia are quite expensive.  Formerly only kings and aristocratic families could afford to celebrate such public worship.  But in modern times Durga Puja is done through organized community effort.  People of a locality or street form a celebration committee, take collections and put up the imposing pandal. Sadly that too is affected by Covid 19 pandemic.  This is the time when Kolkata turns totally different – a bakth State.  A visit to Kalighat Temple is a must !

a photo taken during an earlier visit to Calcutta nearer famous Kali Temple

not during Durga Puja but during normal days ! 

Autumn (Sharat) is regarded as one of the best seasons in India.  The sun is on his southward journey and, as his blazing rays begin to slant, the subcontinent feels freedom from the oppressive heat of summer months.  The monsoon has infused new life into trees, shrubs, creepers, herbs, grass, moss and lichen; and Gaia, the Earth Goddess, shows herself off in her richly embroidered green apparel of lush vegetation everywhere.   In the villages there is a look of plentitude and peace.  The granaries are aplenty with freshly garnered grain, the fields offer large open spaces with cattle grazing here and there, and along the borders of fields one can see rows of white and light pink kashphool(flowers of a kind of tall grass) tassels waving triumphantly in the breeze.  Overhead, the sky is deep blue with an occasional white cloud sailing across lazily to an unknown destination.  A kind of mystic silence pervades the air, broken only by the laughter of children playing here and there.  It is as if Nature has prepared herself for the advent of the Divine Mother.  Indeed, which other season can be a better one to welcome the Divine Mother than autumn? And Durga Puja is about the advent of the Divine Mother.

Worship of the Divine Mother is one of the oldest forms of worship known to humanity.  In prehistoric times, God was worshipped as the Divine Mother all over the world.  Though evidences exist of the  Mother Worship in  different places in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia; in our Maha Barath,  Mother worship is beyond the framework of a cult and became a full-fledged living religion supported by an advanced theology, scriptures, rites, customs and festivals which are followed by millions of people even in modern times.  And in Bengal, worship of God as Mother attained the highest form of a cultural refinement and ritual sophistication, and became the dominant faith and practice of the people.

The nine days from the first day after the new moon (known as Mahalaya) in the Indian month of Ashwin to the 9th day constitute the festival of Navaratri which is observed all over India.  During this period, the Divine Mother is worshipped in some form or other.  The majority of Hindus who cannot conduct such worship at home visit Mother's temple in their locality after taking bath and putting on new clothes.  The tenth day is known as Dassera.   The most striking aspect of Durga Puja is the image of the Divine Mother as Mahishasura-mardini.  Here the Divine Mother is seen as having ten arms, each wielding a weapon.  Once the image is consecrated, and the Deity is invoked in it, it undergoes a transfiguration.  It is no longer a clay image but the living Goddess, radiating power, knowledge, love and joy, the benign Mother of the Universe who has come to bless Her children and to assure them of Her love, help and protection.

Though the primary goddess revered during Durga puja is Durga, the celebrations also include other deities of Hinduism including Goddess Lakshmi Devi; Saraswathi Devi, Ganesha. The festival is preceded by Mahalaya, which is believed to mark the start of Durga's journey to her natal home. Primary celebrations begin on the sixth day (Shasthi), on which the goddess is welcomed with rituals. The festival ends on the tenth day (Vijaya dashami), when devotees embark on a procession carrying the worshipped clay sculpture-idols to a river, or other water body, and immerse them, symbolic of her return to the divine cosmos and her marital home with Shiva in Kailash.  Over the years, Durga puja has become an inseparable part of Indian culture with innumerable people celebrating this festival in their own unique way while pertaining to tradition.

Year 2020 has dawned differently and is yet to sync with the other normal years. The Durga Puja celebrations are muted yet .. ..

The Government of Jharkhand issued guidelines to be followed for the observance of Durga Puja and Dussehra in the view of Covid-19. According to guidelines, at any given point of time, there shall not be more than seven persons including organizers, priests and support staff present in any Durga Puja Pandal/Mandap.  Issuing guidelines, the state government said that Durga Puja will be permitted this year only at homes, temples and small pandals without public participation.

