Pandemic fears were evidently far from the minds of Mumbaikars, as hordes of them descended on Dadar market on the eve of Maharashtra's biggest festival - Ganesh Chaturthi. It appeared as though the city had miraculously returned to normalcy and the devout were doing last-minute shopping - clad in raincoats or bearing umbrellas - their masked faces being the only giveaway of the current reality.
Dadar market is the go-to destination for every Mumbaikar before Ganeshotsav and the station road was heavily crowded on Friday, harking back to pre-pandemic days, with cars and motorcycles honking continuously as they struggled to move.
Diksha Sawant, 24, accompanied by her elder brother said it was the first time in the last six months she had stepped out of the house and they wouldn't have done so, had it not been the eve of Ganeshotsav.
"Everyone has been locked indoors for the last six months and today (Friday), people are coming out to buy basic needs for the puja, no one is standing at one place and crowding. People are just buying what they need and moving on," felt Sawant.
Piyush More, 45, who also went shopping on Friday afternoon said, "Mumbai is on the safer side now, which is why people have no problem stepping out. The situation in Mumbai has improved a lot in the last one month, going out for one day won't upset matters."
"This is the destination for devotees, where one can get everything, from decorative items to idols. That's why it's so crowded," More explained.
Retailers and vendors seemed awestruck to see such crowds. "Till Thursday, there were not more than ten customers in my shop. But today, crowds began to arrive shortly after noon. We would never have imagined that people would come out in such large numbers," said a shopowner at Dadar market.
The shopkeepers said, although there would be no puja at the mandals, the demand for items required for household pujas remained the same.
"It seemed like there was increased rush on Thursday and Friday. But until then, we would never have thought people would come out like this," said another shopkeeper.
The shopkeepers said the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown had hit the demand-supply chain, as a result of which many products were being sold at slightly higher prices.
"Due to the pandemic, production costs have increased, which is why we are selling many items, including sweets, decorative items and fruits at higher prices," said shopowner Muralidhar Mohite.
Meanwhile, even if Lalbaugcha Raja is not visiting this time - the first such instance in 87 years - shoppers could not be deterred from thronging the Lalbaug market on Friday afternoon.
Pitches were marked to ensure social distancing in Lalbaug, but the measure was defeated, as there were so many people on the road.
"The market area was severely congested, with people stepping out for last-minute shopping. The market administration turned a benevolent eye, as it would have been unfair to restrict their entry on the eve of Ganeshotsav," said Sagar Gupta, member of the Lalbaug market administrative body.
Mumbai's Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti chief Naresh Dahibavkar said people should have faith in the Lord, but also take preventive measures to keep coronavirus at bay.
"It was expected that people would take precautions with regard to social distancing ahead of the festival. But this doesn't seem to be happening," he said.
"In the last few days, people seem to have forgotten these rules. The government's norms must be followed completely and people should cooperate," he emphasised.
Meanwhile, in the wake of subdued Ganeshotsav and Muharram, Mumbai Police have issued a notification limiting the height of Ganesh idols to under two feet for households and under four feet for Sarvajanik Ganesh mandals. Moreover, police have requested devotees to perform puja at their homes/pandals before visarjan, and not at the immersion spot.
Devotees have been asked to immerse idols at 167 artificial ponds created by the civic body across the city, to discourage crowding at natural immersion spots like the lakes and beaches. The notification has also sought reduced noise and maintenance of social distancing and sanitisation.
Security arrangements for Ganeshotsav, visarjan and Muharram are in place, where along with city police, the local armed police force, riot control police, quick response team, bomb detection and disposal squad, traffic police, zonal police officers, anti-terrorism and anti-narcotics cell and Home Guards will be deployed in large numbers.
For one-and-a-half day immersions, over 1,000 policemen will be deployed on the streets to ensure smooth proceedings. Starting from August 21, 500 policemen have been deployed on the field at all times, with 30 police personnel and additional security forces at Lalbaug in particular and one rapid action force team and three teams of the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) and this arrangement will continue until September 1, since this is the period in which both Ganeshotsav and Muharram will be observed.
CM urges cautionMaharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray cautioned people to follow rules and be careful. "Be vigilant so that there will be no crowds during the entire festival and the incidence of corona will not increase. Corona has given us an opportunity to combat the virus," he said.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on Friday urged people to celebrate Ganeshotsav, beginning from Saturday, in a low-key manner and avoid crowding in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He also urged the Muslims to observe Muharram, which falls in the month-end, in a simple manner and avoid gathering, an official statement said.
All mandals (associations) need to set up mandaps (decorated temporary covered structures) in line with the policies formulated by municipal corporations or the local administration. There should be no elaborate decorations by sarvajanik mandals or individuals installing idols in homes, the statement quoted Deshmukh as saying. The government said people should possibly worship idols made of metals, marbles or other elements instead of installing conventional ones this year. If the idols installed are made of clay or are eco- friendly, then those should be immersed at home itself, the statement said. If possible, the send-off of idols should be postponed until the time of immersions of idols installed during Maghi Ganeshotsav or during the month of Bhadrapad 2021, that is, next year.
It said mandaps should be disinfected, thermal screenings be arranged and physical distancing norms be strictly adhered to by devotees turning up at mandaps for darshan.
Orange alert for Ganesh ChaturthiThe India Meteorological Department (IMD) has issued an `orange' alert for Mumbai, Thane and the rest of the Konkan region of Maharashtra for Saturday, forecasting heavy rainfall.
The orange alert implies that authorities should be ready to handle situations arising from severe weather.
"Due to the well-marked low pressure on East MP and associated cyclonic circulation, Konkan region and ghat (upland) areas of central Maharashtra are likely to witness heavy to very heavy rainfall in the next 48 hours," senior director of IMD (Mumbai) Shubhangi Bhute said on Friday. Wind speeds are expected to be between 45 km to 55 km, she said in a video message.
"Also, orange alert is being issued for Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg for next 24 hours," Bhute added.
Earlier in the day, Deputy Director-General of IMD (Mumbai) K S Hosalikar had said that an orange alert had been issued for Vidarbha region for 48 hours.