For 29-year-old Munira Shaikh, visiting pandals during Ganesh Chaturthi is nothing out of the ordinary. She has been pandal hopping during the Ganeshotsav ever since she was a kid.
“I cannot remember exactly how long I have been a part of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations but I was extremely young when I started visited pandals. Most of my friends are Hindus and if they are welcoming us into their folds happily, why can we not accept them and their religion?” said Shaikh. The resident of Jogeshwari and animal activist added, “Humanity comes first for me. I also go to churches.”
She is not the only one in queue. As Mumbai celebrates Ganeshotsav, people from different religions have not only been visiting pandals but also taking part in the ‘aartis’ and reciting ‘shlokas’ and even seeking blessings from the city’s favourite deity.
Hutoxi Fitter, 54, a former resident of Dadar Parsi Colony and Parsi- Zoroastrian, flies from Australia every year to be in Mumbai during the Ganeshotsav. She said, “I moved to Australia 10 years ago but I promised my Bappa that I will return every year to seek his blessings,” said Fitter.
During the ten days of the festival, Fitter’s daughter, 30, makes prasad and also attends festive ceremonies. “I remember most of the ‘aartis’ and ‘shlokas’ of Ganpati. I also sit for the four-hour-long pooja in the morning,” said Fitter.
Some of the others, however, are more discreet about their devotion. A 62-year-old Muslim woman from Khetwadi who did not want to be named said that she visits the Kumbharwada No. 4 Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal in Girgaum every year. “I met with an accident last year but I canot afford to ignore Ganesha’s call, even if it means coming to the pandal with a walking stick,” she said as she offered her prayers to the deity.
She also remembers how she was fascinated by the festival as a child. “I make sure I don’t eat meat for at least a day before I come to pray to Ganesha,” she added.
Forty-five-year-old Shajid Urankar, Ganeshotsav makes business meet pleasure. The resident of Sandhurst Road has been erecting Ganesh pandals for Chichbunder Dongri Sarvajanik Ganesh Mandal for about 10 years. Urankar said, “It has been many years since I am decorating the pandal. It is my business. Once you get into such business and work in such an environment for several years, you tend to like the festivities too and feel like a part of it.”