New Delhi, Oct 24 : While Durga Puja pandals have come up here and there in some areas of Delhi in very limited numbers this year, Ashtami or the eighth day of Navratri had a desolate look with no sense of festivity.

One such Durga Puja is by the Chanakyapuri Puja Samity held in the diplomatic enclave. A large sprawling pandal decorated in blood red and white, had virtually a handful of people. There was no Durga idol this time. Instead a photo of the Goddess was put up.

In fact, in the main Puja area, only a couple of people could be spotted, busy with the Puja. All in all, only 50 individuals are allowed to physically visit the pandal. Leave aside outsiders, even the locals outside these 50 can't step in. What's more, the entire Puja period is being videographed and sent to the concerned SDM every evening as evidence. All this, thanks to the raging pandemic and subsequent SOPs.

The main area where the Puja takes place or the sanctum sanctorum is acessible to only 5 people at a time, from among those in the Puja committee.

Arundhati Banerjee stays in Kalkaji and is also a member of a dance group that performs each year in Durga Puja. This time, Banerjee is understandably heartbroken. "This time I haven't gone pandal hopping as there are very few pandals. Most places are doing a 'ghat Puja' as a symbolic gesture. Moreover, only select residents are allowed where idols are being kept and outsiders are completely kept out," Banerjee told IANS.

However, she has another reason to lament as there is no 'bhog' or 'khichdi prasad' that are offered on 'Ashtami', on Durga Puja. Even in Chanakyapuri, no 'bhog' was available this time. Only food packets were kept which are given on condition that the food will be eaten only once the recipient reaches home.

Meanwhile, CR Park which is known to be the nucleus of Durga Puja celebrations in the national capital, too had a small Puja, but was eerily desolate as not just outsiders, but even residents were not allowed there.

Sayan Acharya, a resident of CR Park's B block told IANS they did a 'kalash Puja' this time with makeshift arrangements. "We cancelled the pushpanjali (morning prayer on Ashtami) this year as well as any kind of activity," he told IANS while adding that only 10-15 individuals including ten priests were allowed to be present inside.

Acharya said the residents understand the gravity of the situation and they wanted to help in the efforts of the government. Meanwhile, CR Park B Block Puja Samity live telecast the entire Puja on their Facebook page, so that residents can get a glimpse of the idol while being home. "The Puja this time was for 'niyom rokha' (for simply keeping the tradition alive) with bare minimum logistics," he added.

Meanwhile 'bhog' is being made available by CR Park Kali Bari which feeds thousands every year. But unlike other years, this time it is home delivered. The 'bhog' is being sent in compartmentalized and sealed boxes. However, to minimize confusion, it is being delivered only to those households who registered themselves online.

Ashtami is filled with the laughter of the young and the old and a grand community feast. Evenings generally see a cultural extravaganza after a lazy siesta. But COVID-19 has disrupted the world's way of life and the traditions of Ashtami.

Engulfed in eerie silence, Delhi's pandals were a manifestation of how a virus has proved to be a global disruptor.

 Latest updates on Navratri Festival 2020

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