Richaroams, Richawrites, Richashoots. My versatile blogger buddy Richa does all these and more. Roaming Diaries and Richland Talk are her blogs on travel and random thoughts respectively and her lovely photographs adorn both. She is forthright on pieces that deal with society, be it traffic, vandalism of our heritage sites or the harassment by the ubiquitous auto drivers of Mumbai. I especially like her humour pieces which bring an involuntary smile to my lips. Her travel pieces are simple and down-to-earth and makes one want to go there and enjoy the sights and sounds. Richa has been one of my oldest readers who doesn’t mince her words in her comments if there is something that she disagrees about.
In this guest post, she is scathing in her indictment of the Ganapati celebrations in Mumbai, which are becoming louder and crasser by the day. Read on….
The festival of Ganapati is around the corner and the entire atmosphere is suffused with festivity. Shops selling Ganapati have cropped up all over the city of Mumbai, from main markets to narrow alleys, where rows upon rows of painted and unpainted Ganapatis of various sizes and shapes sit, waiting to be taken home. Kids and adults wander about looking for the one they want to install in their homes.
Alongside the shops selling the idols, other shops selling decorations have sprung up. Painted thermocol sheets have taken several shapes and structures — grand temples, peacocks and sundry other shapes — all covered in colored glitter. Accessories like jewellery, attire, fake flowers and other embellishments for the Lord are also sold here. (Incidentally all the items are non-biodegradable) There are shops selling serial lights and lamps — all made in China.
It is also the time for ‘collections’. All sorts of people from the neighborhood have been galvanised into action, soliciting contributions for the building/society/colony/park/neighboring colony Ganapati celebrations. As the day of the festival draws nearer, loudspeakers join in. Huge pandals are put up in strategic locations with thematic decorations and a stage for the Lord.
Sounds all happy and festive, right? Wrong. A much loved festival marked by devotion and faith has been reduced to nothing more than a loud, commercial and ostentatious party today.
As a festival, the origins of Ganesh Chaturthi can be traced back to the agrarian societies that worshipped Nature and flourished by water bodies. Every year, people brought home the rich silt deposited by rivers during the rains, to worship Nature’s regenerating powers. One presumes that gradually this clay was shaped into the idol of Lord Ganesha and thus the festival was born. At the end of the festival, what came from nature was returned to nature by immersing the idol into the water body. The potter community slowly began making sturdier idols, but the material used was still naturally degradable clay.
The festival was confined to homes for ages. It became a community celebration only during the rule of the Marathas in the 17th century. Celebration of the festival as we know it was started in 1893 by the great freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak with the Sarvajanik Ganeshotsavs. At a time when all forms of social gatherings were banned, he made the Ganapati festival a social celebration and used it as a unifying factor, rallying Indians against the British. It brought together all sections of society cutting across barriers of caste and communities. It is unfortunate that the same festival that Tilak used to rally Indians together during the freedom struggle is often a rallying point for rowdy elements today.
Just take a look at the irritants associated with the festival:
Bigger is better — the larger the idol, the more ostentatious and the more popular it is. Height restrictions on idols are ignored with temerity. Lakhs of rupees are spent by politicians, film stars, the bigwigs of the area and even the mafia in a game of one-upmanship and vote-bank politics as each locality puts up a huge showy idol of the Lord. Some of the Ganapatis, notably Lalbaugcha Raja, attract lakhs of devotees every day including famous personalities and film stars, adding to the star value of the celebrations.
Louder is also better — the whole neighborhood is kept in a state of perpetual wakefulness by the incessant blaring of loudspeakers. Even patients and students have no respite from them. And what do they play? Not bhajans and artis. The devout ‘Sukhakarta Dukhaharta’ arti is often replaced by the latest hits like ‘Shiela ki Jawani’ and other such raunchy numbers. Ganapati celebrations have also come to mean all kinds of contests and events, which, the corporate houses fall over one another to sponsor. As for the spiritual sanctity, the festival has almost lost it, and possibly makes even the Lord shudder to see the misuse of His name.
With burgeoning crowds, it time for the anti-social elements to run amok. Drunken dancing and the fear of molestation of women make a visit to these pandals a hazardous proposition. Horrendous traffic jams are caused due to the erection of pandals on every corner much to the woe of the commuters. Uncontrollably large crowds and terror alerts during this time make life miserable for our overstretched police force.
Coming back to the idols, they have come a long way from river silt, to clay, to pottery, to indestructible materials like plaster of Paris. The paint and decorations make them more toxic. Added to the huge size, one can imagine the havoc these idols play with Nature when immersed in water bodies. Idols today are created but do not get destroyed — it is only Nature that gets destroyed in the process of visarjan (immersion). And to think that the whole purpose of the festival was to venerate Nature and to pray to the God who removed obstacles! No wonder Ganapati is becoming one of the most dreadful festivals the way it is celebrated today.
Does it sound like I don’t like Ganapati? Far from it; I love this festival – the cultural and the spiritual aspects of it, that is. I enjoy everything from installing the idol at home, decorating the shrine painstakingly, making and eating the modaks and other offerings and doing the evening Arti with the family. But my love turns into distaste and anguish when I look at the degeneration of the festival outside my home.
If the ten days of celebration assaults our eardrums and throws normal traffic on the roads into disarray, the visarjan is worse with colossal traffic jams and resultant water pollution. We have made away with many undesirable traditions. Didn’t we abolish Sati for its barbarism? So why can’t we tone down the Ganapati celebrations and do a symbolic visarjan to save Nature?
I have a few suggestions which we can try to follow and make this Ganapati enjoyable:
- Mobilise support to encourage fewer Ganapati idols in your area and make the event quieter. Every building, lane, society doesn’t require a separate celebration. Believe in a wider community.
- Big is not beautiful and will not elevate your status. Today even though many shops are selling idols made of clay and other completely biodegradable materials like papier-mache. But it is still better to keep it small, because huge quantities of even such material can be very daunting for Nature to handle. Think about it: Can you dissolve a kilo of salt in a glass of water just because it is completely soluble?
- Invest in artful decoration of small idols. You will still draw eyeballs for the aesthetics.
- Do the visarjan at home in a bucket of water and use it for watering the plants. Or use the tanks approved by the government for the purpose. Please don’t dunk it in the closest lake or sea. A look at the Chowpati beach the day after the visarjan will reveal tales of horror.
- Better still, go for a bronze/brass/ceramic idol that can be used year after year. We can do a symbolic visarjan of such idols at home. The Lord will certainly bless us for sparing a thought for His Creations.
- Educate your friends/family/colleagues/maids and challenge outdated beliefs on the mode of community celebrations.
- Avoid crowded areas during peak hours even if the cops are on their highest alert.
- If you are an organizer at an event, instead of spending lakhs of rupees on dance competitions and the like, donate the amount for a noble cause like educating needy children or building night shelters for the homeless.
- And my pet peeve – Please don’t break traffic rules. The policemen are already a harried lot and so are the other people on the roads during this time. Don’t add to their woes and the chaos.
Some wise person said, Be the change you wish to see in the world. So let us try to be just that. This year let us celebrate Ganapati, retaining its sanctity and harmony with Nature and do what we know is right.
Ganapati Bappa Morya!
Image courtesy: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lalbaug_cha_raja.jpg