Hyderabad braces for mellowed Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi festivities are likely to be smaller and home-centric, as authorities appeal to avoid public celebrations, in the wake of COVID-19

Ganesh Chaturthi festivities, which will commence in Hyderabad on August 22, are likely to be low-key this year. Endowments minister for Telangana State, A Indrakaran Reddy, animal husbandry minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav and Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar have all urged people to refrain from public gatherings, as the State continues to grapple with COVID-19.

While it will be a wait-and-watch situation to gauge whether Hyderabad will comply with social distancing guidelines and have fewer pandals across the city, it seems certain that the celebrations will be mellowed and virtual darshans are being planned. Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation has been stepping up the campaign to make more people use smaller clay idols for homes.

Necessitated by the pandemic, will the city revert to intimate, home-bound celebrations like it used to back in the 80s, before the pandal culture grew in popularity and the 11-day festivities culminated in grand idol immersion processions to different water bodies in the city, particularly Tank Bund? A few who have been promoting eco-friendly lifestyle, assert that small is big and less is more.

Back to the soil

Bhargavi Bijjam uses turmeric, rice flour and maida for the idol  
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Special arrangement

In recent years, Bhargavi Bijjam, a vocal supporter of effective waste management, has been encouraging residents in her gated community in Chandanagar to celebrate the festival with minimal wastage. Flowers, turmeric, kumkum and other puja items are assembled in reusable bowls. Residents bring food offerings in steel/reusable plates and vessels. Plastic is a strict no. “We try to avoid food wastage by taking turns to make the prasadam,” she says.

While the gated community installs an idol made of clay, Bhargavi makes an idol using turmeric, maida and rice flour for her home. To drive home the point that festivals can be minimal waste celebrations, on Instagram Bhargavi demonstrated how the flowers she used for Varalakshmi puja later went into compost and used to nourish the soil. “It feels good to celebrate without harming the environment,” she adds.

Of mellow yellows

An idol painted by Sravanthy Anand using vegetable dyes  
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Special arrangement

Sravanthy Anand has been sourcing clay Ganeshas from an artist in Vijayawada, and like every year painting them using turmeric yellow, kumkum red and a hue of green derived from combining spinach, hibiscus and a variety of jasmine.

The recent incessant rains have posed a problem with the colours not drying well enough, but Sravanthy has been at work, trying her best. She’s adept at making Ganesh idols for car dashboards, but for the festival where idols need to be made using clay in the vicinity of water bodies, she liaises with an artist who uses moulds to carve the perfect idols.

“All the idols have been pre-booked and I am giving the finishing touch with minimalist natural colours,” she says.

The idols Sravanthy decorates are from four-inch to one-feet tall. She says, “There’s a slow but growing awareness among people to use clay idols. However, some of the idols commonly sold in the market tend to be mixed with cement to make the idols durable.”

Virtual darshan

Elsewhere, in Gautami Enclave in Kondapur, the residents plan to continue their eco-friendly celebrations like the previous years. At the end of the festivities, the residents immerse the idol in a common small water body within the gated community. This year, a virtual darshan is in the works for the residents.

File photo of a clay idol installed at Gautami Enclave last year  
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Says Krishna Mohan, general secretary of the gated community, “This year we have planned a one-day celebration owing to the pandemic. A 3.5-feet clay idol will be installed in the park and only one couple will attend the puja, while others can view it live through our residents’ Facebook group. We plan to immerse the idol in the community park area.”

In Hyderabad of yore, festivities were smaller and home-centric and clay idols were immersed in wells or nearby water bodies before the Maharastrian style of installing pandals in public spaces caught on, remembers Anant Maringanti of Hyderabad Urban Lab: “Bonalu had bigger celebrations back then. The competitive spirit of Ganesh festivities began with the communalisation of Old City,” he says.

He also looks at the rise of pandals and public celebrations of festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi and Dasara in Hyderabad through the socio-economic prism: “As more residential colonies came up in what used to be a city of farm lands, hills and water bodies, the poor who had no voice felt alienated. Festivals are occasions during which they began taking to public spaces without the fear of being stopped or questioned. Gradually, the middle class also joined in the celebrations for a sense of belonging to community-driven festivals,” he points out.

Toned-down celebrations this year will hopefully help curtail the further spread of COVID-19 cases.

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