Guwahati: Pandal Workers, Musicians, Artists etc Looking at Zero Income this Puja Season
District Administration yet to issue SOP even as committees give split decision on the magnitude of celebrations this year
It’s September already. Come 17th September, and it’s Vishwakarma Puja. It heralds the beginning of autumn and hence the puja season -the season of celebrations, get-togethers and outings.
But all these sound like ‘taboos’ now. With coronavirus engulfing the globe, social-distancing and staying indoors are the new norms. So how will Durga Puja be celebrated in Guwahati this year?
The Kamrup Metropolitan District Administration held a meeting with the various puja committees of the city to discuss on the celebration of puja this year amid the pandemic situation. While 50 percent of Guwahati's Durga Puja committees offered to perform only the rituals, that is 'Ghot Puja', twenty five percent wished for a small idol of the Goddess to perform the rituals. However, twenty five percent of the puja committees wanted to organise puja with the regular large sized idols and a proper pandal, but maintaining proper protocol.
Bipul Kumar Das, ADC Kamrup (M) speaking to G Plus said, "We had the meeting as we wanted to know what the committees were planning. We have taken their views and will send it to the government. The final order and SOP will be issued henceforth."
Although the final SOP for organising pujas are yet to be issued by the government, it is clear that this year’s Durga Puja will be a low key affair. The lightings, the glamorous pandals – committees competing with each other to win the hearts of the Guwahatians and the outsiders who throng to enjoy the celebrations, the shopping, the pandal hopping with friends and family, the street foods.....the list goes on and on. This year, there will be none of these.
The usual affair
G Plus spoke to a few of the more prominent Durga Puja committees of Guwahati enquiring about their plans and how preparations are being made. Gautam Das, President of Nayantara Club Puja Committee said, “It’s September now and we don’t even know what should be done. Just over a month is left for puja. Usually our preparations start by June. The committee starts planning for the different pujas, Durga Puja, then Kali Puja and lastly Lakkhi Puja.We have to plan for all three. We have been making one of the best pandals of Guwahati for years now. So keeping up with our name and standard we plan for themes, budgets and much more.”
By the end of June the committee members usually visit Kolkata from where the decorations and even the idols are ordered.
“We procure the decorations from the Chandan Nagar area of Kolkata. We have to visit early to choose from the best. Then, after repeated checks, there are some legal works to be done. Advance payments are made and affidavits signed so that the things reach on time,” Das added.
The pandal and idol makers from the neighbouring state usually reach the respective puja destinations a month prior to the dates of the ceremony.
Here the process of setting up the sets and the construction works start.
The respective committees lodge the workers and other arrangements are made for their month-long stay and work.
Bijit Pradip Das, Secretary of Latasil Sarbajanin Durga Puja Samiti said, “Usually we start getting calls from our associates in Kolkata about the procurement of decorations and idols from two months earlier. But this year everything has changed. We ourselves are not sure what can be done. We have not placed any order as of yet as it will be a low key affair this time. We are opting for a small tent form the local vendors, say to accommodate 15 to 20 people and only the rituals will be performed. Our committee has decided not to bring even a small idol of the ‘Devi’.”
“See people will come only if we bring the idol. It is better to have just the ‘ghot puja’ so that the rituals are well performed without any breaking of pandemic protocols,” Das stated.
No puja equals no earning for many
Around 500 Durga Pujas, both public and private, are organized in Guwahati every year. Talking to the different committees G Plus has gathered that many people were employed during the days of celebrations.
“Many people starting from electricians, small tent house workers, catering services- especially from the nearby villages and many other daily wage earners get attached with us. Puja does not mean just the Durga Puja.Most are contracted for Kali Puja and Lakkhi Puja as well. So they earn good money and wait the year round for this season,” said Gautam Das.
Deba Kanta Sharma from Sipajhar, Mangaldoi, who cooks ‘bhog’ said, “We are not like the regular catering services. We cook the authentic Assamese cuisine, that too like in the villages. My group has 12 members and we are all from the same village. We cater mostly during puja, ‘raas’ celebrations and other such occasions. I myself have been serving in Guwahati for about 22 years. And we cook for thousands of people.”
“During the four days of Durga Puja we cook for 6,000 to 10,000 people per day. We get around sixty to seventy thousand rupees as payment. And then again we go back for Diwali and the other pujas,” he said.
“This year we have not received any contract as of yet and the chances of us getting any work is also slim. I don’t think people will want to have outside food. Also, large gatherings are not allowed due to the disease and who will want a professional cook for a handful of people? So practically we are jobless,” Sharma lamented.
The situation is the same for all. The electricians have no earnings to hope for either.
“Durga Puja and Diwali are the best occasions to earn. I have a small shop at Narengi. I provide electrician services and everything related with it from generators to lightings and all. I work at many puja pandals of Guwahati including Santipur Sluice Gate Puja, Jaswanta Road Puja, East Panbazar, Gopal Nagar, Station Road and Nayantara. Since I don’t have enough workers with me I call boys from Nalbari, Barpeta and Nagaon. They are small time electricians there and come to the city during the season,” said Hemen Kalita.
“The boys are repeatedly calling me. But I have nothing to offer. What I heard about the committees’ decisions to not have any grand celebrations means that there is no job for us,” said Kalita.
“Every boy earns Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 15,000 only for Durga Puja. Then again, they are called back for Diwali. Usually there is lot of work in the city. I myself earn Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 30,000 from every pandal. But we are sitting without a single earning since February and there’s still no hope,” Hemen Kalita added.
In many places, celebrating Durga Puja is not limited to the rituals alone. They organize many cultural activities like local theatres called Jatra Party, Nagara Naam, Ojapali, Aayotir Naam and other traditional forms of entertainments. With these, the local artists from across the state are called to perform, which means earning for them as well. But no such cultural activities will be organised this year.
And not to forget the idol makers. Their losses are immense. Apart from a few, majority of the committees have opted not to have any idols for this year’s celebrations.
Speaking to G Plus, a few of the committees informed that they are already in talks with local idol makers unlike the previous years when idols makers are brought in from the neighbouring state to build exclusive designs.
A member of the Rest Camp Kalibari Durga Puja Committee said, “Since puja this year is minimal so we did not bring artisans from Kolkata, but placed orders with the local ones. The size of the idols will also be smaller.”
This might give rays of hope to the dying trade amid the pandemic, but as most of the workers have already left for their villages or are trying to make a living by doing other jobs and due to lack of material, the local idol makers cannot not assure of delivering the orders.
With the materialistic charm gone, will committees opt for philanthropic activities?
The funding for the puja celebrations are collected from different agencies by way of advertisements and as donations from the local residents. Also the business establishments provide a good percentage.
However, with celebrations being curbed, and the administration discouraging the gathering of people, committees do not hope to receive any advertisements or funds as such.
Bijit Pradip Das of Latasil Durga Puja Committee said, “Every year we keep aside some fund to help the needy.But this year even we are short of funds. However, we have already made a few donations for flood relief and to a few other people during these tough times.”
Similar responses were given by other Durga Puja committees as well. The Nayantara club members reported of having already donated to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund and the Assam Aryogya Nidhi.
Some have also already contributed for the cancer patients and at other hospitals.
While Guwahatians are left in a dilemma, being determined to follow rules and staying away from crowd and also hoping to have some celebrations after months of lockdown, the government and administration are working to find the best possible solution. The Kamrup Metropolitan Administration informed that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) will soon be issued for the benefit of all.
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