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Shrinking Ganpati: What are the chances?

If the makers of Lord Ganesh's idols had their way, they would make them much smaller than they are, for next Ganesh Chathurthi (celebrated in August or September, as per the Hindu calender). As a trade body, they have formally decided to take orders – which should start flowing in from the mandals anytime now – only for idols that are 18 feet high or less.

There are good reasons for the intent, which they say is their resolve. Tall idols are difficult to handle, especially at the time of immersion. Bad roads are another consideration.

Though never officially admitted, the demolition and redesign of the Lalbaug flyover was undertaken to facilitate movement of the tall idol that is housed here for nine days for worship every year. So strong is the pull of this idol that more people visit here than they do perhaps at any temple in as many months.

All this, of course, is if the idol makers' association has its way. And that is a big if. For, the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal has not yet said yes. They would, instead, solicit opinions of their members as well as the public, and have decided to use a portal www.meet2tweet.in for opinions to pour in. The trickle, of course, is yet to start.

There were sober times. Reuters

Now, it seems, size does matter after all.

To organisers of the heady festivities — read mandals — that see huge offerings to the Lord, the bigger the better. To the idol makers, small is beautiful, though 18 feet is hardly small.

It wasn't always like this. There were sober times.

The first sarvajanik Ganpati in Mumbai, set up in 1893 in Girgaon's Keshavji Naik Chawl — a year after Lokmanya Tilak started the festival in Pune to gather public during the British times — is puny by contemporary standards. It is barely two-feet-high, akin to what many people keep at home. Size is not its claim to glory. It also does not draw as many devotees – it is reputed to be the giver of boons – as the Lalbaug idol.

Even 'Lalbaugcha Raja' was not so big in the past; he just grew over the years. There are good reasons now to trim it, though. A political hoarding in the shape of an arch, wishing the devotees well during the nine-day festivities, led a 22-ft tall Ganpati idol to wobble and crash to pieces on Sane Guruji Marg at Chinchpokli last year. The Ganesh Galli idol too got stuck because it was 24-foot-tall. The arch had to be taken down, involving hours of work, even as the traffic of other Ganpatis snarled.

Such possibilities do not go down well with the devout who consider this bad omen. That is why the rush to fill potholes than adhere to the rule that roads have to be good, all the time.

Apparently, this is the trigger for the idol-makers to pitch in with their resolve, though it could well be a buyer's market. At least, they have brought to the fore the meaningless competition for size, as if it's the be-all and end-all of these celebrations. Piety, one fears, suddenly goes missing.

Every year, there is a scramble to add a few inches or a foot to the idol. Every year, at the Girgaon Chowpatty, when the immersion proceedings begin amid huge crowds, one sees the bigger idols piercing the sky, making their actual immersion during low tide a task indeed. Handling an idol that weighs upwards of a tonne is no easy undertaking. Steel plates have to be laid on the beach sands lest the truck and crane wheels sink into it, causing problems when the number of idols lined up, along with the mass of people, is a nightmare to manage.

These immersion processions are, of course, photographers' and videographers' delight, known worldwide, and involve virtually every household. That day, after the lunch break, the energetically bustling city has to come to a halt to make way for these majestic idols to wend their way to the sea.

Even the civic body, which gets into the act to repair the roads after having neglected them for the rest of the year, had tried to limit the size of the idols. When the then mayor, Shubha Raul, suggested it in 2008, her party honcho, Uddhav Thackeray asked her to steer clear of religious matters.

The bureaucrats in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai had helpfully stepped in then. An official had announced that it can only appeal to the organisers to keep the idol sizes to the minimum, and that they would require a structural certification for the venue if the sanctum was over 25-foot-high.

Three years since, there has been no inclination towards limiting the idol size. In 2010, the Khetwadi Ganpati was 23 feet tall, just like Kalbadevi’s Chandwadi Ganpati was; the next year, it grew by six feet. The one at King's Circle grows a bit every year but has not come anywhere near the Khetwadi one.

But when would the idol makers step in with another proposal: that all idols would be made of clay, not of the virtually indestructible plaster of Paris (PoP) so that the level of pollution they cause is limited? If the size goes down, it helps logistics. If the material changes to anything eco-friendly, it serves all. Together, they would be a blessing. Yes, from Lord Ganesh himself.