The long-awaited Ganesha festival is a low-key affair with the imposition section 144. The mighty festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most celebrated festivals in Mumbai and India. In honour 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 Lalbaug 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, it’s a 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.
Lockdown is one of the biggest reasons many shopkeepers or business groups refrained from supporting Ganesh donations, after demonetization, it was the GST monster that killed business opportunities to small scale industries. Somehow a Mumbai businessman overcame these challenges and now it’s been two years since people are suffering due to post lockdown challenges. 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 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 per cent 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 per cent. Also, the political leaders have avoided putting up 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.
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 the seashore he used to make idols and people used to stop by to see them.
Such collective movement was not restricted by the 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”.
The 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.
This year as the country battles the third wave of coronavirus, Maharashtra is on high alert. This has forced organisers of the annual Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations to make arrangements for online darshan. This is to minimize the infection spread since this event sees heavy public gathering across the pandals (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 restricted zones by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
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