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Ganesha needs space!

Friday, August 31, 2018

Ganesh Mandals face a space crunch thanks to re-development of old buildings and work on Mumbai Metro, says Tanmaya Vyas quick facts

The first public Ganesh Festival in Mumbai started 126 years ago in Keshavji Naik Chawl in Girgaum. The height of the idol at this mandal was two feet.

Over 1.5 million devotees paid homage to the Lalbaughcha Raja last year and the number is expected to rise each year. The mandal came into existence 84 years ago. The height of the idol is 20 feet.

Parelcha Raja is the tallest Ganpati in Mumbai with a height of 31 feet.

When Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak introduced the public celebration of Ganesh festival known as ‘Sarvajanik Ganeshostav’ he was using the much-loved elephant-headed God as a tool to build nationalistic sentiments and usher in social reforms.

Ganesh utsavs went from being intimate family celebrations to public festivals and the scale of the festival kept getting higher each year. The Sarvajanik Ganeshostav would provide a platform for thinkers, reformers, revolutionary poets, singers and theatre artists. What started off with a few dozen public celebrations has today burgeoned into over 2,000 Mandals requesting permission from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for Ganesh pandals.

Over the years, a massive increase in the number of pandals means that the traffic situation in Mumbai has become chaotic, since these pandals are built on public lands, and most often on roads. The size of the idols are proportionate to the scale at which the mandals function. While the small idols are brought a day in advance of the actual day, the bigger ones are brought much in advance, almost two weeks ahead of its time.

Transporting of these huge idols to their destination inevitably causes traffic jams. This year, the problem is even more acute thanks to digging up and cordoning of key roads for Mumbai Metro. Adding to the woes is the fact that two key bridges at Currey Road and Andheri, linking the eastern and western halves of the city, have been shut down or are being demolished.

Earlier this month, BrihanMumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS), an umbrella body for all the Ganesh Mandals in the city, met with the mayor to discuss the impending problem. The BrihanMunicipal Corporation (BMC) assured co-ordination with MMRDA and the traffic police department to ease the process by either clearing the routes or arranging for alternative routes.

Narendra Dahibavkar, BSGSS President says, “We need a minimum of 20-22 feet wide road for smooth proceedings. We held a meeting with BMC and the Joint Commissioner (Traffic) of Mumbai for the same and have put forth our thoughts and needs. They have assured us that they will remove the barricades and try to work on the pot-holed roads for smooth proceedings. The work on the underground metro will also cause lot of problems. We have requested them to delay it for a while or as suggested by the officials they will enable one-way routes for these days. The idols will be brought to the pandals on every Sunday to avoid disruption for office-goers and Sunday, September 2 will see maximum of it. We are hoping for a positive solution by then.”

However, this problem is not limited to just the Metro work. In areas like Kurla, Mankhurd and suburbs like Borivali, mandals have been placing their Ganesh idol in open grounds in the neighbourhood. This year, BMC decided to use these spaces for some official work. The affected mandals are in a dialogue with BMC to resolve the issue. “There is a history and emotional connect with a certain place. When there is a change in the venue or place, it certainly upsets the mandals and devotees in that area too. We are in discussions with the BMC and are hopeful that the problem will be sorted out,” Dahivakar says.

Ashish Rampure is Secretary of one of the biggest pandals, Tejukaya Sarvajnik Ganesh Ustav, in Ganesh Galli, a bustling hub during Ganesh Utsav. Lalbaugh Cha Raja itself records a footfall of over million devotees every year, and even the smallest pandal attracts lakhs of devotees. Rampure says, “As of now, we don’t foresee a big problem, but on the day of visarjan (immersion) there could be chaos, considering we go to Girgaum Chowpatty for visarjan. We had an internal meeting and even connected with the officials. However, no concrete solution has been found.”

Another challenge faced is the re-development of many old buildings and construction of new ones. Re-development of dilapidated buildings has shrunk the space, affecting the scope of festivities too. The clash here is primarily between the builders and the Mandals.

“There are many such Ganesh mandals who are facing the space-crunch due to re-construction. When a building is under re-development, the builder has the complete say, as he has done the contract and everything is bound by it. Therefore, the understanding has to be between the mandal committee and the builder. We have tried to sort out most of such cases but some are pending,” Dahivakar says.

The re-development has also caused re-location of members and thus cutting on man-power and subsequently the enthusiasm of the members. “A lot of the members have moved to different localities which has depleted our manpower. Still, lots of them, due to their faith in Lord Ganesha and attachment to their localities, come and help. But the change is inevitable,” comments Rampure.

With the on-going metro work and crammed spaces, challenges for the Ganesh festival seem aplenty. However, as they say, The Lord Ganesh is known as Vighnaharta or remover of obstacles. Most organisers and even officials are hoping with the Lord’s blessings the festival will go off smoothly.

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