Monday, 30th October 2017

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Coronavirus lockdown ruins plans of rituals

Mayor Krishna Chakraborty had to make do by offering Annapurna puja to the ghot in her CJ Block home

By Brinda Sarkar and Sudeshna Banerjee in Salt Lake
  • Published 4.04.20, 6:23 PM
  • Updated 4.04.20, 6:23 PM
  • 3 mins read
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Arati being held at the house of Aritra Sen in AK Block on Wednesday. Sourced by Correspondents

Festivals and pujas are being downscaled or even skipped in the backdrop of Covid-19. In the past few days Annapurna puja, Navratri and Nava Varsh were all marked on the religious calendar but residents could hardly celebrate them.

Mayor Krishna Chakraborty had to make do by offering Annapurna puja to the ghot in her CJ Block home. “This was to have been the 11th edition of my puja through which I am continuing a century-old tradition in my mother-in-law’s family,” she said.

In fact, she took recourse to technology in doing so. “Since I could get neither priest nor an idol, I requested Swagatalaksmi (Dasgupta, the singer) to send me some appropriate slokas via WhatsApp messages. My daughter played dhak and kanshor recordings on her phone on YouTube,” the mayor said.

But she ensured that puja also take place by asking a panda from Kalighat temple familiar to her to offer puja at an Annapurna temple on the bank of the Adiganga. “I prayed to Ma to grant the world respite from this terrible infection,” she said.

Another priest could not reach Rahul Arora’s house in AD Block for Navratri either. “But he promised to do Chandi path on our behalf at home. My grandpa from Bhawanipore guided us on other rituals over video call and taught us the bhajans to sing. There were no belpata or garlands of 108 hibiscuses in the market this year so we plucked them from our terrace instead,” said Arora, who could also not get sabu and yoghurt that he usually eats during the nine-day fast for Navratri. He had to make do with boiled potatoes and fruits this year.

Perhaps the most upset are residents of BC Block who had to cancel their Annapurna puja altogether. “It would have been the first community Annapurna puja in our block. More than 30 families had pooled in and raised funds. “We had even paid Rs 2,000 in advance to a Kumartuli sculptor for the idol. The money is non-refundable,” said the organising members.

The thakur ghor in mayor Krishna Chakraborty’s house.
The thakur ghor in mayor Krishna Chakraborty’s house.

AK Block’s Aritra Ranjan Sen, who had scaled up the Annapurna puja in his house since last year, spent the last four months planning this year. “Invitations had been sent out. I had paid Rs 23,000 to the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company for 35KW extra electricity, Rs 2,500 to the Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation for a water tanker, placed an order for an idol with a Kumartuli artisan and even bought a Benarasi sari for the idol to be wrapped in. All that came to nought,” said Sen. “I could salvage only the contractor's bill as the pandal was supposed to have been erected four days before the puja.”

But Sen did not cancel the puja altogether. He offered it to the ghot of Goddess Lakshmi in his thakur ghor. “Thankfully our thakurmoshai could cycle to our place from Action Area 1 in New Town.” His neighbours who had planned to host pujas at their homes could not make such arrangements. “They sent offerings to our puja instead,” Sen said.

But regret messages had to be sent to guests cancelling the invitation. The puja was held on Wednesday with barely 10 people present.

For Navratri, Renu Verma, of CL Block, says it is a custom to invite children up to the age of six for meals and gift them money. “This time we had to wish them over phone and send them money through online money transfer,” said Verma.

On Ram Navami (that was on April 2 this year), her family starts new books, like the haal khata system that Bengali businessmen follow. “This year there are no shops open to sell these so we'll be performing a symbolical puja on one of my grandchildren’s notebooks. Once offices reopen we’ll keep the book there. Of course, we’ll be offering special prayers for the health of the world amidst the coronavirus crisis,” Verma said on Wednesday.

Arora’s family performs kumari puja on Ram Navami by worshipping nine girls and one boy. “We do it with children of our domestic helps, sweepers and the like. Since this year none of that will happen we’re roping in our garbage collector, who has a daughter,” said Arora on Wednesday. “We shall gift him nine envelopes of token money and goody bags in lieu of nine children.”

If residents missed hosting the Mother Goddess in a grand way, Kumartuli was left counting its losses after orders were cancelled en masse. “In the 22 years that I have been in this profession, this is the biggest loss I have suffered. Of the 27 orders I had for Annapurna idols, 25 were cancelled outright. Two organisers were ready to accept their idols if I could arrange to reach it to them. But I could not risk being caught by the police during lockdown. So I backed out,” lamented China Pal, the most well-known woman artisan in Kumartuli.

“The idols are all ready but for a coat of paint. I have paid labourers for a month and half to produce those. With Durga puja coming up next, I don't even have space in my studio to preserve them.” Unlike in Durga idols, Annapurna has Shiva and Nandi the bull right next to her. This makes it difficult to transform unsold Annapurna idols to Durga, she explained.