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Good Lord!

mumbai Updated: Sep 18, 2011 00:46 IST
Aarefa Johari
Aarefa Johari
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Ganpati season may have ended with last week’s immersions, but for thousands of Ganesh mandals, phase two of the festival has just begun. With the donation boxes emptied out, mandal volunteers have been busy counting notes, weighing gold and auctioning various gifts from devotees to the Lord.

At big mandals, the total amount of money collected runs into several crores every year, which they claim is used for various charitable causes.

Most devotees, however, show little or no curiosity about where their money goes once it is dropped into the donation box. For Lalbaug resident Deepti Karangutkar, well-intentioned faith is all that matters. “I put in my money for God alone. If there are corrupt people among the mandal authorities, they will have to face the consequences from God,” said Karangutkar, 30, an accountant at a clothing store who is a devotee of Lalbaugcha Raja and the Ganesh Galli idol.

Sociologists believe such unquestioning acts of faith help individuals feel like they are giving back to the society to which they belong. “It makes them feel good,” said Gita Chadha, a city-based sociologist.

Free health camps throughout the year
Considered the second-most popular mandal in the Lalbaug-Parel area, the Ganesh Galli mandal claims it uses its funds for local cultural celebrations such as Navratri and Diwali, preparing and performing other religious ceremonies during the year, and conducting various health camps throughout the year.

“From December to February, we will have free health camps for cancer check-ups, eye testing and cataract operations, as well as a blood donation camp,” said Swapnil Parab, secretary of the mandal. “These health camps are open to people from all over Maharashtra.”

The gold and other jewellery donated to the mandal is kept aside by organisers for adorning the next year’s idol.
Every mandal is expected to submit an audit report to the charity commission, but Ganesh Galli claims it also has an internal audit conducted by three people selected by local residents.

A guest house for relatives of the sick
The city’s most popular mandal collects enough money and gold to fill a whole room, and is still counting the total worth of this year's donations.

Last year, the Rs 17 crore that Lalbaugcha Raja collected was used to set up a dialysis centre and a public library for the underprivileged, both of which were inaugurated in Lalbaug six months ago. This year, they plan to use Rs 4 to 6 crore from their collections to set up a free guest house for relatives of patients admitted to KEM and Tata Memorial hospitals.

“The guest house will be more like a dharamshala, open to all,” said mandal president Ashok Pawar. “We are just awaiting permissions from the civic authorities.”

Pawar claims that the remaining funds will be deposited in the trust’s treasury for preparations for next year’s Ganeshotsav. Part of the money will also be used for several charitable activities such as health camps and educational scholarships, which the mandal will plan during the course of the year.

Hospital, school, ashram, photo frames
Considered one of the richest Ganesh mandals in the city, GSB Wadala organisers claim they never weigh or place a value on the gold donated by devotees.

"We just check the gold for purity and then use it to make more ornaments for our idol for the next year," said Ulhas Kamat, trustee and secretary of the mandal.

Nearly 60% of the cash collected - Rs 3 crore this year - is used to arrange for meals for more than 1.4 lakh devotees visiting the idol during the festival. "We also use some of the money to make photo frames of our idol to gift our devotees and the ministers visiting the mandal," said Kamat.

The remaining amount is put into the corpus fund of GSB Wadala's charitable trust in Panvel, called Shantikunj Sevashram. The ashram houses a free public hospital, a school for the underprivileged and an old-age home. These institutes are open to all.

A new college, medical and educational aid
This mandal is popular for the Vedic pujas it conducts for individual devotees, who pay anything from Rs 305 to Rs 4.55 lakh per puja depending on its nature and length. With more than 45,000 pujas conducted during the festival, this becomes the primary source of the trust's funds.

For the past six years, the mandal has been putting its money into a corpus fund meant for building a college in Mira-Bhayandar, to be named the Sudhindra Academy of Global Education. “We have already purchased 10 acres of land for the college, which will be ready by 2012 or 2013,” said the mandal's spokesperson Dinesh Pai.

The mandal also offers educational and medical aid to anyone applying for it, besides maintaining a fund for senior citizens and natural calamities.