The streets are almost deserted. An eerie silence is emanating from the lanes of Mumbai. No big pandals housing majestic Ganesh idols. A newcomer to the city might not even know it’s Ganeshotsav, one of the grandest festivals celebrated with much enthusiasm throughout Maharashtra, the South too; for the last 5 years even in West Bengal, Orissa, Assam. In fact, the preparation for the festival begins almost a month in advance in Mumbai. Markets are abuzz with devotees shopping for their beloved Bappa. But, this year, the coronavirus pandemic has played a spoilsport.
I, for one, am not at all happy with the new normal. Every year, I wait with much enthusiasm for Ganpati Bappa to come home — it is the only festival that I am excited about. But, this year, there is a general lack of festive cheer, which rubbed off on me as well. It began with the change of size and make of our idol — from shaducha (clay) Ganpati we moved to one made with alum. From 14-inch we came down to 7! From the usual table that we use for Bappa, we moved him to a smaller wooden plank. With minimal decoration, while the Bappa looked completely at home and ease, it was the lack of usual décor and fairy-lights that kept playing at my conscience. His visarjan on the fifth day was equally interesting. Every year we go walking to Girgaon Chowpatty, the closest visarjan spot for us. Following visarjan, gorging on pani puri and kulfi at Chowpatty is a must, a ritual of sorts. This year, owing to the restrictions on visarjan and paranoia about social distancing norms not being maintained at public spots, we immersed Bappa in a bucket at home! While many have been doing the same for years, for me it was a first — a first which I prayed, ironically to him, was the last!
In fact, many sarvjanik (public) ganesh mandals have either cancelled the celebration or reduced the number of days they keep the idol for — it’s mostly eleven days for such mandals. And, the ones who have brought Bappa, and with the restriction on the size of the idol by the Maharashtra government, the pandals have become smaller. Every year, during Ganeshotsav, almost every lane and street in Mumbai is home to towering Ganesh pandals and equally towering Ganesh idols.
With social distancing having made inroads into our lives, it had also affected the way we pray to Bappa. Just the way I am missing all the flurry of activity on the streets and at home, I am sure Bappa too is missing the inflow of thousands devotees who come to seek blessings. There were no visitors home or there was no paying visit to friends’ and relatives’ places for darshan. This, has gone virtual too. With many conducting pujas, aartis, with relatives and friends over video calls. In an attempt to reach out to several devotees, sarvajanik ganesh mandals have opted for social media platforms by streaming online darshan of Bappa.
With no permission for visarjan miravnuk (immersion day procession) the four visarjan days (one and a half day, fifth day, sixth day, which was Gauri-Ganpati visarjan and seventh day) were silent too. While I am sure Bappa isn’t exactly missing loudspeakers blaring item numbers the whole day, but he sure must be missing seeing new faces everyday. And, this makes me wonder what the last day visarjan will be like. No sea of people on the roads bidding adieu to bappa, while dancing away to the beats of dhol-tasha.