Pune’s Ganesh festival needs out-of-box thinking
Acute traffic congestion caused by pandals erected during the Ganesh festival, and noise pollution in the city are issues that have been raised by Hindustan Times in its coverage. This newspaper has been calling for reforms which will help revive the glory of the 125-year-old-festival. Here is what our readers have to say about the issue.Updated: Aug 29, 2017 12:33 IST
“Festivals promote diversity, they bring neighbours into dialogue, they increase creativity, they offer opportunities for civic pride, and they improve our general psychological well-being. In short, they make cities better places to live”; David Binder.
Binder was a journalist for the New York Times from 1961 to 2004, reporting on a multitude of topics regarding Eastern and Western Europe, Soviet Union, the United States, Cuba and Puerto Rico. He served as a foreign correspondent in Berlin in 1961, where he reported on the building of the Berlin wall. No wonder, after seeing most of Europe from a journalist’s eye, he can describe festivals so perfectly.
I recall his quote because of our Ganpati Festival. During these ten days, the entire city undergoes a transformation; citizens forget their routine problems and everybody is busy in welcoming as well as worshipping Lord Ganesha in his or her best possible way.
It’s not just about household celebrations, what makes Ganpati festival of Pune special is the entire city’s celebration, with all the segments of the society together, irrespective of status, age, gender, caste and even religion.
Well, this was what Lokmanya Tilak (due respect even to Shri Bhau Rangari) had thought of this festival some 125 years back. This rich heritage is what makes Pune’s Ganesh Festival unique in the entire country.
A glorious past
Before looking at the face of today’s face Ganesh festival, let’s have a glimpse of the past. Some three decades back, the festival neither had the glitz and glamour nor the budgets of today, but there was a charm and flavour of family culture. Every segment of society and every age-group felt involved. The public mandals were not restricted to some society or wada, but the entire locality. A ‘mandal’ means a group of people from one locality, mohalla or ‘aali” (street) coming together socially. Each such ‘mandal’ has one common Ganpati apart from a Ganpati at home. All the entertainment events, right from various games and competitions to cultural programmes like debating competitions or dance to music programmes or movie screenings, were arranged keeping in mind social awareness.
Certainly, the pandals were well decorated but that was an end in itself. Money used to be generated through residents and shop keepers in the locality, but not forcefully. Enjoyment was certainly the main agenda of the Ganesh festival, but not at the cost of the anyone’s peace of mind. Every event was planned with the a budget in mind and most importantly, the object of the festival was fun, peace and togetherness of every segment of the society.
At the end of the 10th day, the ‘Visarjan Mirawnuk’ (immersion procession and ceremony of the Ganesh idol) was the peak of the festival. This procession brought real glory to Pune’s Ganesh Festival as people from the rest of the state, tourists and visiting foreigners came to witness this procession. Nearly a million people would pour out on Pune’s streets for the entire night and become a part of the procession.
Inception of politics in Ganeshotsav
There was one more aspect to this festival. Many political careers took birth through Ganpati mandals and this is where things started changing. Once the politicians realised that the Ganesh festival assured entry to people’s homes, (read vote bank), then the money started flowing in. Slowly, the families and social workers from the Ganesh mandals got replaced with ‘bhais’, dada and ‘yuva nete type’ (youth leaders) figures. As in politics, the capacity to collect or bring in more money become the criteria for being the prominent members or office bearers in the Ganpati mandals. With that came the rat race to spend millions on the decorations and souvenirs with glossy images of big political figures and celebrities. The neighbourhood families were no longer the centre of attention; the focus shifted to drawing more and more crowd to Ganpati mandals. The result was that women and families could no longer move freely in the crowds which flooded the roads to see the Ganpati mandal decorations or the immersion procession on the last day.
The entire focus, over the last many years, has been on flashy lighting, ‘walls’ of loudspeakers and the mandal volunteers dance in the ugliest (lewd is the proper term) manner to the tunes of raunchy songs.
Thus, the very purpose for which the Ganesh Festival was started is being defeated as it has become a tool for a few to show their ‘power’ to the society. This is my observation over the past 30 years in Pune.
Noise pollution and traffic obstruction
There is enormous noise pollution with the defeaning ‘dhol-tasha’ practice and the erection of traffic-obstructing pandals even before the festival begins. The pandals blatantly block important roads and streets not just for 10 days, but for nearly a month, disrupting the city’s traffic.
What needs to be done
I wish to ask every citizen, do we need so many mandals in the city? And if we do, is it necessary to block the city roads and cause sound pollution?
Why can’t we follow the example of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where at Dashahara Maidan, the effigy of Ravan is ignited on the occasion of Dassera? Or like the Global Village in Dubai where national pavilions of many countries are built on a huge ground displaying their culture and commerce?
Pune too can have a Ganesh maidan, a big open space outside the city and all the Ganesh mandals can have their pavilions there. This maidan can be connected with public transport. Spaces can be reserved for cultural as well as performing arts along with food stalls and sale of goodies.
On each day, prominent figures from the society can visit this Ganesh maidan and share their views with the public from a common stage. One single procession can be planned through the city like the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro on the last day which everybody can attend.