Durga Puja celebrations in GH see better jollity this year

122 mandaps set up across Garo Hills

TURA, Oct 13: Last year’s damper on celebrations due to COVID-19 pandemic has finally given way for people to witness some semblance of life, and what better way than the start of the autumn festivities with the colorful and vibrant three-day Durga Puja festival in the Garo Hills.
Decorated puja mandaps, colorfully illuminated during the night, have sprung up across Tura and several parts of Garo Hills and people have been flocking to the venues in hordes to partake in the celebrations, thereby bringing back a semblance of normalcy after months of restriction over the COVID-19 spread.
“Unlike the previous year, this time the celebrations are much better and the crowd is bigger. People are confidently visiting the puja mandaps which are adhering to the COVID protocols of hand sanitisation and social distancing. But what is surprising is that there has been a drop in the use of face masks by the public,” points out Arup Nag of the Central Puja Committee, Tura.
There are 122 Durga Puja mandaps celebrating the festival in the Garo Hills, and Tura town alone has 26 of the puja pandals.
Some of the mandaps in Tura which are witnessing large turnouts of people late into the evening hours are Nepali Durga Puja Mandap — the oldest religious centre that has already crossed a century of its existence, the Babupara Durga Puja Mandap, Milan Sangha Mandap at police parade ground and the Mahindra Colony Puja Mandap at Hawakhana.
With COVID wreaking havoc on the economy, both local and global, its impact has been felt even during the pujas.
“This time the idols of goddess Durga are much smaller in size and were created locally.  Earlier, we used to order them from the world-famous artisans of Kumartuli in West Bengal, unlike this year,” says a senior member of the Central Puja Committee of Tura.
Competitions for puja mandaps
With an aim to make the festivities all the more merrier and inclusive, the Central Puja Committee in Tura is holding a competition for all the 26 ‘sarbojanin pujas’ or community mandaps in the town.
Events such as the best idol, best decorated pandal and illumination, hospitality, most disciplined immersion procession among others are for grabs among the various puja committees of town.
Puja celebrations in the neighbouring state
Ironic, it would seem, but the several thousand belonging to the Rabha community in North Garo Hills have been partaking in the Durga Puja celebrations in the neighbouring state of Assam.
The locals from Mendipather town in North Garo Hills, a sizeable population comprising mostly of Rabhas and a few hajongs, do not put up any pandal in their own area but instead cross over the road, which is the divider between Assam and Meghalaya, to join the celebrations held there.
“This has been a practice for generations and it is probably because of economic factors and the fact that a bigger group of their own community co-exist just across the interstate border in Assam,” reveals a Central Puja Committee member.
Interestingly, although the celebrations take place only in neighbouring Assam, yet, on the day of the immersion, the convoy carrying the idols is required to enter Garo Hills before passing through towards the river banks where the immersion takes place.

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