#InspireTogether: Festivities embrace the virtual spirit in 2020

#InspireTogether: Festivities embrace the virtual spirit in 2020

UK-based charitable organisation Bengal Heritage Foundation, behind one of the UK’s major Durga Puja celebrations, successfully hosted its first virtual reality (VR) Pujo in keeping with the coronavirus pandemic lockdown guidelines this year.

Durga Puja, or Pujo (as pronounced in Bengali), is the celebration of good over evil and marks Goddess Durga slaying the evil Mahishasura (the demon) – signifying the triumph of Shakti (woman power) as well as that of truth, righteousness, and well-being. It kicks off the festive period which leads up to Diwali annually.

‘iGlobal’ caught up with Bengal Heritage Foundation President Sourav Niyogi to reflect on the transformed festivities this year.

Pujo goes global

Taking a risk-based approach, the London Sharad Utsav team worked closely with the Ealing Borough Council and Ealing Town Hall to take on board the government guidelines.

The Pujo was streamed live on both 2D and 3D and viewed by people across the world, from Alberta in Canada to Sydney in Australia.

“It was a unique experience to bond views across the world with Durga Pujo. People offered Anjali online as our priest recited the mantras,” says Niyogi.

Under government social-distancing guidelines, attending guests were required to stay within their family bubbles, were given an allocated position in the hall and were required to wear face masks.

“We made adaptions to how the worship happens, so there was no multiple touching” says Niyogi, adding that those tuning in via VR goggles were able to intermingle with the crowd.

“All of the credit for this goes to our Vice President Suranjan Som who led the charge on this initiative”.

Key workers

The two-day event last month kicked off with a special performance paying tribute to key workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Led by the younger generation, the home-based performances were designed as a mark of respect to various frontline workers from doctors, nurses and retail workers.

“We have had members who have been impacted by Covid-19 and equally who have been frontline workers. We’ve all been touched by how much they’ve done for us and wanted to pay tribute,” says Niyogi.

“Among the key things we wanted to achieve for this year’s London Sharad Utsav event was to keep alive the religious spirit, incorporate technology, culture and pay tribute to prominent figures.

“We have had some wonderful dance performances, with people going out of their way to make it special. One family went to Windsor Castle and the husband danced in front of the castle and another did a performance on a beach.”

Musical tribute

To keep all the virtual guests entertained, day two of the online cultural event consisted of a delightful mix of modern and traditional Bengali folk songs.

To mark the 100th birth century of Indian singer and music director, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, who sang in Bengali and Hindi, including other Indian languages, a mix of Bengali and Hindi songs were incorporated in tribute.

“We also paid respect to Bollywood legends who passed away this year, through songs they have composed or been part of – this included Saroj Khan, Irrfan Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput, Wajid Khan, Basu Chatterjee, Rishi Kapoor and S.P. Balasubrahmanyam,” shares Niyogi.

Being a tough year, he said that the focus was on mental health.

“One of the reasons we really thought of this wasn’t just the physical distance and staying at home aspects, but we wanted to use technology in a way that cheers everyone up in their homes and wherever they are. We hope we have contributed in some way to improving mental health, as we go through this festive season,” he said.

Suranjan Som, Vice-President of the foundation, added: “Technology played a key role in this challenging year to connect the Goddess with her devotees.”

*To stay connected with the festive spirit, join the biggest-ever virtual festivity of its kind with #InspireTogether DiwaliFest2020

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