Sharodotsav 2020 was celebrated this year under completely unforeseen circumstances. Beginning with Mahalaya on September 13th, Durga Puja was held on October 21st -25th, Kojagori Lakshmi Puja on October 30th, and Kali Puja on November 14th. The ongoing pandemic made it extremely difficult and forced adoption of a virtual format for many programs. However, the zeal and interest of HDBS volunteers and the community remained strong overcoming all challenges to befit as a 20-year milestone Puja celebration.
Mahalaya, together with a virtual Mahishasur Mardini video presentation by local artists, heralded the Puja season. The complete program was telecast on YouTube and drew an overwhelming response, registering more than 6000 views. This set the tone for the rest of the Puja season.
Led by the head priest Buddhadev Bhattachariya, the priest panel conducted all religious rituals as per established Tithi and rituals. Puja, Chandi Path, Anjali, Arati, Puja Sankalpa and Yagna were performed in accordance to full religious norms. The temple was beautifully decorated and the entire premises adorned with scintillating decorative lights bringing a semblance of puja atmosphere even at Covid times. The entire Puja was live streamed on HDBS YouTube channel allowing the community members to participate and immerse in Puja, albeit virtually.
A wide array of cultural programs was presented by local talents across all age groups as well as artists from abroad. This included a fusion of soulful music, dance beats, classical and modern music, instrumentals, children’s drama, family-oriented fashion show and Rongo Moncho – a collection of short plays. The ‘2nd Gen’ activities included Tiktok and a live Jeopardy session. A syndicated program `Pujor Jalsa’ during prime-time weekend evenings was the star attraction featuring celebrated artists like Soumitra Chatterjee, Usha Uthup, Pandit Ajay Chakrabarty and compered by Sourendra – Soumyajit. Houston got an opportunity to hear and watch the globally acclaimed actor just before he left this world.
Glimpses of the Past commemorated 20 years of HDBS presenting informative conversations with past and present HDBS Presidents and Puja Chairs. For many community members, this rekindled a stream of memories of HDBS since its inception.
The programs involved hundreds of hours of rehearsals, video shooting and video production requiring close coordination with everyone involved. Both Puja and cultural programs were streamed on HDBS YouTube channel taking HDBS Puja to many corners of the hitherto unpenetrated world. Streaming went on uninterruptedly on all puja days and nights, facilitated in no small measure by more than two months of preparations going over various software and hardware trials and selecting the best set-up. In the process, the community also discovered a brand-new set of talents skilled in streaming and video production.
On Maha Dashami day, a special drive-thru distribution was conducted when prasad, flowers, sindoor, sweets (donation from many members within the community) and souvenir were distributed. Boxes with an assortment of items were packaged in an assembly line process and then distributed in a very organized way. This event drew tremendous response as evidenced by the number of members who attended. A first of a kind ‘Gaane Galpe Bijoya’ – a virtual `Bijoya Sammelani’ concluded Durga Puja celebration where community members participated on a video platform to exchange Bijoya greetings with each other and recalled yet again snippets of past experiences.
Sharad Arghya, the Puja magazine, received more than the usual contributions. The high quality made it an instant hit and a prized possession. There was a good sprinkling of commercial advertisements despite the difficult market conditions.
The community showered Durgabari with their love and affection – registration and donation exceeded all the expectations. The Registration system worked perfectly and together with Treasury generated an overall cash position on an ongoing basis. Each Puja team spent extra efforts to keep their costs down to most optimum yet maintaining quality. All this has helped to ensure that this year’s puja is almost as successful financially as any normal year. This is all the more important in a revenue challenged year when most other revenue generating activities have come to a halt. The superior budget performance can be seen in the light of what initially appeared to be an insurmountable challenge when a breakeven Puja was considered a likely and reasonably acceptable outcome. It is a testament to the community’s love for Houston Durgabari as it is for the volunteers’ devotion.
Due to the pandemic, access to the temple was forced to be limited to only the priest panel and a core group of volunteers on must needed basis. Efficient access to temple was organized and managed keeping in mind of social distancing, parking/security, visitor passes, contract tracking, etc. Facilities at the temple and the premises were kept in great condition. A streamlined communication process, supported by world class digital creations, informed the community at regular pace. Still photographs captured some rare moments and are posted in HDBS Facebook page. All teams acted as pillars in conducting Puja as per regulations for established deities while showcasing our virtual stage to the entire world.
It is amazing to note that more than 200 community members served as volunteers, possibly a record in HDBS history. Involving as many as possible from the community was defined as one of the key objectives of this year’s puja before the pandemic hit the world. This was achieved to a great extent despite the pandemic. Even the pandemic could not dampen the enthusiasm of HDBS volunteers. Many of the volunteers worked remotely and in the background. The extraordinary efforts put together by everyone proved its worth given the general feedback from community members. With Maa Durga’s blessings, a constant vigil by the teams and volunteers’ individual carefulness, onsite Puja was conducted safely.
2020 Puja Committee thanks the HDBS Executive Board, the Council of Trustees, Priest panel, scores of volunteers, donors, the program participants, advertisers, and the community members for their wholehearted support and participation.
Subhas Das, Aloke Sarkar, Sandip Bhattacharya
2020 Puja Committee