No dhunuchi naach, no dhaakis and no cultural programmes – Durga Puja celebrations in the Capital are devoid of festive cheer amid covid scare.
The sun has set, making way for a crisp autumn twilight that had become so rare to find in the city. The air is rich with the fragrance of shiuli, or night-blooming jasmine, the kind that prepares you for the onslaught of winters. The vibe is heightened further as temple bells drown out the traffic in the Capital city’s mini Bengal. Even though the calendars indicate the beginning of Navratri, something is amiss. Each year, people from all over the city flocked to Chittaranjan Park for pandal-hopping and to revel in the festivities, which now looks devoid of any and all cheer.Kali Mandir, which would usually be filled with rows of idols, only has a few small idols.
A walk up the steps of the famous Kali Mandir would usually end up with sprawling views of the pandal, but this time, the barren lawns paint a desolate picture. There is an unfinished pandal, almost a fraction of what used to stand in its place. Where committee members would be in a mad rush to get things done, a lull has taken over. This lull is felt even deeply as one treads along the narrow bypass that cuts off from the main temple complex, leading to the place where idol makers give final touches to the idols. It is an unassuming set-up – tarpaulin sheets erected on bamboo structures with a few personal belongings, paints and endless rows of idols of various gods in different sizes. There are only two rows this year, and the tallest idols are no taller than five feet.
Read: Delhi calls it quits on Ramlila celebrations amid delayed guidelines and Covid scareTheatre of the absurd. ( Photo: Etti Bali/HT )
“Yeh sab ghar ki puja vale hain. Aur koi orders nahi aaye,” say the two lone artists from Vishwakarma Shilpayan, explaining how they haven’t got any orders from pandals. The restrictions on large gatherings during Navratri were only lifted some days back, leaving organising committees with no time or plan to hold events.
“We will have a puja, but it will not be open for public. We will establish a small pandal and conduct the puja with five-six members only,” says Ashitava Bhowmik, president, Kali Mandir. This means no Dhunuchi Naach or Dhaakis, no food stalls and an overall blanket no to all on-ground events. “More than government directives, we are also concerned about safety. As responsible citizens, we cannot endanger ourselves and others,” he adds.A small pandal being constructed at Kali Mandir, CR Park. ( Photo: Etti Bali/HT )
A similar story is unfolding at Mela Ground where no idols or pandals will be established. “We will hold a Kalash Puja with no more than 20 members of the committee. Since there will be no idols, it negates the point of visarjan,” says Pronob Kumar Chatterjee, a member of the Pujo Committee. Talking about the plight of the idol-makers, he says that some of them had come to Delhi from Kolkata in hopes of getting work. “In addition to the artists who live here, some had come from Kolkata, but there are no orders because there are no permissions to erect pandals. Barring a few who have ordered idols for puja at their homes, there is no work for them,” he says.
Read: Dussehra Dreams: Effigy makers in a fix after no-show on RamlilasAn artist giving final touches to the idols. ( Photo: Etti Bali/HT )
Puja committees have planned small-scale rituals, in accordance with safety protocols. “We are only allowing five people at a time – two priests and three members of the organising committee. No one from the outside will be allowed. There will be no bhog distribution and no cultural programmes,” says Niloj Acharya, member of E-Block Pujo Committee.