Reined in by COVID, Puja vibes grip Guwahati

Reined in by COVID, Puja vibes grip Guwahati
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Guwahati: With the festival spirit reined in to an extent by COVID protocols, Assam's largest city Guwahati has got into the Durga Puja celebration mode, albeit a little belatedly this year.

The lights and glitz of previous years are missing, both due to government restrictions as well as a sombre mood prevailing due to the pandemic, but the religious zeal and spirit of enthusiasm heralding better days ahead has gripped the denizens.

COVID has been a dampener so far as the financial ramifications or outwardly glitz associated with Durga Puja is associated. Our budget which used to be around Rs 15 lakh every year has come down to Rs 4-5 lakh this year, said Amitabha Choudhury, executive member of the Maligaon Kalibari Durga Puja Committee.

"But for the religiously and spiritually inclined, the Puja is always about the rituals and traditions and there is no let up in their enthusiasm, he added.

Choudhury further said while people will come for the rituals, the pandal hoping in the late evening is likely to be restrained this year, with the government restrictions also a factor behind it.

The state government has already issued a set of guidelines for organising and visiting Puja mandaps, with curfew imposed from 10 pm till 5 am and strict instructions to all local level authorities to implement the orders.

Moreover, all organisers, volunteers and priests have to be vaccinated preferably with two doses but mandatorily with one dose of vaccine against COVID-19 and they must get tested for COVID-19 before Puja starts (on Panchami day) and after immersion (Ekadasi day).

Devotees attending the events shall be allowed only after it is ensured that they have received at least one dose of vaccine, with exceptions allowed for those below the age of 18.

The size of idols shall be limited in such a way that carrying the idols shall require a minimal number of people and immersion must be planned by the district administration in a staggered manner by allotting specific time to each of the Puja committee for immersion.

Kanchan Pal, an idol maker based in the city, said the size of the idols, which used to go up to 15-feet in his workshop, has come down to 5-7 feet this year.

The number of orders for idols has come down and even those that we have received, the size has been drastically cut as funds are an issue with the Puja committees, he said.

The Puja festivities are expected to provide some succour from the gloom engulfing the people due to the pandemic, Debabrata Dey, general secretary, American Colony Durga Puja Committee, said.

Though the pandemic is not over, there has been some relief with the vaccines. People are looking ahead to leave the confines of their homes and this Durga Puja, they may use the opportunity for some merriment, he said.

Dey, however, added that no precaution can be eased and all government protocols, like wearing masks, using hand sanitisers and maintaining physical distance, are being strictly followed by the committee.

The shopping spree for the Puja has also picked up in the city with people rushing to the stores for last minute purchases.

Vineet Goel, who owns a garment shop in Ganeshguri area of the city, said, The shopping has picked up since last week. Initially there was a lull, but since last four-five days, people are busy thronging the stores.

Rush of shoppers was also visible in all commercial hubs of the city, including Fancy Bazaar and Maligaon, with the malls also drawing their share of crowds.

Many people have preferred to switch to online shopping to avoid the crowds as well as get a better margin.

Going out to the market with a three-year-old kid is difficult during this pandemic. So, I decided to order online Puja clothes for my family as well as for gifts, Ritushna Batsya said.

The pandemic may have stripped the Durga Puja celebrations of some of its glamour but the religious fervour continues to drive the devotees, while the festivities involved with the occasion continues to grip all sections, cutting across religion or any social divide.