02 September 2009

Ganpati bappa morya!!!

It's Ganesh Chaturthi time again and I've been spending the last few days walking around different parts of the city (Bombay) checking out the various Ganpati Pandals.
The Pandal is a sort of temporary shed made by neighbourhood communities to house the idol of Lord Ganesha often amidst a mythological setting, complete with decorative lights and festive music.

This being the most important festival of the city is celebrated with a lot of pomp and show! But certain parts of the city take the extravagance to a completely different level. For example a visit to the Ganapati Pandals at Lalbaug and Bhuleshwar is amongst the most anticipated yearly events in the calendar of most Mumbaikars!

Here the community Pandal is scaled up many times over in a never ending competition to make the years largest Ganpati idol in the most elaborate of settings -
sometimes complete with integrated laser shows
AV displays
or even moving Idols (with the most basic of robotics).
But over the last few years things have changed, and surely not for the better. Here's a few instances:

The whole festival enterprise has become a lot more capitalistic (this was always there but now its really insane). Ironically a lot of the Pandals I saw were sponsored by the city's powerful builder lobby who are involved in some of the most blatant land grabs in the very areas that house the people who supposedly form the 'community' that owns these Pandals; thus forcing them out of their current houses which sits on prime real estate! So once these communities move - will there Ganpatis go with them?

Those not sponsored by the builders (or the construction industry) were sponsored by the scary ranks of right-wing politicians - the same guys who have been demanding to throw out non-Maharashtrians from - what is supposedly - India's most cosmopolitan city.
To add to this the recent string of terrorist activities that have held this city captive (culminating with the deadly attacks at VT/Taj and other locations last year on 26th Nov) have given the organizers of the Pandals a freehand at turning the audio-visual shows in these Pandals into highly politicized propaganda against all 'outsiders'. The air in most of the Pandals were extremely negative and instigating!

I really hope that these unfortunate trends are only momentary and the festival will soon return to being a more tolerant collective celebration of the birth of the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune!

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