Ganesh Chaturthi: it was not always like this
Days of preparation go into it. One aspect of this readying-up is the fund collection. House to house, retail shop to retail shop the groups move, fixing a minimum contribution below which they would not accept it. Then start the setting up of the pandals – from the imaginative to the blasé, some have themes, some don’t.
On the second, the third, the fifth, the seventh and the ninth day, or on the Ananth Chaturdashi, the idol brought to the pandal in relative quiet, each straggling in according to its own schedule days prior to the start, they all return to the water – a pond, a lake, a stream or river and in cities like Mumbai, the chowpaties and the sea. It has traversed a long way from Tilak’s and keshavji Naik’s time.
Let us deal with each attribute, one at a time.
The funds. No one knows how much is actually collected—it is called vargani in Marathi, chanda in Hindi—and actually spent. Some of the contributions also come in kind and even the payment for the advertisements displayed – it used to be tobacco and tobacco products like the now banned gutka also from builders and the local big dealer of anything. There is no formal accounting.
The preparation. The road widths are gobbled up, civic bodies and police make it a point to talk of restrictions on such pandals but it often remains mere talk. They are gaudy and loud, gauche, and they are expensive and the focus, fortunately remains on the idol; bigger they are, better they get acknowledged. The self-imposed rule of keeping them less than 15 feet is not being universally followed. Electricity is not always secured in a kosher way. It may even be stolen from the nearest lamppost.
The celebration. It lacks the critical core of piety. The worship is limited to a bow, an arati and the rest is gaiety. Not unsurprisingly, the change is so much that some screen ordinary Bollywood films, some even have fashion shows, some an evening dedicated to film music all under the presumption that public wohi mangta hai. A film star visiting a mandal is a photo-op and sure to catch media attention.
So what’s the harm?
Ask people working to abate noise pollution and they would tell you that it goes well beyond the 55 decibels allowed for nights and the courts had to step in and restrict the use of speakers till only 10 pm. And this year, regardless of the sound they throw up, government has allowed use of traditional percussion instruments till midnight. So the decibels are going to be high.
But then, once you are hooked onto a tradition, never mind its other features, then you remain hooked.