Muted 'Maha Ashtami' Rituals and Celebrations in Bengal Amid Coronavirus, HC Order

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The usual fun, frolic and religious fervour associated with Maha Ashtami, considered the most auspicious of the four days of Durga Puja, was barely visible on Saturday, with people across West Bengal worshipping the goddess virtually, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a high court order.

Traditional rituals like 'sandhi puja', 'kumari puja' and 'sandhya arati' were telecast on television or live streamed by organisers in view of COVID-19 protocols and the Calcutta High Court order restricting entry to marquees.

The famous 'kumari pujo', a rirual in which a girl of less than eight years of age is worshipped as Goddess Durga after being selected by monks, was shown via the digital medium at several places, including the Belur Math, the global headquarters of Rama Krishna Math and Mission. "Belur Math had organised live streaming of the rituals on Facebook and YouTube for the millions of devotees around the globe," a senior official said.

A number of puja organisers, like Behala's Jagatpur Kheyali Sangha, developed apps to stream the rituals. The centuries-old religious ceremonies were, however, observed at several Rajbaris (royal houses) like the Sovabazar Rajbari, Behala's Roybari and the Krishnagar Rajbari in Nadia district, while adhering to safety norms.

For many, the virtual worship is a bitter pill to swallow. "I am 67 and I don't recall not attending the puja rituals ever. This COVID-19 pandemic has changed the entire scenario. I prayed to Goddess Durga this year through the virtual mode," said Satyabrata Seal.

Suchandra Bhattacharya, a 21-year-old BBA student said: "The saddest part is that the weather today is fine but we cannot go out for pandal hopping. This is very difficult to accept, but then, our hands are tied." Some community pujas and apartments made way for offering 'pushpanjali' (flowers) to the goddess by regulating the crowd and maintaining social distancing. "We ensured that people stand reasonably apart from each other. Only 10 people were allowed to offer 'pushpanjali' at a time, and we organised several rounds," Tuhin Chakladar, secretary of an apartment in Lake Town, said.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee greeted people on the occasion of Maha Ashtami. "Wishing all a blessed Durga Ashtami. Pray Maa Durga to bless us all with peace. Let us invoke the nine Shaktis of Ma Durga and be ever blessed," Dhankhar tweeted.