Virtual pandal-hopping new normal this Durga puja

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Kolkata: As fear of surge in COVID-19 numbers grows amid preparations for Durga puja, several pandal committees have made arrangements for virtual 'darshan' this time, while barring the physical entry of visitors.

There are, however, other puja associations that have argued that the festival is all about inclusiveness, and revellers cannot be stopped from visiting the marquees. They have given assurances that all necessary measures would be taken to manage crowds and ensure safety of one and all.

At least two big-ticket pujas in the city -- Santosh Mitra Square and Debdaru Fatak -- have announced that outsiders won't be allowed this time, but insisted that people log on to their YouTube channels to catch a glimpse of the Durga idol, and the rituals.

Sajal Ghosh, the secretary of Santosh Mitra Square, said, "Lakhs of people walk through narrow lanes to reach the puja pandal every year. This time, that cannot be allowed.

People in our area will also be exposed to serious threats of COVID infection. That is why we have decided to put a blanket ban on the entry of visitors to our pandal."

Another crowd-puller, Jodhpur Park Sarbojanin, has refrained from setting up a marquee this time.

"Maa Durga's idol will be installed in a banquet hall that belongs to the puja committee. All events will be streamed live on giant screens across a stretch of one kilometre from the venue," Sumantra Roy, an officer-bearer of the association, said.

Treading on a different path, some puja organisers have opened wide the doors of the marquees for the revellers, after putting in place strict safety measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

Somnath Das, the secretary of Santoshpur Lake Pally, said, "We will not prohibit entry of visitors. Also, the pandal has been setup in a certain way so that people get to catch a glimpse of the idols from the adjacent road. Those willing to stay at home can click on augmentedpujo.com to enjoy virtual darshan."

Echoing him, Partha Ghosh, an office-bearer of Shivmandir Puja committee, said disallowing people was not an option, as Durga puja was all about togetherness.

"The whole purpose of community puja would get defeated if we stop the entry of visitors. That said, we will live stream all rituals on social media," he said.

Another prominent puja in the city, Suruchi Sangha, is of the view that fewer revellers will go pandal-hopping this time, as local train services continue to remain suspended.

"For the ones who won't be able to visit our pandal, we have made arrangements so that they can experience it all on their cell phones," Swarup Biswas of Suruchi Sangha said.

Night-long pandal-hopping is set to begin in the city and elsewhere in the state from Monday, with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently announcing that people can start visiting marquees from 'Tritiya' - three days before the puja rituals begin -- to avoid crowding to an extent.


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