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Virtual prayers, sanitised pandals: Ganesh puja in the time of Covid

On Friday, a day ahead of Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival that kicks off the 10-day Ganeshotsav celebrations, the pandal is almost deserted, except for a few volunteers and workers milling around in masks.




Every year on Ganesh Chaturthi, when ‘Mumbai cha Raja’ is brought to Ganesh Gully, in Mumbai’s Lalbaug area, the idol is welcomed by huge crowds of the faithful and deep-throated chants of “Ganpati Bappa Morya”. Not this year.

On Friday, a day ahead of Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival that kicks off the 10-day Ganeshotsav celebrations, the pandal is almost deserted, except for a few volunteers and workers milling around in masks.

Adwait Pedhamkar, joint treasurer of the Lalbaug Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal, which manages the pandal, admits this has to be among the most subdued celebrations.

As the city’s Covid count climbs steadily, the Ganesh pandals, a defining feature of Mumbai’s streets around this time of the year, are bracing for low-key celebrations.

While the larger pandals usually see upwards of 400 visitors a day, this year, the organisers are urging devotees to stay at home, promising to live-stream proceedings on social media platforms.

Talking of the Covid protocol that will be put in place at the Ganesh Gully pandal, Pedhamkar says, “By evening, we will have markings on the floor for social distancing, touch-free sanitiser dispensers and oximeters and thermometers. Senior citizens and children below 10 have been asked not to visit the pandal. They will be encouraged to watch Bappa online,” he said.

This year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) received 2,350 applications for setting up Ganesh pandals – it usually gets about 3,500 to 4,000 – of which it cleared 1,820.

On July 11, the BMC issued a list of guidelines for mandals, including a cap of 4 ft on the height of Ganpati idols (2 ft for idols at home); a ban on offerings of flowers and garlands; sanitising pandals thrice a day; and ensuring only five workers are inside a pandal at any given time.

At Keshavji Naik Chawl in Girgaum, home to Mumbai’s oldest Ganesh mandal, the Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha established in 1893, volunteers are putting up fairy lights on a colourful canopy below which a 2.25-ft-tall Ganesh idol will be installed on Saturday. “Ours is a small pandal. We usually get only 40-50 visitors a day, but this year, there is a risk if that number rises. That is why we will try to control the number of visitors,” said Vinod Satpute, a resident.

Andheri cha Raja, another famous pandal in the city’s western suburbs, usually hosts Atharvashirsha Pathan, a prayer recital session that sees at least 200-250 women on stage. This time, the prayer session will be done online and streamed live, said the mandal’s secretary, Subodh Chitnis.

He said the mandal is yet to take a call on whether to distribute prasad. “We have let the prasad sit for 72 hours, hoping that will take care of the virus, but we still haven’t decided if we should distribute it,” he said.

(With inputs from Sanjana Bhalerao)

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