Ganesh Chaturthi is being celebrated in Mumbai today (September 10) but in a muted fashion due to the COVID-19 restrictions ordered by the Uddhav Thackeray led Maharashtra government. CNBC-TV18 went on the ground to gauge the impact.
Ganesh Chaturthi is perhaps the biggest festival in Mumbai. Every year, the city is dotted with pandals around this time, with loud music, processions and festivities in the air, but for the second year in a row, celebrations are muted due to the COVID19 pandemic. There are barely any pandals being set up this year, and households too, are keeping it low-key.
Amid fears of a third wave, the BMC has banned the physical darshan of the deity at Pandals and has allowed only online darshans. This has come as a major disappointment for pandals where preparations were in full swing after year’s lull. Sanjay, one of the organisers of the Khetwadicha Ganraj pandal says that constantly changing rules have made it difficult for them to plan celebrations, and the latest order has come at the last minute after they made all the expenditure in setting up a big pandal with social distancing and COVID hygiene protocols.
“We've been working on this for 2 months to bring all the materials. We even ensured fully vaccinated members would manage the pandal. But if you don't allow people to physically visit, then there's no meaning of the festival. The expenditure is done. If we were told earlier, before granting permissions that these will be the guidelines, that darshan won't be allowed, we wouldn't have done so much. Not just us, there are many throughout Mumbai and Maharashtra who were hoping to celebrate better this year and spent the money,” says Sanjay.
Muted celebrations have also hurt idol makers and stores who sell them. After disappointing sales last year, they were hoping to make up this year with the second wave receding. But this year has turned out to be worse, with some seeing sales fall by over 80 percent compared to 2019. Sushil Vaste who runs an idol-making business called Eco Shree Ganesha says orders from both pandals and households have drastically fallen this year. “Celebration has become less. Families have seen a lot of death, so many are not celebrating out of fear. Govt has also mandated only eco-friendly idols, so many are buying small idols and many haven't even bought, so the sale is down,” adds Sushil.
The idol making business too has been hit. An industry that engages workers through the year to make idols for this one festival is struggling to make ends meet. At times when raw materials' costs have risen, they’ve built up inventory that is now lying mostly unsold. Sushil, who also has a loan to pay back, says paying workers at his factory in Bhayandar also has become a challenge and if things don’t get better, he may be forced to shut shop.
Sushil, who also has an export business too, says that most of the orders that he would get from countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the US have stopped this year. Many are opting for much smaller idols that they prefer making at home with clay and while he would usually send a few 100 idols to countries such as New Zealand, he has barely gotten 20-30 orders this time.
Smaller vendors, who depend on the accessories and décor that goes with the idol have also been hit. Biren, who makes and sells Mandaps in which idols are placed and offers flower decoration has been sitting by the road since morning in Andheri West but has not sold a single piece yet. The 20 pieces he made on Wednesday remain unsold, and he says business overall is down by over 50 percent. Even customers who do come, are now bargaining a lot more this year, which he says is impacting sales as he cannot sell them for so cheap.
“Earlier we would make and sell at least 150-200 pieces. We’ve been doing this décor work for over 100 years, but what money we made back in the day from making just 10 pieces, today even after selling over 50 pieces, we make around the same. But I will not make a profit this time. Even prices of flowers and the material keep getting costlier. Other celebrations also reduced, so there’s barely any work,” says Biren.
Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in households too are low key this year with families opting for smaller celebrations within their homes. Fears of a third wave have meant that they’re also avoiding calling people over for pujas and celebrations. ‘Pandal hopping’ that many do during the 10 days of Ganesh Chaturthi will also not happen this year due to the ban on physical darshans. So be it meeting friends & relatives, or visiting their favourite pandals, virtual & video calls will be the way to go this year as well.