KOLKATA: The usual crowd of revellers was missing on the streets of Kolkata on 'Mahasasthi' -- which marks the beginning of the five-day Durga puja festivities -- with the Calcutta High Court having declared all pandals 'no- entry zones', and rain playing spoilsport in the morning.
Many big-ticket pandals, including Ekdalia Evergreen, Singhi Park, Ahiritola Sarbojonin, Tridhara Sammilani, Chetla Agroni, wore a forlorn look on Thursday, as just a handful of organisers and locals were allowed to visit the marquees.
A motley group of people were, however, seen clicking photographs of the pandal from far, and indulging in street food, even as the organisers scrambled to ensure the decor at the open-air marquees did not get soggy during the drizzle.
Celebrations were largely low key at Ekdalia Evergreen, which has modeled its pandal after a temple, as a wary quiet overtook the festive buzz, which is generally associated with the marquee.
"This is a different Shasthi evening. Less than one- fifth of the visitors that we receive every year on Shasthi were seen outside the pandal. No one, barring select members, were allowed inside," a spokesman of the puja committee said.
At Baghbazar Sarbojonin, known for its traditional 'ekchala protima' (idols of goddess Durga and her children mounted on one frame), a few hundred people had gathered, but the police ensured that the visitors didn't huddle next to the barricades, set up at a distance of 10 metres from the pandal.
Piyush Saha, an IT professional in Tollygunje area, said he has downloaded apps launched by some of the award-winning pujas as he "did not want to miss out on the fun and festivities" at these pandals.
"There is no point risking our safety amid the pandemic. As most of the pujas have launched their apps and some are live streaming events on YouTube, why take the risk? I have, however, visited the pandal near my home," he said.
Somnath Das, the secretary of Santoshpur Lake Pally, said, "Visitors will get to see the idol from a distance of 10 meters, but not many have turned up so far. We have also arranged 360 degrees live streaming of our puja on YouTube."
At Sribhumi Sporting Club, where massive public gatherings were witnessed on Saturday and Sunday, triggering concern over COVID-19 spread, organizers have pulled down a part of the dais to facilitate people catch a glimpse of the idol from a distance.
Sajal Ghosh, the general secretary of Santosh Mitra Square in north Kolkata, stressed that "human life was more important than festivities", and hoped that things would get better by next puja.
An officer of the Kolkata Police said not many people were seen swarming the streets during the day, and no report of court order violation was received from anywhere in the city. He, however, asserted that all arrangements were in place for crowd management.
The Calcutta High Court, in an order on Monday, declared community Durga Puja pandals as 'no-entry zones', allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of the marquees and idols from a distance of 10 metres for bigger pandals, and five metres for smaller ones.