                 As opposed to the previous news of Durga Puja celebrations being held in abeyance, the Uttar Pradesh government has now allowed the festivities to continue but in strict accordance with the issued COVID-19 norms. The government officials on Thursday publicized the 're-open' guidelines, which includes the provisions of public celebrations and gatherings. This further means that Durga Puja, Ramleela, political activities, elaborate marriage functions and so on, will be allowed in the state.  Of course the main attraction is West Bengal.

Reports suggest that Durga Puja will be a restrained and staggered affair in West Bengal this year. In an attempt to curb the Covid-19 spread during Durga Puja, the West Bengal government has banned cultural programmes at puja pandals and has urged the organisers to stagger the festivities over additional days so that people can participate while maintaining social distancing.

Here is a look at West Bengal govt guidelines for Durga Puja 2020:

Spacious open pandals: The state government has directed all organisers to ensure that puja pandals are spacious and are open from all sides, with separate entry and exit points for visitors.

Masks and hand santisers: The organisers will have to ensure that all visitors wear masks at all times and use hand santisers before entering the puja pandal. The organisers will have to distribute masks and santisers in the close vicinity of the pandal for people who might have come to puja without one.

Decongested rituals: Puja organisers have been asked to stagger rituals so that people can attend in smaller groups. The priests will use microphone while reciting prayers to ensure people can hear them while maintaing social distancing. Visitors have also been encouraged to bring their offerings like flowers from home to avoid crowds at stalls near pandals.

No cultural programme: The government has banned cultural programmes inside or near the puja pandals.

No carnival: The state government has cancelled the state carnival this year and has banned any fair or carnival near the pandals.

Spacing out festivities over larger number of days: The government has suggested that puja organisers can plan to space out festivities over a larger of number of days to ensure that all rituals can be carried out with small crowds. Puja committees should make necessary advance planning that facilitates visit Puja pandals from Tritia itself, the state government guidelines said.

Low-key award judging: The government guidelines advocate for virtual judging of pandals. But if there has to be a physical visit by the judges then the number will have to be limited. Maximum two cars of the judging party can visit the pandal at a time.

Emphasis one electronic and social media: The state government, in its guidelines for Durga Puja 2020, has asked the organisers to use electronic and social media as far as possible to reach out to devotees, curbing the need for them to visit pandals.

Low-key inaugurations and immersions: The government has asked participants to keep inauguration a minimalist affair with no pomp and grandeur. For immersion, the organisers will have to follow pre-allotted ghat timings. The Durga idols will have to be taken directly to the ghat without any stopovers.

Online permission: The state government has directed concerned departments to make permission -obtaining procedures online.

To facilitate puja in a Covid restricted environment, the Mamta Banerjee government has offered a slew of benefits for the puja committees.   Lest you forget 2021 is going to be an election year in West Bengal and .. ..

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has announced multiple benefits including waivers for puja organising committees ahead of Durga Puja as the coronavirus pandemic continues to dampen the festive mood in the state. From giving free fire brigade services to granting permissions to puja organisers for next few years, Mamata Banerjee has announced several benefits for the puja committees ahead of assembly elections next year. She has also announced massive waivers on the electricity and municipal taxes.  Mamata Banerjee said, "I can do 3 things on my part. I can understand your situation. Getting sponsorships might be tough this year. This is a bad situation. The puja committees are in great trouble. Fire brigade would be free, corporation or panchayat would not be taking any taxes.” “CESC would be 50 per cent free, even West Bengal Electricity supply corporation would be 50 per cent free. The places that haven’t been getting permission for 10 years now to hold puja but are suited, I will ask the police to permit them. I know the puja committees are facing a lot of problems. We provide basic help to you every year. But since this year the problems are deeper, Rs 50,000 would be paid to all the puja committees from the state government,” Banerjee added.

Mamata  also announced that civil workers will get three lakh pension after retirement and added that around 81,000 hawkers in the city will be given Rs 2,000.  “The hawkers are very poor. We have got a list of 81,000 hawkers. (During) During puja we have decided to pay the families of those hawkers with Rs 2,000 each so that their children can buy new clothes for the puja."  

Lashing out against Mamata, BJP’s Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya tweeted: “Mamta government took special care of madrasas and clerics for 9 years! But, in the tenth year, she started remembering Mother Durga and the priest (Brahmin)! It is also true that people remember god at the end!”

Jai Kali, Jai Durga Mata ~ Happy Durga Puja Celebrations 

with regards – S. Sampathkumar

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