Devotees in the National capital Delhi are engrossed in devotion to Goddess Durga since last Thursday with bodhan of Durga Devi on Sasthi Tithi. Delhiites witness the grand celebration of Durga Puja every year but this time, the festival lost its usual glamour and gleam. Devotees welcomed mother Durga in a sombre, gloomy way with safety norms amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, around 12 Durga Puja Committees of Chittaranjan Park, GK2, GK1, Alaknanda, and Kalkaji unanimously decided to suspend Durga Puja celebrations this year due to the Corona pandemic. Only for religious reasons, a small Kalash Puja/ Ghat Puja will be attended by 10-15 committee members. This will ensure continuity of Puja by the Samitis.

GK MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj said at a meeting attended by SDM, Police officials and other civic agencies, “Most of the population of CR Park and members of Puja Committees are senior citizens and it is important that they remain indoors and avoid contact with unknown people in Pandals (makeshift shelters).”

Elsewhere in Delhi, Durga Puja is being organized in a very restricted manner following social distancing norms where permission for performing Durga Puja is granted by Delhi Govt.

On Friday, the Saptami Tithi, after the completion of the Navpatrika Entrance Ritual, worship of Mother Durga Katyayani form is being done in the puja pandals and temples with the recitation of Durga Saptashati. Along with this, four-day Durga Puja has been opened. But the usual hustle and bustle is missing in the pandals, where there would be no place to set foot in puja pandals in the past.

This year due to the strictness and monitoring of the state government due to Corona infection in the capital, today being Ashtami Tithi, the scenario almost remains the same—there was an eerie silence. Administrative measures are being taken in view of the corona infection. So, the pandals are much less crowded. Special precaution is also being taken by the organizing committee also. Permission to devotees is not being given to enter up to the mother’s sanctuary, they are getting a glimpse from a safe distance to pay obeisance to the Goddess.

However, this time the craze of online philosophy is more.

Due to the arrangement of online darshan (glimpse), one feature was that there was no need to face unnecessary congestion at venues.

With restrictions on social gatherings being imposed owning to the pandemic, crowded streets and serpentine queues- a sight reminiscent with Durga Puja festival become a thing of the past this year. Some Puja organizers in the City have decided to adopt technology and take the devotees on a virtual tour through live streaming and social media. Live streaming of the aarti, pushpanjali and all other rituals is being done on social media platforms where online darshan has been arranged for the convenience of the devotees. Devotees are joining the puja at their home through social media like Facebook page, YouTube, apps and website etc… In most places, only a Durga statue of about four feet has been installed.

Guidelines by the Delhi government have restricted the past year’s grand celebrations but is ensuring the welcome of Maa Durga in a safe and secure way. This guideline includes 50% capacity in closed spaces, no rallies, no food stalls, no entry without masks, strict social-distancing and the likes.

This year the much-awaited festival, not just have smaller structures of the idol (height has been reduced to five feet) with no fanfare but also have restrictions on the entry of visitors to ensure social distancing at venues.

There are also disappointments in not being able to see the mother’s face among devotees’ exits, even after the opening of Maa Durga’s pat and puja pandals two days ago. “But this is the only way to prevent infection,” says a devotee.

Talking to The Statesman, Bidesh Layek, general secretary, of  Laxmi Nagar Sarvojanin Durgapuja Samiti, i.e celebrating their 51st year this time around, said social-distancing will strictly be adhered to and people without face masks won’t be allowed entry to the premises while alcohol-based hand sanitisers would be available both inside and outside our venue. As far as the rituals are concerned, all customs and traditions are duly followed.

He says, “Owing to the ongoing pandemic, we are working with the local authorities to ensure our members and communities are safe. To ensure this, we are doing to have the only rituals performed with no celebrations attached to this grand festival. At the venue, we are practising all the steps such as temperature checks, masks, sanitization, social distancing and installed sanitizing tunnel at the entry point to ensure everyone is safe.”

Sharing the ritualistic changes he adds: “No physical Anjali to happen this time and no public distribution of Bhog as done in past. Members shall be able to see the Puja from the comforts of their home via online streaming.”

“We wish and pray to Devi Durga to bless us all and look forward to celebrating Durga Puja next year with much more zest and zeal.”