Goddess Durga in 2020, powerless and helpless
In nature and extent autumnal Durgapuja is undisputedly the biggest religious festival of Bengali speaking Hindus all over the world. In his poem �Ode To Autumn�, John Keats has glorified autumn as -
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run
Rabindranath has also written beautiful poems of autumn. With its blue sky, blooming of night flowering jasmine and tkins autumn in Bengal is a very pleasant season. Riding on raft of white cloud in blue sky Goddess Durga comes to this earth. Not only religious, Durgapuja has social, cultural, commercial even political impacts also. According to natural flow of time Durgapuja has come again but in a different atmosphere because the whole world is infected by corona pandemic. Durgapuja is not also free from the clutch of corona but festival comes and different ways have been designed to observe it.
Traditionally Durgapuja is celebrated in three phases - mahalaya, bodhon (invocation) and sandhipuja. Formalities of Durgapuja normally begin just after seven days of mahalaya. Every year Mahalaya means the final frenzy to complete Durgapuja pandals. It includes installation of idols at their right place and height, expressing social, political and contemporary themes through various traditional and modern artworks though 2020 is not a regular year. Scheduled date of mahalaya was 16th September (1st Aswin) but as per Bengali almanac Aswin of this year is an inauspicious month due to two new moons in a single month. Therefore, for theological accuracy, for the first time Goddess Durga will be worshipped after 35 days of mahalaya. So, without being hectic, organisers got enough time to complete their works leisurely. Let us have a look at the dates of mahalaya and beginning of Durgapuja (Sasthi, the 6th lunar day) in 5 earlier years.
However, such unusual schedule is not new. In 2001, Durgapuja began 30 days after Mahalaya. Before that such situation occurred in 1982. Durgapuja usually continues from the 6th to 10th tithi (lunar day) of bright fortnight in the month of Aswin, sometimes in early Kartik.
Durgapuja is mainly a cosmopolitan festival. In some houses of Bangladesh and West Bengal Durgapuja is observed as family tradition but finally those also take cosmopolitan shape. Durgapuja in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal is famous for extravagant pandals. Organisers are always in all out race among one another in beautification, design, decoration and lighting. Temples and temporary pandals are colourfully and attractively decorated. Artist and craftsmen use many traditional and non-traditional things like wood, bamboo, sponge wood, rags, plastic bottles, corks, paddy, empty ball pens, egg shells etc. to bring touch of novelty and to attract visitors from different places of India and abroad. Every year new themes evolve which add variety, colour and glamour to the idols and pandals. Even a corona virus pandal has been prepared in South Dinajpur district of West Bengal.
An essential concomitant of Durgapuja is unmanageable crowd. People rush for shopping, visiting friends and relatives and exchanging gifts. Huge number of visitors crowded to see idols, attend fair and cultural functions, enjoy aarti competition in temples/pandals and this is the most serious point of concern in pandemic. As maintaining social distance is almost impossible during this festival health experts are appealing to people to enjoy festival staying home so that infection does not spread fast. Even they have placed strong argument that if work is possible from home then why not worship? Flocking to festival under pandemic means inviting infection of corona but festival frenzy people pay little heed to this appeal.
Apprehending the spread of corona virus West Bengal Doctors' Forum filed a public interest litigation at Kolkata High Court. Though totally a new type of case, a division bench of Kolkata High Court has passed a historic judgment declaring every temple/pandal in West Bengal a containment zone and no-entry zone. Not visitors, only limited number of listed organizers are allowed to enter into pandals/temples. Therefore, sacred face of Mother Durga is to be viewed virtually, not actually. Earlier, governments of Odissa and Jharkhand have taken such strict decision.
Apart from thousands of people, presence of celebrities of film television, music, sports, cultural world and even political leaders in puja pandals and cultural events add glamour to Durgapuja. Moreover, Durgapuja is also an opportunity of publicity and verifying their popularity but due to ruling of high court this golden opportunity of stars has been missed.
Though not ordered by court, almost similar decision has been taken in Bangladesh. The Central Committee of Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad has already issued 26 instructions for celebrating this festival. Entering into temples/pandals after dusk has been banned. In some places of Bangladesh and West Bengal organisers of Durgapuja distribute food (other than prasad) among the poor people of that locality. Performance of that social responsibility is also suspended.
Kumaripuja (worshipping a baby girl as Goddess Durga), an essential and attractive part of Durgapuja, will not be held anywhere in Bangladesh. With 801 idols in 2019 Durgapuja of Shikder House at Bagerhat is acknowledged as the biggest one in the world but due to changed circumstances this large scale Durgapuja has been suspended. If idols are made millions of domestic and foreign visitors will flock and it will not be possible to maintain physical distance and health rules. So, they have spontaneously agreed just to worship without festival which is certainly a very effective decision during pandemic.
Celebration of Durgapuja is an event of thrill, sentiment, self respect and returning to root for Bengalee Hindus. Though outwardly colourful, pandemic has made the festival pale. Corona is very cruel. Reality is unimaginably harsh. Life is to be saved first. Goddess Durga will have to stay in isolation of empty temples/pandals for five days. No spectator, no shout of victory, no dance with incense burner, no rush of crowd, no scrambling to go nearer to her, no one to touch her holy body or to take selfies with her. If devotees can't approach her, if she can't be worshipped directly then what is the meaning of her coming to this earth? Holding ten weapons in ten hands mighty Mahisasurmardini (killer of Buffalo Demon) of Ramayan is very helpless to corona pandemic and powerless to court. Her weapons are not at all effective to fight against corona. This is an unprecedented experience for her. However, in isolation, the goddess will be probably habituated with this new normal.
The writer is former
commissioner of taxes