Friday marked the Saptami of the nine-day Durga Puja. But the sound of dhaak (drum), the smell of bhog (food), the fragrance of dhuno (frankincense) were just a memory for countless families during the festival this year in Hyderabad.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced festival organisers to tone down the celebrations and adopt online streaming option to keep the faithful in good humour. At the Hyderabad Bangalee Samity puja tent near Indira Park, the sign on the road is direct: Entrance for members only.
“This is a break in tradition after 55 years for us,” says Subrata Ganguly of Bangiye Sanskritik Sangha at the low-key celebration at Mahbub College in Secunderabad area. “We used to get 8,000 people per day, and for cultural events the numbers topped 15,000, but now we are allowing only 50 members with social distancing as per police guidelines. But hundreds of people are logging in to see the live-streamed programmes of pujo,” said Mr. Ganguly.
Organisers have tried to shift the drama online, with an important caveat: Dear Devotees, keeping in mind the COVID-19 guidelines this year, there shall be no distribution of prasad or bhog. Entry restricted and limited puja organisers only.
“Online puja makes no sense to me at all. It has taken away the fun of meeting and catching up with old friends, outing with family, all the gastronomic indulgence, all day long, closed kitchen at home, community lunch, partying with friends till late, the whole celebratory ambience with the sound of dhaak, conch, not to mention the smell of incense, ghee, dhup, etc. All that has gone,” says Chandana Chakrabarti.