This Saturday morning, people caught in Mumbai’s infamous traffic jams will have idols of elephant god Ganesh, some several tens of feet tall, for company. The idols will be on their way to Mumbai homes or intricately decorated stages at community pandals (stages), many sponsored by local companies or retailers. For the next 10 days, until they are immersed in the sea, the idols will tower over the year’s biggest celebration in India’s commercial capital.
Ganapati idols lined up at a workshop at Parel in central Mumbai
Ganesh Chaturthi, birthday of the Hindu god of beginnings, is celebrated in many parts of the country; it is only in Maharashtra, though, especially in Mumbai, that it has a community aspect. This was introduced by Lokmanya Tilak as part of an effort to bring people together during India’s freedom movement. Today, the festival has evolved into a showcase for causes: some social, others corporate. Among Mumbai’s 13,000 Ganapati pandals this year is one which campaigns against ultrasound clinics that determine the sex of a foetus and abort it if it is female and another which celebrates Pratibha Patil, India’s first woman president. A Pune pandal recreates the scene of a recent rave party busted by the police.
Idol makers from across the country create the idols. Sometimes, set designers from Bollywood are retained to create the brightly lit stages. Residents open their hearts, and wallets, during the festival. Popular mandals (committees that organize the event and set up the pandals) could collect several crores in donations from devotees and ads. One of Mumbai’s most revered mandals, Lalbagcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshutsav Mandal, raised more than Rs2.5 crore last year as did the GSB Seva Mandal.
Shoppers buy flowers and other articles
The mandals typically use half the money on the festival itself, the idol, the stage, security guards, closed-circuit cameras and other such. The other half is used for charitable purposes; for instance, Mumbai’s Chinchpokli mandal runs a medical centre, nursery, computer classes, study area and medical camps through the year.
The pandals are replete with banners for marble tiles, life insurance, bottled water, even banks. Some mandals also bring out souvenirs filled with ads from retailers and companies. Typically, though, contributions from individual devotees outstrip ad pickings. Last year, the Lalbagcha Raja Mandal got Rs1.5 crore as collections from devotees and Rs40 lakh from ads. Immersions of the statues happen on the city’s beaches on the second, fifth and seventh days of the festival. The 10th day is the most happening, with roads blocked and offices and shops closed.
Also see following photos:
3. One of the bigger idols is transported a few days in advance to be decorated at the pandal itself
5. Initial stages of creating the idols. A plaster of paris mixture is created to give shape to the idols