Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Covid fear deprives Bagerhat of its legendary Shikdar Bari’s Puja

With the fragrance of Shiuli ( the flowering night jasmine) in the air, autumn has spread the word - goddess Durga is coming among the mortals once again, sparking the celebrations unique to the biggest Hindu festival - Sharadiya Durga Puja.

But in Bagerhat this year, the puja will be a bit bland without the famous Shikdar Bari’r Puja celebration, that is always a grand affair full of hundreds of idols gathered on a single stage.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the elaborate puja celebrations organised by the Shikdar family have been suspended for a consecutive second year. Instead, a 'Ghot Puja' (worshipping an urn symbolising the goddess) will be held to maintain the religious traditions and formalities.

Tarun Dash said, “This news broke the hearts of local worshippers like me, as for a year we were waiting in hope for the spectacular Shikdar Bari’s puja.”

“The scene on the mandap used to be so surreal. It almost felt like all the deities had really landed among human beings,” said Nikhil Chandra, another local.

The legend of Shikdar Bari’s Durga Puja

In 2011, Dr Dulal Krishna Shikdar in his ancestral home at Hakimpur village in Bagerhat Sadar upazila started a grand celebration of Durga puja garnishing 251 idols. His motive for the grand puja was to make society aware of the significance of worshipping deities according to sanatana dharma (traditional religion, or Hinduism).

Over the following years the number of idols and the splendour in celebrations of the Shikdar family’s puja only increased. It soon became a fixture during puja celebrations in the region.

Every year introducing a different theme, the celebrations became central for the locals, while also attracting thousands of visitors who came every year to witness the luster of the celebrations, regardless of religion. The grandeur and opulence of the celebration earned it a name across the region and beyond.

To locals, Papri Roy and Geeta Bishwas, stepping up to Shikdar Bari’s puja mandap felt like they had reached heaven, in the presence of so many deities.

From 2011 to 2019, the Shikdar family continued their legacy of holding the gala celebration that attracted lakhs of visitors from, near, far and abroad.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, the Shikdar family decorated an astonishing 801 idols for the last grand Durga Puja in Bagerhat.

Muted by COVID

The two entry points of the puja mandap were found locked when the UNB reporter paid a visit to see the state of preparations this year.

In other years the scene would have been quite busy from some months prior to the Durga Puja with artisans running errands and making the idols.

On October 11, this year’s puja will begin formally with the incarnation (Bodhon) of goddess Durga on the eve of Shasthi (sixth day of Devi paksha).

Fearing a huge number of visitors surging from across the districts amid Covid-19, the puja celebration authorities of Shikdar Bari have decided to suspend the grand scale puja for another year.

“People are still dying from Covid-19 in the country. Amid this a grand celebration will not be possible maintaining social distancing,” said Liton Shikdar, son of Krishna Shikdar and organiser of Durga puja.

“If we make idols like every year it will attract thousands of visitors from across the country and abroad. So we decided to hold a Ghot Puja this year too and will request the visitors to avoid gatherings,” he said.

But Bijoy Krishna Bachar, the artisan who built the 801 idols in 2019 for Shikdar Bari’s puja, is distressed by the decision.

“Making idols is my only profession and my family’s livelihood is dependent on it. If Puja gets suspended like this every year, artisans like me will become helpless,” he said.

General Secretary of Bagerhat Puja Celebration Council Abanish Chakraborty Shona said Shikdar family’s puja was the grandest celebration for Durga puja across the country that was held on individual initiative.

“Hopefully Ma Durga, destroyer of all the misfortune will remove the curse of Covid-19 soon and we will be able to celebrate the puja with due elaboration,“ he said.