By Suranjana Ray
At a particular time every year, Bengalis in West Bengal, or rather Bengalis all across the globe, participate in festivities on the occasion of Durga Puja, a festival in honour of Goddess Durga. This is a time when my city Kolkata is decorated with lights and its beauty is indescribable.
But the Durga Puja of yesteryears will see a sea change in this year of the pandemic. Though pujas are being planned as earlier, there are strict guidelines that need to be followed this time. Puja committees have been asked to make pandals with three sides open to ensure smooth movement of people. Moreover, hand sanitizers and masks have to be ensured, and rituals to be staggered so that people can attend in smaller batches.
When it comes to rituals, we’ll all have to find a way to modify our customs to suit the need of the hour. Let’s see what the options are for ‘digital Durga Puja’ available for ritualistic and enthusiastic Bengalis.
Here’s a pandemic concept. Every year, I visit the local puja pandal in my locality to pay obeisance to the 10-handed Goddess Durga, who kills the demon Mahisasur. This image of the goddess is symbolic of using all our inner positive powers to combat the inner devil, the Mahisasur. The colour of Mahisasur is usually green so it is no wonder that the various memes and cartoons that have come up this year are portraying coronavirus as green too – just as an analogy. This year Goddess Durga is no more Mahisasurmardini (Mahisasur slayer) but Coronasurmardini (Corona slayer)!
The anjali is an offering of flowers to the Goddess after uttering requisite mantras in praise of her. It usually takes place in crowded pandals, where the group energy is contagious and where the festive spirit is high.
This year, however, with the raging pandemic and keeping in our mind that a physical distance of one metre has to be maintained at any cost, how can I give anjali? I have never missed it.
The solution? Let us give anjali online. We can join many persons giving anjali in the pujo of our choice. Ashtami anjali is something that we all want to give and with pujos being covered digitally across various social-media platforms, we will all get the chance.
I can use the flowers from my terrace and sit in front of my laptop and utter the mantra, Sarva mangala magalye, Shive sarvartha sadhike, Sharanye tryambake Gauri, Narayani namostute, Narayani namostute.
I do earnestly feel that it will give me the pleasure of giving anjali as well as protect me from the deadly virus. Well, at least giving anjali is ensured.
Virtual Pandal Hopping
Normally, I visit the pandals at Tridhara, Samaj Sebi Sangha, Ballygunge Cultural, Babubagan, Suruchi Sangha, Lebutala Park, College Square Mohammad Ali Park, Jodhpur Park and Deshapriyo Park, all during the same festival! How will I do it this time? Any guesses?
Well, I will be on the digital platform and I will be visiting all the pandals virtually. I will visit Jodhpur Park and from there straight to College Street. There will be no traffic jams to face, I will just negotiate the route on my computer.
Frankly speaking, the traffic situation during the pujas is hopeless and it takes such a lot of time to reach from one place to another. But this year, aha, with my virtual pandal hopping, I will be able to see the idols and decoration of all these famous pujas from the safety of my own home, while avoiding all the rush and crowd.
Merging of Time and Technology
Sandhi Puja happens at the cross-section of the time between Ashtami and Nabami. It’s a puja that starts in the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and continues into the first 24 minutes of Nabami. This is the most important part of the Durga Puja. It is in this time that Goddess Durga defeats Mahisasur.
The Sandhi Puja is performed by offering the goddess 108 lotuses and 108 lit diyas. Here Maa Durga is worshipped as Devi Chamunda who vanquishes evil forces from the face of the earth. As a Bengali and an ardent follower of Maa Durga, I never want to miss this part of the puja.
This year, with all the health hazards present on visiting a pandal, I plan to watch the Sandhi Puja on my laptop. With the same earnestness, I will light a diya and give the Sandhi Puja anjali with the flowers from my home.
This year, so far, has seen loss of lives all across the globe and the ‘normal’ of previous years no longer exists. Durga Puja is a celebration of life and the victory of positive forces over evil for Indians, and especially Bengalis, all across the world.
But in this pandemic situation, we can’t and shouldn’t risk our lives to visit pujas of our localities. So stay home, stay safe and enjoy your puja on your laptops or smartphones. The intention and devotion in our hearts are the most important offerings, after all. May the Goddess shower her blessings on us and rid the world of this sufferance.
Kolkata-based Surajana Ray worked in advertising sales for 20 years before setting up a Montessori school that shut shop before the pandemic. She is an incorrigibly optimistic person who draws out life from any situation.
A soundly researched, well crafted piece that aptly reflects both – the quintessential charm of Durga Puja, and the challenging socio-religious behavioral impositions of our present times. The author in her simple language and lucid style, juxtaposes joy and pathos, tradition and technology with much elan. Her virtual offering of Anjali, and ‘screen hopping’ of puja pandals do underscore convenience; however, truthth to tell, the sea of humanity on Kolkata’s streets, the all-night junk food eats, the new dress glitters and new shoes blisters – Durga Puja without these is also a little muted for some. But the author effectively pulse-reads the the new normal, and pens her feelings with ease yet effect.