The annual celebrations of Chhath Puja will be bound by restrictions imposed by state authorities this year, due to the pandemic. With the COVID-19 count on the climb in the country, state governments are stepping up to issue guidelines to regulate the way the festival will be celebrated this year. Chhath Puja celebrated majorly in Bihar, Jharkhand, and other parts of north and east India, is a four-day festival where women fast and congregate near water bodies to offer prayers to the Sun God.
This year, for fear of virus transmissions, Calcutta and Delhi have issued directives that devotees will have to follow while observing Chhath. The rituals, commencing on November 18, 2020, will largely have to be celebrated from home in these two states. The Delhi government has declared that public celebrations near water bodies will not be possible this time, while the Calcutta High Court has placed a state-wide ban on processions. Odisha, Mumbai, and Uttar Pradesh have also imposed restrictions on movement during Chhath
No Arrangements By Delhi Govt This Year
Revenue minister Kailash Gahlot, quoting an order by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), said, "According to the DDMA order, Chhath Puja cannot be organised in public places, but devotees can perform it privately."
Last year, the Delhi government had made arrangements for Chhath to be celebrated at 1,108 ghats, according to the Times of India. The set-up includes tents, medical facilities, lights, furniture, water, mobile toilets and public address systems" as well as boats and divers near the water to prevent accidents.
However, authorities have decreed it will not be feasible this time around. Gahlot further explained, "DDMA has not given permission because the Centre has not yet allowed swimming pools to open. As waterbodies are created for Chhath Puja, the LG (lieutenant governor) has returned the file to us."
Calcutta HC Issues Order
In Calcutta, meanwhile, the High Court has ordered a ban on all Chhath processions with restrictions on the movement of people near water bodies. According to our earlier report, the HC has "allowed only two persons from each family to enter a water body and offer puja on the occasion." Devotees have also been prohibited from entering Rabindra Sarobar and Subhas Sarobar, two of the largest lakes in the state. Masks have been made compulsory.
Authorities have been directed to impose restrictions under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to prevent a large crowd from assembling in any area.
Earlier this month, the Calcutta HC had stated a ban on fireworks during the Kali Puja and Chhath Puja. Police have been ordered to ensure that no crackers are sold or used in Kolkata, since the Calcutta HC and the National Green Tribunal have banned bursting of crackers till November 30.
State Order From Jharkhand
In an order issued by Jharkhand’s disaster management department on Sunday, November 15, the state has reportedly banned Chhath rituals in public water bodies like lakes, dams, ponds, and rivers. Chhath figures as one of the most significant festivals celebrated every year in Jharkhand, with state authorities too supplying facilities like changing rooms, toilets, lights, etc. at the ghats for women observing the fast.
As reported by Hindustan Times, the order stated, “It is not possible to ensure the compliance of national directive of social distancing norm while performing Chhath Puja in waters of public ponds, lakes, rivers, dams and reservoirs...The ritual of holy bathing in common water bodies and standing in water is a matter of concern as it will amount to sharing of water, thus enhancing the chances of spread of infection besides causing contamination of the water.”
Odisha prohibits mass gatherings near water bodies
Odisha has announced the prohibition of mass gatherings near water bodies, as Bihar and Delhi have done. In public interest, those observing the festival have been advised to offer prayers at home, with punishment by law to those who don’t adhere. “In exercise of the powers conferred under Section 24(I) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, read with rule 8(1) of the Odisha Disaster Management Rules, 2010, the undersigned (Chief Secretary) hereby directs that celebration of Chhath Puja including mass bathing at river banks or ghats shall remain prohibited during November 20-21, 2020,” the order reads, as published by India Today.
Uttar Pradesh urges devotees to offer prayers at home
In Uttar Pradesh, a similar directive has been issued urging devotees to pray at home, but doesn’t appear to be as stringent. Local administrations have been directed to make necessary arrangements for devotees near “traditional spots” like lakes, ponds, etc.
Uttar Pradesh govt issues advisory for the festival of #ChhathPuja in the wake of #COVID19— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) November 18, 2020
Devotees be urged to perform rituals at their homes or near their homes, as much as possible. Arrangements be made by local admn at the traditional spots near rivers/ponds for the puja. pic.twitter.com/ig5n4cTeVL
BMC imposes restrictions in Mumbai
In Mumbai meanwhile, a political clash has begun in light of the Chhath restrictions imposed by the civic body Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). While due arrangements have been made near makeshift ponds by deploying personnel that will test devotees for COVID-19 at the site, the decision to restrict the festival hasn’t gone down well with political rivals Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Vinod Mishra, a BJP leader, was quoted saying, “Immersion of Ganesh idols were allowed at beaches and lakes this year. The Covid situation during that period was grave… These guidelines are discriminatory and we condemn them.”