Unlike previous years, when the Red Fort lawns would be teeming with people enjoying the rides, browsing through the scores of food stalls, and enjoying three of the biggest Ramlila performances in the capital, the area wore an empty look on Saturday — the first day of Navratri celebrations.
Pointing towards the empty grounds, Santosh Kumar, a hawker who has been selling his wares in the area for over three decades, said, “During Navratri celebrations, thousands of people would come here to see the Ramlila performance, bringing in good business. Since the celebrations have been cancelled this year due to Covid-19, we will earn less than half of what we used to.”
The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) had issued an order on October 11 allowing Navratri and Durga Puja functions in the city, while following social distancing norms, limiting attendees, and prohibiting fairs and processions.
Delhi has 327,718 Covid-19 cases till now, including 298,853 recoveries and 5,981 deaths. There were 22,884 active cases on Saturday.
Many major committees said there would be no Ramlilas this year. Others said they have limited the number of guests and would ask elderly citizens and children not to come.
On Saturday, many performed symbolic ceremonies. Dheeraj Dhar Gupta, general secretary of the Dharmik Lila Committee, which organises Ramlila on the Red Fort grounds, said, “We have been organising Ramlila since 1923 – with the only exception being in 1965, due to the Indo-Pak war. We held a Ganesh Puja on Saturday with a limited number of attendees.”
Gupta said, they would be telecasting last year’s Ramlila performances on television from October 18 to 26 at 8.30pm.
Suresh Bindal, president of Shri Ramlila Committee Indraprastha Vihar, said, “We have booked an air-conditioned hall this time and will show a three-hour, Ramlila including the journey from Lord Ram’s birth till the defeat of Ravan and bharat milap. The number of artists have been reduced from 70 to 40 this time,” he said, adding the event will be broadcast on their Facebook and YouTube channels as well.
Bindal said, adding that the children and elderly will not be allowed at the venue. Last year, President Ram Nath Kovind had visited the IP Extension Ramlila. Since the fair is located at the Delhi border, Bindal said thousands of people from neighbouring states would turn up taking the footfall to 80,000 until last year.
With hardly any fairs during the festive season, many temples are preparing for a surge in the number of devotees. South Delhi’s Kalkaji Mandir has sought help from the police and the district magistrate to manage crowds.
Only one entry-exit point is being used instead of the existing four to manage the crowds. “Only 10 people can enter the bhawan at a time after sanitizing their hands. There will be no Prasad and all stalls leading to the mandir are closed. Around 1 lakh people used to visit the temple per day during Navratri celebrations,” said a priest from the Kalkaji Mandir.
Arjun Kumar, general secretary of Lav Kush Ramlila Committee which organises an 11-day event every year at the Red Fort, said that since these gatherings involve large congregations, they were not willing to take any risk and won’t have organise the Ramlila this year.
Pramod Kohli, treasurer at the Ashok Vihar Ramlila Committee, said, “With a raging pandemic, we didn’t want to take any chances, plus the government order came too late to make the arrangements necessary. The limit was for 200 people, but there are 300 artists involved in putting up the Ramlila, so a physical show would not have been possible.”