Every year Durga Puja is celebrated in Kolkata with a lot of pomp and grandeur. The artistic exhibition of idols, pandals, lighting and decorations set Durga Puja apart from all the other festivities in the country. According to a report by The Times of India, it is also one of the largest employment generators in West Bengal - providing jobs to more than one lakh people for nearly six months each year. In recent years, the festival has expanded hugely with more than 10,000 pujas in West Bengal and 1,000 more in different parts of the country as well as overseas.
A Durga Puja-based micro-economy runs in the state of West Bengal and helps different communities to boost their income during the festive season - from those erecting pandals to the decorators, idol-makers to craftsmen, electricians to security persons, priests to dhakis. However, this year the pandemic situation has forced most of the puja committees to organise the pujas without the familiar extravaganza. There have been suggestions also from different quarters that amidst the pandemic - when several thousands have lost their jobs and thousands are dying of hunger - instead of organising the pujas, the puja committees should come forward to sustain the underprivileged as this is not the time for festivities.
Sumanta Roy, Secretary, Jodhpur Park Puja Committee, Kolkata, told BE, “This year, the Durga Puja is more of a social responsibility for the puja committees rather than festivity. We could have performed the puja just for formality which would have been restricted to the family members of the puja committee. However, many families earn their livelihoods from our puja and so we are organising the puja which will be very low-profile and devoid of any overindulgence.” Roy also admitted that they had to slash the budget this year and that they wish to support the distressed sections.
With the advent of corporate sponsorships, puja organisers are no longer dependent on the contributions from local residents. A 2019 The Times of India report suggested that the budget for more traditional and low-key pujas revolve around `15 lakh. In case of the big ones, the budget goes up to around `1 crore depending on the location, size and execution. Corporate funding and outdoor advertising account for about 90% of the cost. However, the pandemic situation has also made corporate sponsorships uncertain.
Kajal Sarkar, Secretary, Bosepukur Sitala Mandir Durgotsab Committee, told BE, “Nowadays, pujas are dependent on sponsors. This year there has been negligible business for most of the companies because of the pandemic situation, and we have not received any kind of assurance from them. So, we had to slash our budget and have to organise the puja devoid of the familiar grandeur.” He also stated that the height of the pandal will be reduced this year so that there can be proper sanitation for the whole structure and there will be minimum lighting this year.
Sarkar who is also the President of the Forum for Durgotsab, further informed that the forum stood beside the dhakis and the artisans of Kumartuli by making financial contributions. The forum also played a very important role during the Amphan cyclone that struck West Bengal earlier this year by sending food and relief measures to the artisans of Kumartuli and in the village of Enayetpur in the Diamond Harbour subdivision of South 24 Parganas.
According to an article published in asiavillenews.com, Abhinaba Dey, the organiser of Beleghata 33 Palli has also informed that their pandal will be far smaller and celebrations will be low-key and that the puja committee will help those in distress. He also said, “In July, we organised a blood donation camp. Our committee has also stood by all Covid-affected people and their families. In our locality, we are trying to create awareness about the disease so that the affected people and their kin are not ostracised by the society.”
The puja committees have always volunteered in lending a helping hand to the people in need. This spirit has soared in the past few months. It is true that without any aid, the communities who have always been involved in making the festivities a grand occasion will not be able to sustain themselves.