Lucknow: If not devotion, traditions sure have changed with time in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and unarguably the seat of Hindu faith. As the nation prepares to usher in the festival of Durga Puja, many puja committees are showing their social commitment by adopting themes with a distinct social message during the festival.
And so, themes like anti-pollution, ban polythene, save girl child against acid attacks and stop harassing women are being taken up on a large scale by organizers of puja pandals across the state. The puja-with-a-message organizers are being led by Bondhu Mahal, a social organization in Indiranagar here that has decided to make "Celebrate the Girl Child" as the theme of its maiden Durga Puja celebration this year.
The endeavour would include taking a written pledge from visitors to keep the interest of the girl child foremost in their priorities. This written pledge will later be sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Bondhu Mahal Puja president Jayanto Pramanik told IANS, adding that the idea is to impress upon visitors to their pandal that "while we all pay obeisance to Goddess Durga many among us treat the gild child as a bane".
The organizers have roped in local women organizations - Save the Children and Vatsalya - to spread the theme through drawing competitions and use of banners and posters during the Durga Puja celebrations.
"The larger idea is to make the visitors ponder on why we treat our girls not as a boon but a bane," Juhi Mohan of Save the Children told IANS.
On similar lines, the Navdurga Samiti of Barabanki has decided to focus on acid attack victims. Puja committee Convener T.K. Roy said that throughout the festival, they will try to sensitize more and more visitors on how such attacks ruin the life of not only an individual but her family as well and scar society at large.
"The samiti would be holding a debate on a ban on acid sales," Roy told IANS, adding that the event will be judged by acid attack survivors Kavita and Meena Soni.
In Kanpur's Aryanagar, the theme of the Puja is to save the Ganga from pollution and impose a ban on polythene. Activists said that while Durga Puja was a time to celebrate, the need of the hour was to also take up issues that are emerging as social evils.
"Nothing will change in the pollution of our holy rivers like the Ganga if we do not take some of the onus and not just leave it for the government of the day," Sushil Goenka, an industrialist actively involved with the Puja, told IANS.
At other places in Uttar Pradesh too, there are efforts by Puja organizers to "evolve a consensus and awareness" of many social-centric issues.
"The number of footfalls is huge in such events and we would like to make the best use of the occasion," said one organizer.
"In the Durga Puja festival, not only several Bengali families but other people too visit the stalls for puja which makes it an ideal place for spreading messages that have some social importance," said an organizer in Aminabad.
Umanand Sharma, chief managing trustee of the Gayatri Gyan mandir in Lucknow, said he found nothing wrong in the religious space being used for social causes.
Puja pandals at other places in the state capital like Sandohan Mata temple, Maa Purvi Devi temple, Chandrika Devi temple and Badi Kali temple are being decked up with flowers and other decorations and many NGOs and social organizations are eyeing them to spread messages that have a long-lasting stamp on the public consciousness.