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Reveling in tradition, sans crowd

Replacing large get-togethers, virtual rituals are gaining pace in Kolkata’s ‘bonedi baris’. From limiting visitors, ‘sindoor khela’ to ‘kola bou snan’, with most traditions witnessing Covid-imposed restrictions, Anindita Acharya writes how the hosts are still upbeat about the entire Puja paraphernalia

Reveling in tradition, sans crowd
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Durga Puja is incomplete for a married Bengali woman if she doesn't take part in sindoor khela on Bijoya Dashami at Sovabazar Rajbari. That has been the annual ritual for most women, who, clad in the traditional red and white sari, smear vermilion on each other at the 230-year-old 'bonedi bari'. But COVID-19 has disrupted all such annual routines and forced the 'bonedi baris' or old aristocratic family homes, to tone down their Puja celebrations just like their community counterparts. And some 'bonedi baris' had to take the most unexpected decision — to restrict outsiders.

While Sovabazar Rajbari (Chhoto taraf) and Bhowanipore Mallick Bari have decided that their traditional Durga Puja will be a "private affair" this year to ensure the safety of the family members, Saborno Roy Chowdhury family has decided that if devotees come for 'devi dashan', they can do so from a distance. "However, masks and sanitisers are a must for everyone at the Puja," said Devarshi Roy Choudhury.

He added that they have eight pujas — Atchala Bari, Boro Bari, Mejo Bari, Majher Bari, Benaki Bari, Kalikinkar Bhaban, Birati Bari and Nimta Pathanpur Bari. At Boro Bari and Kalikinkar Bhaban, generally, the idol is 8-9 feet but this year, Saborno Roy Chowdhury family has opted for a smaller idol. "Not more than 3-4 people will be present in front of Goddess Durga at a time," he told Millennium Post.

And did the cops contact to ensure better precaution at the Puja? "No, but we are taking all possible measures," said Roy Choudhury. But good news, Puja rituals from Sovabazar Bari, Bhowanipore Mallick Bari and Saborno Roy Chowdhury will be streamed live on social media.

Rishra Daw Bari, which celebrates 174 years of Durga Puja, has also barred the entry of visitors in 2020. In keeping with the tradition, they fire a gunshot to start the Sandhi puja on Ashtami. Sumita Daw said this year the flower during Ashtami has to be brought individually by the family members. "We are not offering sliced fruits to the goddess this time," she said. She also informed that due to COVID-19, they have done away with the tradition of offering 'luchi' during bhog.

Family members of Hatibagan Kundu Bari are still undecided whether to do the age-old tradition of 'kola bou snan' at Ahiritola Ghat or their residence. The immersion process of Hatibagan Kundu Bari is also a glamorous affair with many Bengali film celebrities joining in. Joydip Kundu said this year they haven't extended any official invitation to anyone. But then, they cannot deny entry to anyone for 'darshan' too. "Our priest is 80 years old and he will not allow anyone near him during the Puja. But we will not compromise on any ritual," he said. Kundu also informed that some of the rituals will be streamed live on social media.

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