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'Ganesh Mandals going back to their roots'

Thursday, September 13, 2018

During the festive 11-days of the 'Ganesh festival' there is one man who plays a vital role in managing all the mandals in the city, including dialogues with the authorities to resolve issues, dealing with problems faced by volunteers, 'visarjan' (immersion) day arrangements and encouraging mandals not restrict their activities to the days of the festival but keep taking up causes throughout the year. NARESH DAHIBAWKAR, President of the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS), talks to PHILIP VARGHESE about the issues, present and future, of Ganesh festivals on the eve of the event. 

With just a day left for Ganesha's entry to the city, Dahibawkar is a busy man with several engagements on his diary for the next 11 days of the festival – meeting with mandal committees, police personnel and officials of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). However, he benevolently agrees to talk to us over the phone while on his way back to town from Dombivli where he visited his brother who had met with an accident recently. “As my brother is very close to me, just like Ganesha, I visited him as he was discharged from the hospital.”    

The Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS), led by Dahibawkar,  an umbrella body for all Ganesh Mandals in the city, has more than 11,000 mandals registered under the banner.    

“Those days were different in the 1980s when the festivals were celebrated in a much more organised manner. However, now a decision was taken by the government to levy heavy tax on mandals, creating unrest among the 1,340-odd mandals. The mandals were not happy in the way they were charged sales tax.
There was also religious tensions during procession. It was noted that during one of those days a foreigner was seen clicking pictures of the Ganesh idols washed ashore after the immersion day. It was considered an insult when Hindu gods were being depicted badly in the foreign magazines or the press as this was something unheard of earlier. So, a need was felt to form an umbrella body to tackle all these issues and in 1982, the BSGSS was officially established,” Dahibawkar tells us.  

Born into a moderate family, Dahibawkar has been a  Lord Ganesha 'bhakt' since childhood. “My frequent visit to the Dagdu Sheth Ganapati in Pune during the bad phase of my life, increased my faith in Ganesha. Since then, I have been active in all Ganesh mandals when I was the secretary of Dongri Ganeshostav Mandal where Muslims and Hindus together celebrated the festival. Every year from June,  my work starts, meeting officials from all mandals till September.”         

The BSGSS, since its formation, has helped manage the mandals and the festival efficiently. “Earlier, Ganesh mandals found it difficult to get various permissions from the police. It took nearly a week to get permissions and the mandal officials were treated badly. However now, with our interference, the procedure has been made easy for mandals, as it takes only a day or two to get all permissions. The mandal officials, are in fact, welcomed and offered chairs to sit by the police. I have sent out instructions to mandals that among other activities they should always assist states which need help during natural calamities and I am glad that many mandals this year contributed for the Kerala flood victims,” said the 69-year-old president of BSGSS.         

Potholes have always remained a major concern for devotees transporting their Ganesh idols during immersion processions.

“Nowadays, its not just the BMC, but also the PWD which is responsible for maintaining the roads in the city. Like every year, we had a meeting with them and they have assured us to clear all the potholes along the routes through which Ganesh immersion processions would be be taken. We hope that they take our appeal seriously,” he said.

Since last few weeks confusion over online registration of Ganesh Mandals has prevailed. “Amidst all the online registration ruckus many mandals are still confused as to how it works and the option of filling the registration forms offline as well. Many mandals have complained that the BMC website has errors which leads to delay, or sometimes, failure of the system. So, we had sought an extension of form submission,” Dahibawkar said.

The Samiti has recently approached the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST), seeking better lighting at Girgaum Chowpatty during immersion. “During the days of 'visarjan', it becomes too dark around Chowpatty. It is dangerous when members enter the water without adequate lights in the area. We have asked the undertaking to help us with additional lights. MLA Ashish Shelar had accompanied us to survey the Chowpatty areas. We have been assured that more lights would be installed in the water,” he told us.

As we were nearing the end of the interview we asked him his view on how Ganesh festivals would be celebrated in the coming years? “The emergence of the RTI Act, has cautioned the government as well as several Ganesh mandals. This has led to the mandals going back to their roots – the traditional way of celebrating the festival. Soon, DJs will disappear from the mandals and we would be able to listen to bhajans and 'aartis' being played for devotees. Mandals will also have a temple-like ambiance. DJs will be replaced with the good old 'lezim' and 'dhol thasha'. This will be a good trend,” Dahibawkar concluded, even as he reached Mumbai for a meeting with some mandals.

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