When Mumbai’s famous Lalbaugcha Raja Ganesh Mandal announced its decision to not install a Ganesh idol this year, it was clear that having large-scale Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations was the last thing that Mumbai had in mind. With the city battling COVID-19, organisers of most pandals are opting for muted celebrations or doing away with festivities completely.
Like the Lalbaugcha Raja, most pandals are choosing to organise blood and plasma donations camps instead of extravagant celebrations this year. This move has been widely lauded as small pandals packed with thousands of devotees are a safety hazard during the pandemic. Small businessmen who solely depend on the festival for their livelihood, however, are worried.
Devotees Swap Idols with Betel Nuts
Santosh Kambli’s family has been building the iconic Ganesh idol for Lalbaugcha Raja for the last 86 years. He respects the organisers’ decision to cancel the Lalbaugcha Raja Puja this year. “You have seen how narrow the lanes are in Lalbaug. We build the idol in Lalbaug itself and it is impossible to control so many people throughout the process, right till the immersion procession leaves,” he said.
However, the decision has definitely hit his business. Kambli usually supplies idols to anywhere between 20-25 big pandals. While the Lalbaugcha Raja idol is 14 feet in height, the rest are between 7-12 feet. All these orders stand cancelled this year.
"“My workshop is in Lalbaug but most of my clients usually come from Borivali, Thane and other far off places to buy idols. This year they are scared to risk this. Instead of opting for idols this year, they are planning on performing the puja on ‘supari’ (betel nuts) and ‘paan’ for their satisfaction and then probably visit the Ganesh temple close to their home. This supari will then be immersed.”" - Santosh Kambli, Idol Maker
Santosh Kambli now has about 125 orders from individuals for smaller idols anywhere between 2-4 feet in height but he is unsure if he can even deliver on that number. “Sourcing raw materials is another huge challenge. Our plaster comes from Gujarat and Rajasthan. The coir comes from Kerala but we can’t source most of it due to permission problems. How will we build Ganapati if we have no materials?”
Lack of space is another hurdle that Kambli and other idol makers in the city are faced with. Unlike in the past, sculptors are not allowed to build their idols in makeshift tents along the lanes or in large warehouses packed with hundreds of artists this year.
"“We can’t start our work without space to get the approval. I have a workshop but what about those poor idol makers who build their idols on temporary setups in the lanes? They rent these setups. But the BMC isn’t giving them permission to set up this year due to COVID-19. Where will they go now?”" - Santosh Kambli, Idol Maker
Kambli requested the civic body to rent out closed municipal schools to sculptors who can then mould the meagre number of idols commissioned to them.
Nanasaheb Shendkar has been in the business of supplying idols and decorations for four decades. He only manufactures eco-friendly idols and decorations made of clay and paper among other environment-friendly materials.
He sells 10,000 pieces of decorations every year ranging from Rs 250 to Rs 5,000. The cost was anywhere between Rs 4,000 to Rs 90,000 for 25-feet-tall mandaps. This year, however, sales have taken a hit. He has only received about 250-300 bookings so far.
“We are taking each week as it comes. We have not even increased the cost of our decorations. We have kept it the same as last year,” he said.
"“We have been getting some calls from people asking for small clay idols and paper decorations. We are not getting any calls from the big pandals for decorations because they are toning down their celebrations. This reminds of the Ganesh Chaturthi we used to celebrate about three decades ago when people bought small idols mostly for their homes.”" - Nanasaheb Shendkar, owner, Utsavi
Due to the lockdown, out of 70 employees, just 20-25 have been regularly coming to work.
No Pandals to Decorate
For over ten years now, Jayesh Jalgaonkar has been in the business of decorating pandals during Ganesh Chaturthi. He decorates at least three big pandals every year where he builds a stage using tables, uses bamboos to erect tents, and provide lighting and audio speakers. This year he is yet to receive a call from any of his clients.
"“Every year, we decorate wedding venues between March to June but this year, even that didn’t happen. This is followed by Ganesh Chaturthi pandals. Every year we work for about 6-7 months and this helps us tide over the rest of the year when there are no events and need for decorations. This year we have earned nothing.”" - Jayesh Jalgaonkar, decorator
The pandals built by Jayesh have varying budgets that could range anywhere between Rs 85,000 and 90,000. “If we deduct our costs, we get around Rs 15,000-20,000 per pandal after 11 days of Puja,” says Jayesh Jalgaonkar.
Despite no prospect of income in the near future, Jayesh has to repay a loan taken last year to fund his business and also pay salaries for three employees hired for the season. “They are not fixed workers but we hire them from January till August. I have been paying them every month. I can’t stop paying them. Their families run because of the salary I pay them,” he said.
. Read more on India by The Quint.Idol-Makers Worry as Ganesh Pandals Opt for Muted Festivities26,506 New COVID Cases Take India’s Tally to 7.93 L; Biggest Spike . Read more on India by The Quint.