Post-pandemic festival season brings out the spirit of India

By Arvind Singh in Jaipur

Due to Covid-19 guidelines, the start of the festive season leading up to Diwali remained a low-key affair in India but it could not subdue the festive spirit and vibrancy of the people. The Indian government issued an advance guideline for the festivities starting with Navratri and cautioned people against the infection. However, 2021 was different from the last year and people were allowed to celebrate the festival of Navratri though in a restricted manner under the watchful eyes of the authorities.

Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Gujarat allowed restricted festivities while states like Maharashtra and Punjab remained strict. Puja pandals came up in West Bengal and other places, Ram Leela was staged both as live performance and virtually and the Dussehra festival was celebrated marking the end of Navratri with people enjoying festivities after a gap of two years.

The Best Puja Pandals in Kolkata

Library design Durga Pooja Pandal created by Babubagan Sarbojanin Durgotsav Committee in South Kolkata.

Though Maa Durga is worshipped across India during the festival of Navratri, the Puja Pandals of Kolkata stand out for grandeur and novel themes. People wait all year to see the themes created by local clubs and social organizations.

Though the pandemic did cast a shadow on West Bengal’s main festival, it could not curb the creativity of the Bengali people. Quite a few puja pandals stood out for their theme in Kolkata.

Babubagan Sarbojanin Durgotsav Committee in South Kolkata designed its puja pandal on the theme of the library to encourage people to read more. It showcased prominent figures and books harking back to the Bengali renaissance.

Barisha Club of South Kolkata’s ‘Bhaager Maa’ (Division of Mother) themed puja pandal highlighted the hardships faced by migrants. Burj Khalifa was the theme of the Shreebhumi Club pandal in Salt Lake City’s Lake Town area. The laser light show on the replica of the Dubai tower became a major draw for the youngsters.

The pandal of Abasar Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity at old Jamindar Bari took the shape of a home where people can come and enjoy the comfort of home and puja celebration. It also paid tributes to prominent people lost to the pandemic.

The Durga Puja themes thus indicated the resurgence spirit of the people of Bengal who may be bettered by pandemics, economic issues, and natural disaster but with their faith in Maa Durga and their own undying spirit they rebuild their lives.

Garba – Dandia after a break

Dussehra marks the end of Navratri elsewhere, but in Kullu, it marks the beginning of the week-long festivities when local deities are taken around in a procession.

Nine days of the Navratri festival are the time of the year when every nook and corner of Gujarat comes alive. Men and women dressed in their colorful best flock the Garba venues and swing to the beat of the latest Garba songs and live bands. But this year, these celebrations remained subdued as the government only allowed Garba to be held in the housing societies with up to 400 people allowed. The big-ticket Garba events were disallowed. Though the singers and bands which make most of their year’s earnings in the festive season were left high and dry, apparel and hospitality industry did brisk business.

Explained Vijay Purohit, President of Gujarat Garment Manufacturers’ Association,  “This year, there has been good business in traditional attire in the festive season. Last year the sales were almost nil but consumer sentiment has improved this year, which is good news for businesses.”

The Garba events in other parts of India also remained limited to residential societies but gave people some respite from the boring lockdowns.

Streaming of Ram Leela   

In normal times Red Fort grounds in Delhi see three Ram Leela.

Ram Leela at Red Fort in Delhi was allowed this year but with restrictions and guidelines. The Luv Kush Ram Leela Committee staged Ram Leela every day for 11 days but visitors were scarce. Earlier there used to be three Ram Leelas at Red Fort grounds.

“We had little time to practice and prepare this year but we have not made any compromise on costumes, sequences, and lighting in the event,” Navin Chella, director of one Ram Leela said.

Ram Leela is a cycle of plays that recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, ending with the killing of Ravana on the day of Dussehra.  Ram Leela festivities were declared by Unesco as one of the ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ in 2008.

Doordarshan, the state-owned television in India, had live streaming of the Ram Leela from Ayodhya, the capital city of Lord Rama, where a grand Ram temple is currently being built. Over 2.5 million people watched it.

Dussehra or Vijayadashmi

Mysore Dussehra procession against the background of the lit up palace.

India is a country of diversity and Dussehra is also celebrated in different ways.

In the history of 225 years of Ram Leela celebration in New Delhi, the Dussehra festival was a virtual event this time. Residents of the capital watched the Dussehra night festivities – burning of the giant effigy of the demon king Ravana — on their TV screens. The festivities included uniquely curated digital fireworks.

The festival of Dussehra is celebrated with great pomp and show for the last 400 years in Mysore, the city which got its name from the demon Mahishasura who was killed by the goddess Chamundeshwari. The Mysore palace was lit up for nine days of Navratri. Coorg is another place in Karnataka where the Dussehra celebration is big.

In Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, instead of burning the three effigies, the locals perform Lanka-Dahan, burning of Lanka the mythological golden capital of Ravana. Whereas in other parts of India, Dussehra marks the end of Navratri festivities but in Kullu, the occasion marks the beginning of the festivities.  The dances performed on the beats of dhadaks and notes of Narsingha trumpet were the biggest attraction of the Kullu Dussehra festival.

Images courtesy of ., (Photo courtesy, (Photo courtesy Himtrek), (Photo courtesy ToI) and (Photo courtesy Karnataka Tourism)

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