Wednesday, October 20

Puja@Covid 2.0 In Kolkata, Durga set to slay ‘Virus-asura’ this year

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Reeling under the pandemic for the second consecutive year, a number of Durga Puja organisers in the city have chosen Covid-19 as the central theme for this year’s celebrations. But there’s one crucial change, thematically: last year, the focus was disease and infection; this year, it’s ways to emerge from the pandemic, in keeping with the global scenario.

“If 2020 was about Covid-19 infection, 2021 is all about vaccination, the only weapon against the disease. So, this year, we are attempting to propagate the importance of vaccination from our Puja premises,” says Ashok Ojha, joint secretary, Md Ali Park Durga Puja Committee.
While the central Kolkata puja would be themed around a Covid vaccination centre, another Puja organiser — Baghajatin Vivekananda Milan Sangha in south Kolkata — is focusing on mental anxiety triggered by lockdowns and restrictions, and ways to overcome it. Yet another Puja in Kasba is modelling the Asura idol and decor around Covid, with multiple guidelines to beat the disease. Several clubs have even employed artisans and performers who have been badly hit by the pandemic to showcase their talent on their premises and donating the lion’s share of the subscription proceeds to them.

“The pandemic has had an impact on mental health. Our pandal will focus on the issue of depression,” says Apu Saha, secretary of the Puja committee. “There will be artefacts and art forms showcasing medication and other ways of recovery from depression.”
Highlighting the issue of learning hurdles for kids, with schools being closed for the pandemic, Uttar Kolkata Sanhati in Maniktala is decking their pandal with imageries of kids stuck home, with minimal human interaction and restricted to online learning via laptops and mobiles. Meanwhile, stressing on the importance of wearing masks and maintaining distancing, the idol at Baguiati’s Ashwininagar Bandhu Mahal Club will be wearing a golden mask, even as the pandal itself would be done up with Covid guidelines and instructions.

Similar messages will be aired by Rabindra Memorial Sporting Club in Kasba, where the Asura’s head is being shaped in the form of the Delta variant of the virus, and the pandal will carry reminders on Covid-appropriate behaviour. “This is the first time we are experimenting with the idols,” says Arnab Chowdhury, the Puja committee secretary. “While sticking to all Covid-related guidelines, we want to send out a message that the Covid demon can be slayed if we maintain basic rules of masking, sanitisation, physical distancing and making sure we get vaccinated.”

There are also committees like Janakalyan Sangha in Beleghata and 75 Pally in Bhowanipore, who are dedicating this Puja to wooden doll-makers in East Burdwan and Chhau artists in Purulia, donating a major share of the subscription and the state’s dole to them, along with making their premises available for them to perform and sell their goods. While the former committee will support 50-odd families of wooden doll-makers at Natungram in East Burdwan, the latter will support a number of Chhau performers from their premises.

“Performers like them are the biggest victims of the Covid pandemic, and we are dedicating this year’s Puja to them,” says Subir Das, secretary, 75 Pally. “We are staying away from all glitz, preferring to donate the money to performers and present their families with new clothes and also allow them to sell their goods from our premises.”

Source: Times of India

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