The big, exuberant neighbourhood parties that mark Holi were few and far between in New Delhi on Tuesday as northern India celebrated the annual festival of colours under the cloud of the new coronavirus.
India has so far reported 47 positive cases of the virus and the Health Ministry has been advising people in the run-up to Holi to avoid large gatherings and stay vigilant for symptoms.
Indian President, Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several cabinet colleagues put out messages on Twitter saying they would not attend Holi gatherings, nudging followers to do the same.
Clubs and resident welfare associations have cancelled Holi milans, or meetings, where large numbers of people gather to celebrate together.
Holi is a day of feasting and festivities where families, friends and neighbours gather and smear each other with coloured powder or douse each other with coloured water to celebrate the onset of spring.
Some drink, others sing and dance and then everyone feasts on traditional dishes. It all winds up by afternoon.
People have restricted themselves to smaller groups this time around and many have not travelled home for the celebration.
The eve of Holi sees a huge rush at bus and train stations and airports.
“It’s different this time. Many flights to cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad had empty seats on Sunday and Monday,’’ said Delhi-based travel agent, Radhika Gangwal.
But among those who travelled home for Holi were Bollywood actor, Priyanka Chopra, and her husband U.S. singer, Nick Jonas.
“Jonas’ first Holi was made so special being home.
“May everyone celebrating have a very happy and safe Holi,’’ Chopra said in an Instagram post of a picture of the couple drenched in colours. Sales of Holi gear have been sluggish too.
“My sale of pichkaris (water guns), water balloons and colours is almost half of other years,’’ said Ravi Kumar who sets up a stall in a Delhi suburb market every year.
“Most of the goods are from China, especially the water guns, maybe that’s why.’’
Holi also celebrates the killing of an evil demoness, Holika, by the Hindu god Vishnu.
On the eve of the festival, effigies of Holika are burnt.
In the Mumbai suburb of Worli, a group of residents on Monday burnt a second effigy labelled coronavirus Asur, India Today news channel reported.
Asur is a demon in Hindi. (dpa/NAN)