Every year, the Dussehra festival at Melbourne’s Sri Durga Temple sees crowds up to 15,000. But in 2020, due to Victoria government’s comprehensive COVID-19 lockdown and its incumbent restrictions around social distancing, Melbourne's Dussehra enthusiasts had to make do with a Facebook live event.
The pomp and show of one of Australia’s most popular annual calendar events, Dussehra at Melbourne’s Sri Durga Temple, had to be shrunk into a livestreaming event this year due to the coronavirus health and safety protocols enforced by the Victoria government.
Dussehra is an annual Hindu festival celebrated across the world to signify the victory of good over evil, symbolised by the slaying of the mythical demon King Ravan at the hands of the Hindu deity Ram. This year, the festival was celebrated on October 25.
- Melbourne's popular Sri Durga Temple Dushera festival goes virtual in 2020 due to COVID
- Most of Australia's Indian population lives in Victoria with over 180,000 people
- Upcoming festivals like Karwa Chauth and Diwali may also not be celebrated at the usual scale
“Melbourne’s Indian community has enjoyed Sri Durga Temple’s Dusseera mela (carnival every year in the past, with its Ravan Dehan (burning of Ravan’s effigy), Ram Leela (enactment of the Ramayana), its joyrides, shops selling traditional food, clothes and jewellery and various musical and dance performances. But this year, in obedience of the state government’s coronavirus restrictions, the temple committee decided to reduce the scale of the celebrations and do only the necessary rituals as shagan (good omen),” says Neeraj Kalia, Secretary of Sri Durga Temple.
This year, says Mr Kalia, Ram Leela was reduced to a couple of acts as opposed to the full length play the temple’s voluntary artists have enacted in the preceding years.
“Unlike the previous years, this time around, we only performed some very significant scenes of the Ramayana leading up to Ravan’s slaying by Lord Ram. The idea was to pay respect to our culture and keep our traditions going while abiding by the laws in place,” adds Mr Kalia.
Until last year, the temple had to make substantial preparations for crowds to congregate and park their cars. In addition to that, huge joyrides like a Ferris wheel occupied the horizon with a giant cut-out effigy of Ravan staring from above.
The aroma of traditional food wafted in the air from trucks thronged by eager foodies. At dusk, Lord Ram would light a fire to symbolise the slaying of Ravan, which would culminate in colourful fireworks that could be seen illuminating the skies from miles away.
Like Mr Mehra, many others in Melbourne and nearby towns had to celebrate the festival through Facebook.
But Mr Kalia sees hope in Melbourne's coronavirus statistics of today and yesterday.
“Sri Durga Temple Committee is hopeful that with no new coronavirus case or death reported today, our community will be able to celebrate our festivals soon. We pray to Goddess Durga, the patron deity of our temple, to defeat the virus at the earliest so that the colour and fun of our festivities, for which our community is known, return,” he signs off.
In 2020, Victoria became home to Australia's largest Indian population (182,800) according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. New South Wales come next with 153,800 people of India origin.
Between the censuses of 2011 and 2016, after Sikhism (74 per cent), Hinduism is the fastest growing religion in Australia with 60 per cent growth.
The temple’s Dushera festival attracts crowds in large numbers not only from Melbourne but also from Victoria’s regional towns like Bendigo, Ballarat, Shepparton and Geelong.
Kashyap Mehra, who has now moved to Melbourne, would attend the festival every year from Geelong, where he lived with his family until last year.
“This year, we thought we’d be able to attend the mela more conveniently as we have moved into a nearby suburb but COVID-19 had other plans,” says the accountant with disappointment.
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