Ganpati games: Mine is bigger than yours

The GSB Seva Mandal, Matunga, Mumbai, is in a fix – thanks to the development of the city. Also affected by the symbols of the city’s progress – new flyovers – are other associations similar to the GSB Seva Mandal.

What do these associations do? They celebrate Ganpati – with a fervour and a gusto and a spirit of one-upmanship that sees organizers of Ganpati ‘pandals’ vie with each other to make the tallest Ganpati.

 Ganpati games: Mine is bigger than yours

An artisan climbs on an idol of Hindu elephant god Ganesh, the deity of prosperity, to paint it inside a workshop in Mumbai. Danish Siddiqi/Reuters

That’s where the problem comes in. The GSB’s Ganesh idol is 18.30 feet tall – while the clearance under a new flyover in Lalbag – part of the natural route for this idol’s procession to the sea for immersion – is only 17.10 feet. Thanks to this, the GSB procession will have to take an alternate route, causing more traffic congestion than Mumbaikars have been used to.

Other Ganpati ‘associations’ in eastern Mumbai will be affected similarly as their processions inch their way across to the west using circuitous routes.

The focus on the size of the idol – the mine-is-bigger-than yours element – was certainly not how the visionary behind these festivities, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, saw it.

Tilak, a freedom fighter, ‘created’ the community event around Ganesh Chaturthi, asking citizens to display a large idol and celebrate the festival together and in public, in an effort to circumvent a British rule that discouraged the assembly of large numbers of Indians in public.

The large community idol was only one of the elements of the public festival. Others included poetry reading, music and folk dance performances and public debates between intellectuals on important social and current issues.

Today, the original objective – that of circumventing the British administration – does not exist. The celebrations remain, and, have indeed, become an occasion for large sections of those living in Mumbai to look forward to.

Unfortunately, less attention is paid to the cultural dimensions of music, folk dance and discourse; all energies seem to centre around the size of the idol. The institution of awards, many of them in cash, encourage lavish and extravagant idols. The Times of India, for example, awards the best idol, best mandal, most eco-friendly idol and most attended pandal.

Perhaps it’s the interpretation of the adjective ‘best’ that leads to the ‘mine-is-bigger-than-yours’ competitiveness.

It’s time to revisit Tilak’s vision – make the festival a celebration of culture, a reason for the community to come together and pray to the elephant-God. Organisers must look hard at their need for size – large idols certainly add to the sea pollution and inconvenience the average citizen more than the smaller idols do.

Could those who announce awards disqualify all those which are unnecessarily tall – and, as a result, encourage pollution-friendly and traffic-friendly idols?

Authorities responsible for traffic and law and order – and for the immersion – will certainly say a big thank you.

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Updated Date: Aug 05, 2011 13:05:07 IST