With barely days to go for Ganesh Chaturthi, Mumbai is making last-minute preparations for the arrival of its favourite elephant god. Ganeshtotsav will be celebrated under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic for the second time this year, but that has done nothing to dampen spirits. Markets are crowded with shoppers looking for final knick-knacks, and pandal organisers are adding final touches to beautiful public marquees that won’t see the usual kilometre-long queues owing to restrictions put in place for Covid amid the threat of the third wave.
The number of mandals (public marquee organisers) seeking permission this year is higher than the last year, it still remains significantly low as compared to pre-Covid years. In its fresh set of guidelines for Ganeshotsav, the BMC has prohibited offline darshan, visarjan processions, it has given them big relief by letting them advertise in abid to generate funds which was not the case last year. Also, renowned mandals have been allowed to immerse Ganpati idols at seafronts. Only 10 volunteers will be allowed to accompany an idol for immersion. On the seafronts, the idol will be handed over to volunteers from BMC and NGOs who will then immerse the idol into the sea. Only mandal volunteers will be allowed at seafronts, not devotees the BMC guidelines state.
“We are happy that the BMC has accepted our demand of letting us immerse idols in the sea,” said Naresh Dahibhakar, president of the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samavay Samiti.
Once the festivals kick starts on September 10, mandals will have to adhere to strict SOPs issued by the municipal body. The BMC has also issued guidelines for devotees and those who celebrate the festival at home.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest and the most popular Ganpati pandals in Mumbai:
Lalbaug Cha Raja
Undeniably Mumbai’s most popular Ganpati mandal, the Lalbaug Cha Raja will celebrate the festival this year by erecting their iconic idol. The mandal members say they will strictly follow SOPs issued by the authorities, although given the sheer devotion the pandal and idol evokes among devotees who are known to have stood 12-14 hours in a queue for a single glimpse, the task seems herculean if not downright impossible. Mask is a must and devotees will be encouraged to go for online darshan, they said. However, those who show up for offline darshan will be allowed only if it doesn’t lead to crowding.
“We are ready to celebrate the festival and will follow all guidelines and SOPs. We are asking people for online darshan and if people show up for offline darshan we have a strict rule for them that will be followed. I don’t think guideline restricts offline darshan but protocols need to be followed strictly,” says Balasaheb Kamble, President, Lalbaughcha Raja Ganesh Mandal.
Mumbai Cha Raja
Ganesh Gully’s Mumbai Cha Raja which is celebrating its 94th year will also celebrate the festival as per the guidelines issued for the BMC. The height of the idol is restricted to 4 feet and the mandal has made all arrangements keeping the SOPs in mind. Devotees will be given online darshan. “No one will be allowed on the stage. Devotees can seek blessings through online darshan. We have issued cards to a select few for offline darshan - these are our people - residents and shopkeepers who give donations for the festival every year. But strict adherence to social distancing, mask-wearing will have to be followed,” said Swapnil Parab, Secretary, Mumbaicha Raja Ganesh Mandal.
Khetwadi Cha Raja
Known for its aesthetic decor and grandeur, this Ganpati Mandal is in its 62nd year and will celebrate the festival in its traditional way along with necessary restrictions and protocols.
Andheri Cha Raja
Established in 1966, Andheri Cha Raja is situated in the Andheri suburbs. This year, the mandal has a heavenly theme for decorating the pandal. However, celebrations will be subdued due to Covid restrictions.