LONDON: The annual Durga Puja festivities in London, which begin this week, will take on a virtual reality element to meet the coronavirus pandemic lockdown guidelines against large gatherings this year.
UK-based charitable organisation Bengal Heritage Foundation, behind one of the country's biggest Durga Puja celebrations known as London Sharad Utsav, said on Wednesday that provisions are underway for people to celebrate from the comfort of their homes 'in both 2D and 3D'.
While talks remain ongoing around a possible ticketed system for the physical aspect of the prayers, the charity is also making arrangements for several alternatives.
"No one will miss our Pujo. Anyone will be able to offer anjali or pray during 'Sandhi Pujo' from their home," said Suranjan Som, Vice-President of London Sharad Utsav.
"We are using cutting-edge Google VR technology to ensure London Sharad Utsav reaches every home and mobile device across the world. With a relatively inexpensive Google Cardboard VR headset, they will feel that they are sitting right in front of our idol, while our priest carries out the regular ceremonies," he said.
The theme of this year's London Sharad Utsav, planned for this weekend, is 'A Ray of Hope' as a tribute to legendary Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray to mark his 100th birth centenary year.
"The name also suggests an anticipation to an end of this pandemic. We are sharing posters of Ray's films and trivia in the lead up to the Pujo. Our Pujo magazine is dedicated to 'Ray of Hope', with Andrew Robinson, Ray's biographer, contributing," said Bidisha Datta, who is leading the project.
The London Sharad Utsav team said it has worked out a risk analysis to meet the government guidelines, which place London in Tier 2 of the three-tier coronavirus alert levels "restricting mixing of different households indoors."
"We have worked detailed scenarios together with local authorities to plan for a safe and compliant Pujo. All our members who will attend the Pujo will have to undergo training before they can attend physically," said Kausik Bhadra, who led the discussions with the local authorities.
A pre-registration process is also being put in place to ensure compliance with the National Health Service (NHS) Track & Trace requirements.
Durga Puja, referred to as Pujo in Bengali, begins around the world from Thursday as a celebration of good over evil.