Mumbai is all set to welcome Lord Ganesh in their pandals as the first images of ‘Lalbaugcha Raja’, the city’s famed Lord Ganesha idol were out. Lakhs of devotees throng the central Mumbai’s Lalbaug area every year to get a glimpse of the gigantic idol kept for display to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. This is over hyped Ganesha where most of the celebrities go and seek blessings. But Mumbai the city has many Ganeshas around with its own uniqueness.
The spectacular festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most celebrated festivals in Mumbai and India. It is celebrated all over India in honour of Lord Ganesha – the lovable elephant headed God. 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.
Legend has it that a 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 devotees flock to this much-hyped pandal to seek boons from the wish-fulfilling deity. Over the years, offerings in gold and silver have increased in direct proportion to high-profile celebrity visits and constant media coverage. Nearby, Ganesh Galli, one of the biggest mandals of Lalbaug that has created some fantastic replicas of temples and palaces in the past, is another crowd-puller.
The celebrations’ content has changed. It is no longer a platform for gathering people to listen to and participate in discourses on nationalistic, pro-Independence issues which Tilak created. When Lokmanya Tilak was under great distress and worried about our country’s freedom he used to sit at the bank of Girgaum chowpaty and wonder how to gather 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. It also served as a meeting point for common people of all castes and communities, at a time when social and political gatherings were forbidden by the British Rule.
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.
While Mumbaities devotedly celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi, the politicians too, this time, seem to be keen on making most out of this to their political advantage. This year onwards, 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 shop keepers or business groups refrained from supporting Ganesh mandals. The pandals across Mumbai are now dependent solely on the politicians for gathering 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 crore 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 the recent few years, the festival has been politicized too much. 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.
Politicians sponsor events such as dance, rangoli, drawing and cooking competitions to provide funding to the pandals. The commercialization of the festival in last few years is also helping us in getting huge money. The festival is now being used to flaunt money power and muscle power which can be used for politics. The mandals, or at least most of them, have political patronage, visible or invisible. The festivities are actually fund generators for individuals, groups and politicians.
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; bigger they are, 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. It lacks the critical core of piety. The worship is limited to a bow, an arati and the rest is gaiety. Not unsurprisingly, the change is so much that some screen ordinary Bollywood films, some organise 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.
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