Durga Puja celebrations in Meghalaya in these pandemic times have thrown up a lot of firsts this year. Although the number of puja pandals has remained more or less the same – 70 in the State capital and 253 across the State – most pandals have opted not to install idols of Goddess Durga and instead, are using photographs.
“Only 23 puja pandals have installed idols and the rest have only photographs,” JL Das, general secretary of the Central Puja Committee (CPC) here, said.
The Ramakrishna Mission Ashram at Laitumkhrah is among the prominent venues where Durga Puja is being celebrated with photographs of the Mother Goddess and Her ensemble.
Decorations and lightings have also been done frugally in the puja pandals with only sanitizers, register books and armies of volunteers – some of them clad in PPE suits – being the familiar sight.
Nobody builds up the tempo of Durga Puja celebrations better than the traditional dhakis (drum beaters). However, they are missing in most puja pandals in the Meghalaya capital.
Barring a few puja committees like Ribong, Jail Road and a few others, most pandals have not called the dhakis. In some pandals, recorded drum beats are being played on the public address system as a substitute.
“The problem is that the dhakis come from outside the State. If they came, they would be required to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine. That involves a lot of money and also causes hassles and therefore, many puja committees have decided to go without their services this time around,” a CPC member said.
Significantly, e-puja that has spawned a lot of funny videos on the social media, has become a reality at some places. Some puja committees are in fact live streaming the puja rituals as people stay indoors. Mantras are being forwarded through WhatsApp for chanting during the ritual of anjali (offering to the divinity). Prior instructions are being given to keep ready flowers, leaves, etc., before chanting the mantras at home.
Outside the pandals, food stalls where puja revellers used to make a beeline, have vanished. The khichdi bhog – so synonymous with the Durga Puja celebrations – is also missing.
Meanwhile, the streets wore a relatively empty look on Saptami today, with no children in their festival best hopping from one puja pandal on to another.
But despite the pandemic-induced changes, the foul weather and the discouraging law-and-order situation in Meghalaya, Durga Puja has still infused hopes in the minds of people here who are praying for better days ahead.