Devotees greeted Lord Ganesh in their homes and public pandals on Friday as the 10-day festival in honor of the elephant-headed god began in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra, with an emphasis on online darshan amid the coronavirus pandemic and the looming threat of a third Wave.
For the second straight year, the pandemic cast a long shadow over the celebrations, with the Maharashtra government imposing a series of restrictions to avoid gatherings and processions. The Maharashtra government has banned Lord Ganesh’s physical “darshan” on community pandals (marquees), saying that only online “darshan” or television broadcasts of pandals would be allowed.
Citing the Covid-19 situation, Mumbai Police have issued orders under CrPC Section 144 prohibiting the gathering of five or more people during the Ganesh Festival between September 10 and 19. During this time, processions of any kind are not allowed in Mumbai, and the faithful would also not be allowed to attend Ganesh pandals, an official statement said on Thursday.
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People can have Ganesh idols ‘darshan’ installed in pandals through online mode or other electronic media (such as television), it said. The Maharashtra Ministry of the Interior has issued a circular banning visits to pandas to prevent the virus infection from spreading. The height of the Lord Ganesh idols to be installed has also been restricted.
There are around 12,000 Sarvajanik (community) mandals and almost two lakh houses in which idols of the deity are installed in Mumbai. The usual pomp has been missing since processions were banned. Lord Ganesh entered the homes of his followers quietly.
Naresh Dahibavkar, President, Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti, told PTI that this year, compared to last year, when 90 percent of mandalas had celebrated the festival in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, this year all the idols of the deity are installing.
The Samiti are an umbrella organization of the Ganesh mandals that coordinates the festival between the BMC and government agencies. Last year, Lalbaghcha Raja, Mumbai’s most famous mandal, canceled the celebration, while Wadala’s GSB Sewa Samiti, another well-known mandal, postponed the celebration to Magh Shudh charturthi in February this year.
“In contrast to last year, the festival is celebrated with the usual fervor and happiness, as the Covid 19 vaccination campaign is ongoing and people are sensitized about the pandemic,” said Dahibavkar. “Given the threat posed by the third wave, all government protocols for Covid-19 – appropriate behavior are being followed,” he said. Dahibavkar criticized the government for banning physical darshan.
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“It happened at the last minute. Stakeholders were not consulted. Physical darshan was also banned last year. We will suffer heavy losses as there will be no followers to see our sponsors’ banners and posters, ”he said.
The livelihoods of the people associated with the festival, which generates sales of 70-100 crore (in Mumbai), will continue to be impacted by the pandemic, Dahibavkar said. He said Ganesh mandalas contributed to the state government’s efforts to help people in the flood-hit Konkan area and also carried out social activities.
“The government should have taken our problems into account as well,” he said, adding, “The Mandals contributed 40 lakh to the flood relief,” he said.
The state government has issued an order banning physical darshan on mandalas, saying that no more than ten people (who must be fully vaccinated) are allowed to bring the idol, which should not be taller than four feet (for marquees) .
Home idols should not be taller than 60 cm and only 5 people (fully vaccinated) are allowed to accompany the idol. The administration has also put restrictions on the immersion of idols. For the past two days, the markets have been crowded with people shopping to welcome the elephant-headed god, raising concerns about the lack of physical distance.
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GSB Sewa Mandal, which is installing the idol at Kings Circle in Mumbai for five days, said this year’s celebrations will be easy. The mandal distributed food to relatives of patients in state hospitals last year and was at the forefront of relief and rehabilitation efforts during the Konkan floods in July.
“We will celebrate the festival religiously like every year, but without a devotee visiting the pandal according to government guidelines,” said GSB Sewa Mandal in a statement. Live darshan will be featured on the Mandal’s social media platform, it said.
Prime Minister Uddhav Thackeray welcomed Lord Ganesh to his official residence “Varsha” in South Mumbai. Several celebrities and political leaders have installed the deity in their homes as well. The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, marks the birth of the elephant-headed god.
It is celebrated in the month of Bhadrapada (August-September). Lord Ganesh is considered the embodiment of wisdom and is widely revered as the remover of obstacles.