Maharashtra gears up for Ganeshotsav (Curtain-raiser)
Despite hurdles, Maharashtra is set to welcome Lord Ganesha, also known as 'Vighnaharta' (remover of obstacles), for the 10-day long Ganesh Chaturthi, deemed as the state's biggest public festival, slated to begin on Monday.
More than a million big, medium and small idols of Lord Ganesha shall adorn private homes of commoners to celebrities, industrialists, politicians, housing complexes, waadis/waadas, private and public companies, besides the gigantic ones at public marquees organized by the Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandals across the state.
"In Mumbai alone this year, around 17,700 registered associations which will be celebrating Ganeshotsav, including 3,700 roadside Mandal, with more than 300,000 idols to be installed.
"The situation continues to be grim for the third consecutive year around one-third of our incomes are hit due to lack of sponsorships. Due to the current slowdown and post-demonetisation, companies shutting down, growing unemployment, etc, there are few ads, banners or cash offerings from the devotees," BrihanMumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS) President Naresh Dahibhavkar told IANS.
At the same time, the BSGSS chief rued that expenses have shot up with GST applicable from the statue-to-marquee stages, overall inflation hitting all associations hard and forcing the big ones to dip into their Reserve Fund to make ends meet.
Ignoring the signs of trouble all around, dedicated artists and specialist sculptors gave their finishing flourishes to the idols and started delivery in trucks, tempos, cars, two-wheelers, hand-carts and some even carry them on their head, chanting 'Ganpati Bappa Morya' to the accompaniment of dancing and playing 'dhols'.
This year, there will be more than 450 gigantic idols in the public marquees within the prescribed height limit of 18-feet though some have exceeded the limits, around 20,000 medium-sized and the rest small sizes in Mumbai.
This year Ganeshotsav coincides with the Jain holy month of fasting during Paryushan, the ongoing week-long Mt. Mary Church annual fair in Bandra and Muharram on September 8.
In its 126th year, the festival was started by freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1893, aimed at bringing together people on a religious platform during the freedom struggle and circumvent restrictions on public gatherings imposed by the British rulers.
Special prayers will be performed at various dedicated Ganesha temples, including the Siddhi Vinayak Temple, Ganesh Temples in Goregaon and Borivali and the 'Ashthavinayak Temples' in the state.
There are nearly 12,000 big-ticket Ganeshotsav associations with budgets of several crores of rupees -- or equivalent to small civic bodies, nearly 195,000 medium-scales with budgets ranging from Rs 500,000 to Rs 5 million and lakhs of individual households and other private organisers with small budgets of a few thousand rupees, said Dahibhavkar.
The pillars of the festival comprising flowers, sweets, fruits, dry-fruits, lights and decorations have also become very expensive and mandals are cutting corners to save and manage within limited budgets this year.
Among the traditionally popular and biggest idols shall be the famed Lalbaugcha Raja, Mumbaicha Raja, Ganesh Gully, Borivali's Kastur Park, Sewricha Raja, Andhericha Raja, Fortcha Raja, Khetwadi 11 and 12 Lanes, Bandra, Sahyadri Mandal in Chembur and Shivaji Park and others.
The GSB Seva Mandal, Kings Circle will unveil its medium-sized 14-feet idol, the 'richest' Ganesh in the world which attracts over a million visitors.
"This year, it is adorned with over 68 kg of 22-carat gold, 350 kg pure silver, besides expensive diamond-studded jewelleries, many articles donated by devotees," a proud GSBSM Trustee R.G. Bhat told IANS.
Final touches are being given to the festivals in other major cities like Pune, Nagpur, Nashik, Kolhapur -- and the coastal Konkan region, where Ganeshotsav is the most important festival in the annual calendar, even surpassing Diwali.
Millions of Konkan employees in cities like Mumbai, Thane, Pune and other places have left in droves for their small villages dotting the coastal districts, resulting in massive snarls on the only route -- the Mumbai-Goa Highway.
Besides commoners, Ganeshotsav also attracts huge attention of celebrities, like Lata Mangeshkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Nana Patekar, the Rishi Kapoor clan, Shilpa Shetty, Vivek Oberoi, the Anil Kapoor clan, Akshay Kumar and Twinkle Kahnna, Sanjay Dutt, Bappi Lahiri, Riteish Deshmukh and Genelia, Shreyas Talpade, etc.
All major politicians led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the families of Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray, Narayan Rane, Sharad Pawar clan, Ashok Chavan, Prithviraj Chavan, the Munde clan, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil clan, Sanjay Nirupam, ministers and elected representatives organizing Ganeshotsav at their homes which are thrown open for all during the 10-day festivities.
Immersions of Ganesha idols will be taken up in phases starting on September 3 culminating in the grand closing on September 12, the final day.
The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has made special arrangements for domestic and foreign tourists with special bus ferries to important venues, walking trips, exclusive viewing galleries during immersion ceremonies and other activities for the next 10 days. IANS