India said to be a synthesis of diverse socio-cultural religions, languages, festivals, and people residing all over the country with cohesiveness. 2020 threw a curveball forcing people indoors and turning lives upside down (figuratively). The safety and security of people led to downsized events, gatherings, and festivals. Celebrating many festivals wholeheartedly throughout the year and ‘every day is a new occasion’ was at stake. Social distancing is antithetical to Indian culture and the ideology of togetherness with loved ones which saw the usual pomp and glory were missing in cultural and religious festivals but the emotions remain the same. However, do we even remember what celebrating a festival feels like anymore? Seems like a new normal?

‘Change is the only constant in life’ ~ Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

As months have passed people have adopted the pandemic situation by adhering to its norms and precautions because do we have a choice? The spirit of culture still resides within our hearts and hence socially distanced celebrations are better than no celebrations and seem to be right for everyone’s safety. Streets saw transformation with subdued participation from people in culturally significant days as many have chosen to keep it slow and low-key for 2020. 

The air is filled with stories, myths, and experiences revolving around this virus widely seen reflected in actions and representation in Indian cultural decorations. Cities are upfront for making days efficiently socially distanced for gatherings and advising people to stay indoors as much as possible. Following are the visuals of how festivals and national celebrations took place around the country in the new normal way beaming hope and faith in getting back to normal like before. 

Is social distancing in India possible in culturally significant public spaces? How? - Sheet1
A vendor brushes the Ganesh idol wearing a face mask in Hyderabad ©www.news18.com
Is social distancing in India possible in culturally significant public spaces? How? - Sheet2
Artist working on idol with the concept of Ganesh over coronavirus ©www.news18.com
Is social distancing in India possible in culturally significant public spaces? How? - Sheet3
Socially distanced idols on display for ease to customers ©www.news18.com

The year within four walls opened many virtual doors for all in terms of visual darshan, pooja, and celebrations to be part of from home couches. In return for our absence and nuisance, it has rightly helped nature heal from its past debris. The rivers saw less waste floating, greener measures, curb on loud music, and inappropriate street behaviors. One arm distance and painted circles and squares separate one another at each location but it’s easier said than done all the roads would become a drawing board if everyone comes back on road at the same time. Hence, maintaining social distance and personal distance prevails.  

Is social distancing in India possible in culturally significant public spaces? How? - Sheet4
Bakri ‘Eid a Jama masjid © www.hindustantimes.com
Is social distancing in India possible in culturally significant public spaces? How? - Sheet5
Flag hoisting with safety measures © indianexpress.com
Is social distancing in India possible in culturally significant public spaces? How? - Sheet6
Officers of army, navy, police, etc. social distancing ©images.indianexpress.com

It is positive that a more flexible and adaptive attitude is observed in modifying our social and civic behavior empowering continuity towards this war against unseen fear. The joy, enthusiasm, and excitement in the color of monochromes continue from our homes. An efficiently organized and timed influx of people in cultural places helps in better engagement of people ensuring safety. Alternative measures for people’s engagement of faith and devotion will help mental stability. Supporting people surrounded by us brings togetherness and joy. Distant wishes and hugs from across the street, windows, and balconies brought one closer during the pandemic. Creative use of technology, home resources, and a few hours of scratching brain can lead to memorable and unique celebrations. 

Following are the ways architecture and planning can contribute to celebrating cultural and religious festivals and gathering with social distancing 

  1. Social distanced queues and marking with separators for devotees. 
  2. Grid markings on roads, pathways, grounds, and waiting areas for the guided accumulation of people. 
  3. Shorter timings with slots of gatherings with limited people allowing smaller congregations.
  4. Permitting streets and larger open public spaces for socially distanced celebrations with supervisions 
  5. Participation of people from their home balconies, windows, and terraces rather than gathering and crowding. 
  6. Virtual Celebrations with community participations
Is social distancing in India possible in culturally significant public spaces? How? - Sheet7
Social Distancing ©www.pcma.org
Is social distancing in India possible in culturally significant public spaces? How? - Sheet8
Social Distancing ©laist.com
Is social distancing in India possible in culturally significant public spaces? How? - Sheet9
Social Distancing ©www.computerworld.com
Author

RuchiKumbhani is currently a final year B. Arch student at PVP College of Architecture, Pune. She is a curious mind & travel enthusiast. With few days of intense binge indoors to days of cycling outdoor, she loves to observeinterrelationship of different settings/spaces and penning her thoughts over it.

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