London Bengalis Gear up for Durga Puja Through Technological Innovation

London: Whilst a second wave of Covid-19 is gripping the North of England, London Sharad Utsav is working with the government authorities to plan for the biggest festival for the Bengalis, primarily from India. London based charitable organisation Bengal Heritage Foundation, known for organising one of the biggest communityDurga Pujas in London – London Sharad Utsav. Durga Puja (or simply Pujo – as pronounced in Bengali) is a celebration of good over evil, where the Goddess Durga slays the evil Mahishasura (the demon) signifying the triumph of Shakti (woman power) as well as that of truth, righteousness and well-being. The London Sharad Utsav team has taken a risk-based approach. The committee members havebee- brainstormednew SOPs in whichthe Pujo can be organised in accordance with the government guidelines for the pandemic. Kausik Bhadra who led the discussions with the authorities noted that – “We have worked detailed scenarios together with local authorities to plan for a safe and compliant Pujo. All our members who will attend the Pujo will have to undergo training before they can attend the Pujo physically.” All members have to preregister themselves so that they can be tracked and traced.

This year the theme for London Sharad Utsav is ‘A Ray of Hope’ to pay tribute to the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray on his 100th year birth centenary. The name also suggests an anticipation to an end of this pandemic. The cultural committee is working towards various programmes and presentations that are based on Ray’s works over the years. Bidisha Datta, who leading this area noted – “We are sharing posters of Ray’s films and trivia in the lead up to the Pujo. Our Pujo magazine is dedicated to Ray of Hope and Andrew Robinson, Ray’s biographer, is contributing to our Pujo magazine.” The members are all rehearsing their cultural performances – instrumental, vocals, elocutions and dances – at homes and are digitally recording them to be packaged together forthe Durga Pujo evening shows. The next generation kids are paying their respect to the frontline key workers through their performances – one of the most anticipated performances.

Depending on which way the UK Government Guidelines take turn, there are various plans and safety measures. London Sharad Utsav is working closely with the authorities to see whether this year’s Pujo needs to be a ‘members only’ Pujo or a mix of members and guests who would be able to book slots for their visits or even be a digital celebration where people from all around can enjoy the carnival while safely staying at home.

Given that not everyone will be able to attend the Pujo, the London Sharad Utsav team plans to bring the Pujo to the homes of the people. Anyone from around the world will be able to able enjoy London Sharad Utsav from the comfort of their homes in both 2D and 3D. Suranjan Som, Vice President of London Sharad Utsav, noted “No one will miss our Pujo. Anyone will be able to offer Anjali or pray during Sandhi Pujo from their home. We are using leading edge Google VR technology to ensure London Sharad Utsav reaches every home and mobile device across the world. With a relatively inexpensive Google Cardboard VR headset, they will feel that are sitting right in front of our idol, while our priest carries out the regular ceremonies.”

In a year full of challenges, London Sharad Utsav has been innovative in their thinking in both organising a safe and compliant Pujo while using technology to bring the Pujo close to everyone.

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