Assam puja committees adapt to new normal amid COVID curbs
Mandatory tests for priests, pandal volunteers underway
GUWAHATI: As Assam gets ready for a low-key Durga Puja celebration in the middle of a pandemic, puja organising committees are getting acclimatised to the new normal keeping in mind the prescribed health and safety aspects to avoid another spike in cases after the four-day festival.
As it is, the COVID positivity rate in Assam has dipped drastically to below two per cent now, even as the state health department is not taking any chances, having put in place guidelines for committees, including mandatory tests for priests and members, to strictly adhere to, before and after the festival.
“Our priests and assistant priests have undergone COVID tests today, while tomorrow, those members/volunteers who will be in constant interaction with people visiting the pandal from Friday (Saptami) will be tested,” Jishu Das, secretary of the organising committee of Chatribari Sarbajanin Debo Puja Sthan here, said on Wednesday.
One of the most innovative puja pandals in Kamrup Metro district, the Chatribari puja pandal this time will, like the others, be open from all sides, as prescribed by the SOPs, covering an area of just 20×20 feet.
“We have scaled down our budget for obvious reasons from Rs 12 lakh last year to just about Rs 2lakh this year. The height of the idols has been restricted to five feet. Besides, we will ensure physical distance and see that only up to 50 people enter the pandal premises at a time,” Das said.
“Our volunteers will allow only those wearing masks and using hand sanitisers to enter the pandal. As prescribed, will also not distribute any prasad on the premises,” he said.
The Rehabari Bilpar Puja, one of the most attractive pujas of the city, too has scaled down the celebration, limiting it to a simple ritual. Every year, the organising committee resorts to an eco-friendly theme and comes up with a spectacle to behold. But not this time.
“The situation is such that we cannot afford to have gatherings in our pandal unlike in the previous years. Earlier, we used products such as bamboo, wood, sea shells, coir, hay etc to decorate our idols and pandals. This time everything is moderate, be it the size and type of idols or the pandal,” Bapan Roy, a member of the Rehabari Bilpar Puja organising committee, said.
Like many others, the 131-year-old puja at the Barowari Temple here too will only be following the traditional rituals, in a departure from the past.
“This is for the first time that we will have just rituals and no idols to worship at the mandap,” said a member of the puja committee.
State health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had earlier said that all puja committees have to take permission from the deputy commissioner mandatorily before setting up the pandals.
Sarma has time and again warned people to follow the safety norms and ensure that the situation remains under control during and after Puja.
“Mass gatherings and flouting of norms would lead to an uncontrollable situation after puja and pose more challenges for the government,” the minister has said and even tweeted of late.
All kinds of cultural functions and competitions have also been banned during the festival.
Mass immersion of idols and processions will also not be allowed and the district administration has been asked to facilitate the immersion process over two to three days to avoid crowding.