By Bizodisha Bureau, Bhubaneswar, September 10, 2020: With growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state, the Odisha government on Thursday has banned public celebrations of popular festivals like Durga puja, Laxmi puja and Kali puja in the coming festive season, which begins later this month.

The festive season is set to begin with Vishwakarma puja on September 16 followed by Mahasthami puja of Goddess Durga on October 16 and Laxmi Puja on October 23. The Kali Puja and Diwali is scheduled on Nov 14.

Releasing the guidelines, chief secretary Asit Tripathy said the pujas would have to be conducted in indoor-like conditions only for the observance of rituals but without public participation.

“Puja pandals/mandaps have to be covered on three sides. The 4th side would be covered in a way not to allow any public view of idols. There would be no darshan by public/devotees. The size of idols in all such pujas would be less than 4 feet and no public address system can be used. There would be no music or any other entertainment programme,” the order said.

The guideline said at any point of time, there would not be more than 7 persons including the organisers, priests and support staff present in the puja pandals/mandaps.

“The persons present at puja pandals/mandaps shall follow Covid protocols of social distancing, mask use, personal hygiene and sanitation issued by Central/State government or local administration in letter and spirit,” it said.

The government also said there would be no immersion procession and all idols will be immersed in artificial ponds created by local administration for the purpose.

Last month, the Orissa High Court had allowed the Balu Bazaar Puja Committee, the oldest puja committee of the Cuttack city, to organise Durga Puja but without public participation and with strict adherence to Covid-19 guidelines.

It also said that the state government was the best authority to decide on pujas after some businessmen of Cuttack approached the court seeking to organise Ganesh puja.

Odisha in the last 24 hours recorded 3,991 Covid-9 cases, its highest single-day surge so far and 13 deaths. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the state stood at 139121 while 591 people died due to the deadly virus, officials said.

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