With the festival spirit reined in to an extent by COVID protocols, Assam has got into the Durga Puja celebration mode, albeit a little belatedly this year.
This Durga Puja, the lights and glitz of previous years are missing due to government restrictions imposed for the prevailing COVID-19 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 hopping 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 pandals, 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.
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.