Ganesh Utsav is a spectacular festival, honoring Lord Ganesha. The elephant-headed god is worshiped for 10 days from Bhadrapada Shudha Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi. It is celebrated all over India, but the maximum grandeur is witnessed in Mumbai and across Maharashtra. It was Lokmanya Tilak who popularised the festival during the freedom movement and made it a community celebration. Colourfully decorated Idols of lord Ganesha are installed both at homes and in Sarvajanik Ganesh Pandals. The occasion becomes very lively and enthusiastic with the devotional songs, dances and drum beats being a part of the rituals observed by the devotees of Lord Ganesha, as part of the festivities. Pandals across Mumbai are known to thematically represent the current social issues that the city faces through tableaux, paintings and decorations. According to the local civic body, total 1, 91,000 idols were installed across the city this year of which 10,350 are at Sarvajanik Ganesh Mandals and 1,80,650 belong to local households.
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. This year celebrities including Amitabh Bachchan, Bipasha Basu, Sonu Nigam, Shilpa Shetty, Isha Koppikar and Shankar Mahadevan visited Lalbaugcha Raja to offer their prayers to lord Ganesha.
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. This time the artisans have prepared a model of the Mallikarjun Jyotirling and the deity has been adorned with a 5-kg golden necklace. In a warm gesture, Ganesh Galli also hosted a special aarti for policemen and journalists to acknowledge their contribution to the festival.
Across the road lies Tejukaya, a small colony that chooses themes to reflect the reality of the middle class. This year, the theme of farmers' suicides has been crafted by idol maker Rajan Zhad, showing a 22-foot Ganesha suspended in mid-air as a farmer sounds the drum beneath.
The 63 years old Akhil Anjirwadi Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal in Mazgaon has carved an exquisite replica of the Tirupati temple while the narrow 12th Lane in Khetwadi has been transformed into a palace fitted with oil lamps that change colour. In Byculla, the betelnut Ganpati of Makba Chawl effectively conveys the need to avoid gutka and tobacco.
In the suburbs, wish-fulling Andhericha Raja and Tilak Nagar have created replicas of Akshardham temple. A vast sand sculpture of the Kerala Padmanabha Swamy temple has also been created at the entrance of Andhericha Raja to welcome devotees.
Crowning festivities in south Mumbai is the Fort Vibhaag Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal. It is marvellous to see how the busy spot transforms into a beautiful palace or temple each year. This season, the mandal has recreated the Kedarnath Jyotirling at the entrance with the rest of the 11 jyotirlings inside.
Proving that old is gold, the Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha at the Keshavji Naik Chawl in Girgaum lives up to its 118-year heritage. Instituted by Lokmanya Tilak way back in 1893, the first sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal of Mumbai still hosts an idol that is 2.25-foot tall.
Amid all the celebrations, while rising prices of raw materials are taking their own toll and cost of idols has shot up by 30 per cent this year, the insurance cover too has gone up by leaps and bounds. As far as riches go, the wealthy GSB Seva Mandal of Sion has secured a total insurance cover of around Rs 200 crore this year while the Lalbaugcha Raja, has been secured with an insurance policy worth Rs. 14 crore. On the other hand, the Andhericha Raja has secured insurance worth Rs 2.15 crore.
For the first time in the history of the Ganesh festival, teenage priests are performing religious rituals in various parts across Mumbai following a shortage of 'purohits' or Hindu priests in the city. Another significant first in this year's festival is that all the mandals have pledged not to put up banners and hoardings advertising tobacco and gutka. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has also distributed banners, hoardings and pamphlets to mandals across the city to create awareness about various social issues including female foeticide. Besides, doctors from the Mumbai District Aids Control society have roped in students from over 100 colleges to execute the HIV awareness programme at the mandals.
Bollywood has also been gripped with the festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi. Celebrities who installed the idol of the elephant god at their homes include Salman Khan, Jeetendra, Nana Patekar, Rani Mukherjee, Suniel Shetty, Jackie Shroff, Akshay Kumar, Govinda, Shilpa Shetty, Raveena Tandon and Shreyas Talpade among others. The Ganesh idol at R K Studios in suburban Chembur is the oldest with many queuing up for offering prayers during the 10-day festivities.
Meanwhile, a wave of green is increasingly making its presence felt this Ganeshotsav. Going eco-friendly in one's home is one thing, but an entire housing society doing so is quite unique. All residents of a housing society in suburban Khar have switched to eco-friendly Ganpati idols in their homes this year. Even the society's Ganpati is an eco-friendly one. Several sarvajanik mandals have also installed eco-friendly idols made from tissue paper.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) have been appealing Mumbaikars to use eco-friendly Ganesh idols and artificial ponds for immersion to curb pollution. The pollution control board has also directed the mandals to remove flowers, clothes and decorating material before immersion. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has also increased the number of artificial ponds from 19 to 22 this year.
The entire city of Mumbai celebrates ganpati festival irrespective of caste creed and religion. This celebration brings out the splendour of street life, the spirit of sharing and giving and the strength of the city's artistic traditions.
Sweety Kothari, Reporter, AIR Mumbai