Though Bengal gave a sigh of relief after the Calcutta High Court yesterday partially modified its order on community pujas allowing drummers inside pandals, Bengalis in the cities of United Kingdom have gone on almost absolute ‘self restriction’ this time as the cities by the river Thames are facing a second Covid peak during the pujas.
“Almost 90 per cent of our pujas in UK have gone virtual due to the pandemic this year, baring a few maintaining the religious rituals restraining the entry of visitors,” said Sumona Adak of Edinburg who also shares responsibility of Shabas (Scottish Association of Bengali Arts & Sanskritik Heritage) puja committee with president Ranjit Singha and cultural president Shubhranil Bhadra. Singha said: “Since its inception in 2014, our aim was high and to focus on Bangaliana-promoting culture and heritage of the Bengalis among the new generation Bangalis here. This time, due to the pandemic, we had to shelve physical puja but we are showcasing Bangla programmes online everyday during the festivities, which slowly vanishes the distance between Edinburg and Kolkata.”
UK used to host 150 pujas each year, of which 60 community pujas were seen competing with each other presenting colourful cultural programmes based on Bengal’s cultural legacy, mythology and heritage.
“This year, barely 15 physical pujas with strict visitor’s restriction are arranged,” said Joyjit Mishra – one of the key persons behind the 2019 puja of Probashi Sanskritik Sangha in Bristol. He said: “This year we have suspended puja as the COVID-19 situation is grave here. People are panic gripped. We strongly oppose any such kind of initiative that may inflate the current situation. Its good to learn that in Bengal – our homeland people are trying to maintain restrained movement following a Calcutta High Court verdict.”
Official data shows number of daily Covid infections has risen by a third in a week, up from 19,724 to 26,688 cases and fresh 191 deaths on 21 October, which is 40 per cent higher than last week, Prof John Edmunds, an epidemiologist based at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and member of ‘No. 10’ scientific advisory panel told the government that the threetier lockdown system will only slow down the outbreak and not wither it.
This year, some significant pujas are organized in London, Birmingham, Edinburg, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Cardiff and Cambridge. “Mother Uma’s footprints are painted in a pavilion of the Swiss Scottish Library in London as a relief to us,” said Dr Ananda Gupta – an eye specialist and key person behind the significant puja in Camden, which is also known as ‘Mittal’s puja’. In 1963, some young Bengalis in London had pulled the essence of community puja on the bank of the Thames and Camden’s puja was kicked off. “From time to time, we used to import the deities from Kumortuli in Kolkata but the pandemic this year halted all our efforts,” Dr Gupta exclaimed adding: “We have arranged physical puja but entry is restricted and everything including the cultural programmes are visible in online digital platform using Google’s assistance.” Aadi Shakti, a registered charity under Charity Commission of England and Wales also had been organizing pujas since 2017. “This year we have stressed distribution of hot meals to poor and warm winter clothes as part of our devotion to the Devi.”