India is celebrating Ganeshotsav amid a pandemic albeit by putting proactive measures in place. For Maharashtra, Ganesh Festival is among one of the important ones and is celebrated with great fervor and fanfare.
In Mumbai, while some have opted to postpone the celebrations to February next year, some mandals in Mumbai have decided to celebrate the festival and follow all the guidelines laid down by the Uddhav Thackeray government and the city's civic authority.
Mumbai's most loved, famous, and richest Ganpati Mandal, GSB Seva Mandal, King's Circle has decided to take the online route. Celebrated on a large scale otherwise, this year GSB Seva Mandal has decided to celebrate the 5-day festival with proper measures put in place.
Speaking to The Free Press Journal, Dr. Bhujang Pai, Convener, GSB Seva Mandal, said that this year, keeping in mind the coronavirus situation, the celebrations are subdued and organized as per the government, BMC and police department's guidelines. "We have ensured that there is no crowd in the pandal and for this, we are not allowing any visitors. Only 5 people including the priest can be in the pandal at one point of time."
The size of the idol this year has been kept at 4 feet as directed by the state government. "This year we have kept the height of the idol at 4 feet. In previous years, the height used to be around 14 ft."
The idol is eco-friendly and has been made at the pandal just like previous years.
One who visits the pandal every year will tell you how it feels to be at the pandal. Lord Ganesha dons jewelry - some donated by his devotees and a floral alankar - this is a mesmerizing sight people want to capture.
Well, this year, Dr. Pai says, that no gold ornaments have been put on the idol or are on display.
The author of this article who has been visiting the pandal since she was a 7-month-old baby has experienced this well. To quote my parents, "He fulfills everyone's wishes." With hopes and wishes, Lord Ganesha's devotees never miss the chance to offer prayers at the pandal. But...this year is different for all of us.
In normal circumstances, one would often see devotees from Mumbai, other parts of Maharashtra, and even from across India queue up to visit the pandal and offer their prayers and book their pujas to Lord Ganesha. People from the rest of the world, too, make it a point that they seek blessings of Lord Ganesha at the pandal.
This year the lane that is otherwise crowded and a popular traffic junction wears a deserted look.
Every year one would see GSBians celebrating the festival with their families and friends in the pandal that is spread across 97,000 sq ft. Security is beefed up and the 5-day festival is managed with proper discipline. This year it is a low-key affair. Dr. Pai says, "We got permission for a pandal of about 6,000 sq ft but we have reduced it to around 4,000 sq ft."
Now, no one is allowed inside the pandal and one can take darshan and offer prayers online.
Devotees can watch the live-streaming of this year's celebration here:
JioTV / JioApp
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/gsbsevamandal/
YouthOfGSB Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/youthofgsb/
YouthOfGSB YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/YOUTHOFGSB/
One can even take part in the pujas online. Dr. Pai says that this year the number of pujas has been reduced and while every year one would get their prasadam after they offer prayers and pujas, this year we have made arrangements to send the prasadam to all the sevedars. This is to avoid any contact with each other. Dr. Pai says, "No one will get a prasad at the pandal this year, even I cannot get a prasad. We will send the prasad to the sevedars via post and courier. We want to make sure that there is no spread of the virus."
What's different this year is that unlike previous years, blood donation camps are being organized at different locations and not at the pandal.
On Saturday, a blood donation camp was held at Thane.
Dr. Bhujang Pai who is a Consultant and Head, Department of Imaging at Mumbai's Seven Hills hospital, says that the blood collected will be donated to a blood bank at Seven Hills hospital. In addition to this, the mandal has tied up with the hospital for Plasma donation. "We have tied up with Seven Hills hospital for plasma donation which is very important for coronavirus treatment," adds Dr. Pai.
The celebrations this year look and feel different but Dr. Pai believes that this is important so that we contain the spread of the virus as well.
Apart from daily pujas, the celebrations at GSB Seve Mandal also includes performances depicting Konkani and GSB culture. Myriad of competitions are also organized for all age groups including dance, singing, musical chair, drawing, and elocution competition. Well, this year several Bollywood musicians, who'd otherwise visit the pandal, will be performing for Lord Ganesha's devotees and this will be streamed live on YouTube and Facebook.
The visarjan proceedings every year takes place at Girgaon Chowpatty with scores of devotees following Lord Ganesha to bid him adieu. However, following the government norms, the immersion of the idol will take place at the ground where the pandal is built. An artificial pond has been made for the immersion. Dr. PAI says, "After the immersion, the water will be sprinkled at the land we have bought at Mira-Bhayandar to construct a hospital."
Missing the celebrations this year is heartwrenching for me but times are uncertain and all festivals this year will be relatively muted. One thing is for sure - we will get through this crisis and emerge even stronger.