COVID-19: Will it be a low-key Durga Puja 2021?

Most big and small puja committees have slashed their budget.

India today reported 28,204 new cases of coronavirus, the lowest in nearly five months. However, there is fear and speculation around a possible third wave hitting the country, and thus, celebrating festivals with great fanfare is not a priority right now. What about Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the Bengalis, scheduled in October this year?

This year, the organisers of Durga Puja are treading with caution under the backdrop of COVID-19 that has taken 4,28,628 lives in India till now.

With people losing their jobs, many facing salary cut, the economy not doing well, there is acute funds crunch for Durga Puja this year, and this is applicable for big and small puja committees in Kolkata. For the past few years, Durga Puja has gone big on budget, with corporate sponsorships the main source of funds. But this year, due to the way COVID-19 has hit the economy, most big-budget puja committees have massively cut their budgets. Last year, most were unprepared and a lot of money was “wasted” as people could not venture out into the streets due to the coronavirus scare, and protocols made it tough for people to walk around freely, say organisers.

“In the past one year, many lost their lives and people are also not in the mood to celebrate. That’s yet another reason to keep it low key,” said the organiser of a big-budget puja in Kolkata. Many are also afraid to spend in large-scale, fearing that the situation may not be congenial, and the speculations around a possible third wave has made organisers jittery.

“We don’t know what the situation may be in October. It’s not wise to spend so much, if people can’t come out and visit pandals,” he said. Where some puja committees have spend Rs 20-25 lakh in earlier years, this year they have slashed their budgets down to less than Rs 10 lakh. Even then, the only plan in place is the idols, plans around everything else about pandals and décor are still uncertain, and have so far been kept flexible, said another organiser. No grand pandals, no elaborate lighting this year, say most. In fact, most puja committees are likely to spend below Rs 10 lakh this year. For the smaller puja committees, it is likely to be much lower.

In Kolkata, “themes” are popular and pandals are developed and built around an “idea” – a concept that has become very popular for the past two decades. However, this year, even several big-budget puja committees have been avoiding such themes, rather sticking to the basics and avoiding going big with the pujas.

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