Mumbai’s Ganesh Pandals Await Govt Nod, COVID Dulls Festive Spirit

Many pandals have decided to scale down Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations with smaller idols and no decorations.

Published12 Jun 2020, 01:28 PM IST
4 min read

With the COVID-19 crisis showing no signs of receding, Mumbai may witness muted celebrations during Ganesh Chaturthi this year. Each year, the city hosts thousands of pandals where lakhs of devotees offer prayers to the idols daily for over five consecutive days.

Pandal committees and artists work for months to organise festivities, build decorations and sculpt idols.

Due to the pandemic this year, committees are uncertain about receiving permissions to even make arrangements.

Waiting for Government Guidelines

Mumbai’s Ganesh Pandals Await Govt Nod, COVID Dulls Festive Spirit
Photo: The Quint/Aroop Mishra

The GSB Seva Mandal in Mumbai’s King Circle is one of the oldest committees in the city, that has been organising Ganesh pandals every year for over six decades. With a massive idol of over 15 feet and adorned with gold and silver ornaments, the organisers begin having a custom idol made on a trolly by the first week of July. The idol is built inside the pandal premises, which is set up by the second week of June.

With no clear instructions from the government about whether large scale celebrations will even be allowed this year, the organisers are yet to even begin setting up the pandal.

“We are waiting for government guidelines to decide on our SOP,” said ex-trustee of GSB Seva Mandal, Satish Nayak.

The committee have held three meetings amongst themselves pondering over the way forward but with no guidelines from the State, they have been unable to come up with a conclusive plan.

If permissions do come in, pandals will have to adhere to norms like social distancing, sanitisation and precautions to curb the transmission of the coronavirus. This could be a huge challenge for big pandals that are set up in enclosed spaces and are generally crammed with devotees.

Scaling Down Celebrations

Mumbai’s Ganesh Pandals Await Govt Nod, COVID Dulls Festive Spirit
Photo: The Quint/Aroop Mishra

Celebrations in one of the oldest and largest pandal in Mumbai’s Lalbaug area, the Ganesh Gully, will also be low key this year as organisers await government instructions.

Known for their magnificent decorations that replicate structures like the Surya Mandir of Gwalior and Sripuram Golden Temple of Vellore amongst others, the organisers are scaling down celebrations drastically this August. In fact, there may be no decorations at all.

One of the main reasons for this is lack of donations.

“Given the financial situation, at the moment, we have decided to not ask for any donations from our usual benefactors. The companies who used to donate, their CSR funds are being directed towards COVID-19 related spendings and that’s justified because that is important. We will restrict our celebrations to the balance amount left over in our funds.”
Swapnil Parab, secretary, Ganesh Gully Mandal 

By this time, the organisers usually finish about 60 percent of the organising, collection of donations and other preparations. This year, they haven’t even begun yet.

Pandals are hopeful that they can schedule a meeting with the state authorities by the third week of June and begin preparations then.

Businesses of Idol Makers, Decorators Impacted

Mumbai’s Ganesh Pandals Await Govt Nod, COVID Dulls Festive Spirit
Photo: The Quint/Aroop Mishra

Prakash Pednekar has been building Ganesh idols in his Chinchpokli workshop for decades. By this time, he and his team of at least nine other workers usually build at least 400 idols, every year. This year, however, he has just managed to finish just 60 idols, the ones he had begun before the lockdown was enforced.

“I have 250 pending orders but no raw materials are available, with the lockdown still in place. I don’t know if I can even deliver on them,” said Pednekar. Eight of his workers were migrants who left for their respective states when the lockdown was imposed.

“This year is a complete loss for me. If I make 50 idols, what will I earn? I’m spending everything that I’m earning in sourcing the materials. We ran out of clay, we had to source it from Gujarat. We won’t even be able to recover our cost.”
Prakash Pednekar, Idol Maker 

Pednekar’s key source of profit, which is supplying idols to the bigger pandals, has also been hit. “The bigger pandals have asked for small idols this year. They want their idols to be 2-3 feel tall this year, and not the 15-20 feet they usually order. Most of the pandals have told us that they want these small idols as they want to immerse them at the same spot.”

He, too, is pinning his hopes on the government as uncertainty shrouds the business this year.

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