New normal: Kolkata’s traditional Durga Pujas to restrict visitors

Kolkata (IANS)┬áDurga Puja celebrations in Kolkata’s traditional aristocratic families has been a major attraction over the years for thousands of pandal-hoppers. Ostentatious display of wealth in those mansions may have dimmed with the passage of time, but the palatial structures regain an old-world charm during this time of the year as a host of rituals attract people both from home and abroad.

But things have changed quite drastically amid the Covid-19 pandemic. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said that the celebration would be held, though with a lot of restrictions. She advocated the need for erecting open marquees (pandals) to contain the spread of virus.

Acting on state government’s instructions, many ‘Durga Puja’ organisers have already started preparations to ensure revellers are able to catch a glimpse of the idols of goddess Durga from a distance.

But what about the celebrations in Kolkata’s old aristocratic households who have been organising the festival over the centuries, especially in the new-normal scenario? Like all other things, the ongoing pandemic is set to have a major impact on family ‘puja’ celebrations too.

With ‘Durga Puja’ round the corner, these traditional families of Kolkata have also ushered in certain changes to retain the vintage flavour of their rituals. So, for them, it is only going to be a family affair this year.

“We have not compromised on the traditional rituals of our family ‘puja’. All the specifications will be maintained, like every year. But we will have restrictions for the number of heads who will be present in the ‘Thakur Dalan’ (central courtyard) where the ‘puja’ will be held. We will only allow in 100 people, including priest, during the ‘puja’,” said Pradip Law of Kolkata’s famous Law family.

He said that there will be only single entry point and every visitor sanitised before and only then allowed to enter the ‘puja’ premises. Wearing a mask is also mandatory for every family member.

“This year, we have will not allow any outsiders at our family ‘puja’. We will issue daily passes to our family members even to have access to the family dining area for ‘Bhog’. The central courtyard, where the ‘puja’ is held, will be sanitised at regular intervals every day during the five-day festivities,” said Law, pointing out that this year they have no other options but to impose restrictions for the safety all family members.

‘Durga Puja’ of Kolkata’s Law family near Thanthania is over 200 years old.

Similarly, the famous Daw family of Kolkata’s Jorasanko area has also made several changes in their ‘puja’ celebration. According to family sources, no outsider will be allowed inside their ancestral home in line with Covid-19 safety guidelines.

“This year the ‘dhakis’ (drummers) will be brought from their villages two weeks before the ‘puja’ starts. They will be kept in isolation. No outsider or even distant family members and friends will be entertained this year,” said Sanchari Sur Daw.

She said that the height and weight of the goddess idol and its overall structure was decided in such a way that it was easy for the family’s male members to carry the goddess on their shoulders during immersion, without the need to hire porters.

She said that sanitisation drive and masks are also a must for everyone in the family in this year’s ‘puja’.

Located near the Vivekananda Road flyover in Jorasanko in north Kolkata, the household ‘Durga Puja’ of the family was started by Shibkrishna Daw’s father in 1840 but it was the successful businessman son who added glamour to the celebration.

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