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COVID-19: Ganesh Chaturthi and guzzled up Mumbai

Ganesh Chaturthi, Mumbai, Lord Ganesha, Ganesha, Ganesh Pandal, Lalbaughcha Raja, Ganpati in Mumbai
Image Courtesy: PTI

Mumbai might be waiting for its famed Ganesha festival. The mighty festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most celebrated festivals in Mumbai and India. In honor of Lord Ganesha – the lovable elephant headed God is illustrious all over India. Many Hindu families across India and abroad celebrate this festival with much grandeur in their homes. The festival is celebrated on the 4th day of the Bhadrapada month according to the Hindu calendar, which falls in late August or early September. People believe that the wish is always granted to those who visit the idol. The Lalbaugcha Raja in central Mumbai is the biggest draw. Although the idol in the cramped fish market remains the same each year, crores of devotee’s flock to this much-hyped pandal to seek godsends from the wish-fulfilling deity. There were many challenges to the city for accidents, blasts, heavy rain pours and demonetization but the sheen of the festival remained intact. This situation is a little different, its hazardous pandemic, people need to be careful and safe.

While Mumbaities devotedly celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi, the politicians make the most out of this to their political advantage. This year onward, the developers have backed out from giving donations to the Ganesh pandals as many redevelopment projects have been stuck in the city for over a year. Demonetization is one of the biggest reasons many shopkeepers or business groups refrained supporting Ganesh donations, after demonetization it was GST monster that has killed business opportunities to small scale industry. Somehow a Mumbai businessman overcame these challenges and now almost three month’s huge lockdown. Meeting daily needs is a big task, donating funds is just next to impossible. The pandals across Mumbai would be dependent solely on the politicians for the funds for the festival.

According to the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS), an umbrella body of Ganesh mandals in the city, there are a total of 11,400 Ganesh pandals across the city. Each pandal on an average spends around Rs 7 lakh on organizing the 10-day festival and the total turnover estimate of all pandals is over 800 crores in Mumbai during this time. The donations have been reduced by almost 50 percent given the fact that redevelopment projects in the city have been stuck for more than a year and many developers have backed out from giving huge donations. Many businesses and corporate companies got shut down and many small-scale industries suffered so the collection from all these sources has reduced to 50 percent. Also, the political leaders have avoided putting up the banners and posters which have affected the revenue of the pandals. They can now get funds only through the events organized by the pandals and sponsored by a few entities. Moreover, in recent few years, the festival has been much politicized. So, all the politicians make sure they use the platform to reach out to the public. The NGOs or other organizations controlled by the politicians are also advertised.

The celebrations’ content has changed. It is no longer a platform for gathering to and participate in discourses on nationalistic, pro-Independence issues which Tilak created. When Lokmanya Tilak was in great distress and worried about our country’s freedom. He used to sit at the bank of Girgaum Chowpatty and wondered how to collect people. While sitting on the bank of seashore he used to make idols and people used to stop by to see it. Such collective movement was not restricted by British. So, from there he got an idea to celebrate Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav. He started the tradition of Sarvajanik Ganesha Utsav by making clay idols. Tilak was the first person to install large public images of Ganesha in pavilions and he was the one who established the practice of submerging all the public images on the tenth day of the festival. Ganesh Chaturthi soon started seeing community participation and involvement, in the form of cultural events. Later on, this became an important festival during the Peshwa rule in Maharashtra. It acquired a more organized form all over India during the Swaraj movement, when Lord Ganesha was chosen as a rallying point for protest against British rule, because of his wide appeal as “the God for Everyman”. A strongest movement to evoke nationalism, through religious passions, was the organization of Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra, which inspired feelings of Hindu unity in the state. Once India became Independent, it had no such use anymore. But it endured as a tradition but only in its run as an annual event. It has, of course, a political content, but rather the perverse one.

Meanwhile, the road widths are guzzled up, civic bodies and police make it a point to talk of restrictions on such pandals but it often remains mere talk. They are gaudy and loud, gauche, and they are expensive and the focus, fortunately, remains on the idol; the bigger they are, the better they get acknowledged. The self-imposed rule of keeping them less than 15 feet is not being universally followed. Electricity is not always secured in a kosher way. It may even be stolen from the nearest lamppost. The worship is limited to a bow, an aarati and the rest is gaiety. Not unsurprisingly, the change is so much that some screen ordinary Bollywood films, some even have fashion shows, some an evening dedicated to film music all under the presumption that public wohi mangta hai. A film star visiting a mandal is a photo-op and sure to catch media attention. But then, once you are hooked onto a tradition, never mind its other features, then you remain hooked. This year as the country battles coronavirus, Maharashtra has reported the highest number of positive cases and deaths. This may force organisers of the annual Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations to postpone the 2020 event. This is to minimise the infection spread since this event sees heavy public gathering across the pandals (event ground) across Mumbai, Pune and other regions. Areas like Parel, Chinchpokli and Byculla which are near Lalbaugcha Raja Mandal have several buildings and lanes identified as containment zones by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Public celebration of the Ganeshotsav which is said to have started by freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1892 has never been postponed or delayed till date.

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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