For the first time in over four decades since the trend of gigantic Ganesh idols started, this year, 99 per cent of Mumbai's top public Ganeshotsav organisers have decided to reduce the side of the idols, top office-bearers.
From the dizzying heights of 22-feet or 15-feet idols, this year all the idols in public marquees would be of a manageable average height of 3-4 feet tall only.
This would be in tune with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's request last week to the Ganeshotsav organisers to celebrate the forthcoming 10-day long festival -- starting from Aug. 22 -- with simplicity and focusing on public service in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"So far, barring the Lalabaugcha Raja and another organizer, all the other mega-mandals have adhered to the wishes of CM Uddhav Thackeray by agreeing to reduce the height of their respective idols to around 3-feet," BrihanMumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti President Naresh Dahibhavkar told IANS.
One such organizer, Lalbaug Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal Ganesh Gully Mumbaicha Raja, which normally installs a towering 22-feet tall idol has decided to reduce it by almost 6 times -- to just around 4 feet this year.
"The CM has made it clear that there will be no public immersion ceremonies permitted this year at the famed Girgaum Chowpatty, Juhu and other beaches due to the pandemic," LSUMGGMR Secretary Swapnil Parab told IANS.
Dahibhavkar said this is only the second time in the history of Ganeshotsav - which was launched as a public celebration by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1893 - that the festival will be drastically scaled down without the immersion ceremonies, and on both occasions due to an invisible disease.
"In 1896, Pune was hit by the killer Bubonic Plague which claimed many lives. So, people did not step out of their homes and celebrated Ganeshotsav indoors by worshipping the calendar photos or small portraits of Lord Ganesh in their homes, without the need for an immersion," Dahibhavkar said.
Parab said the Ganesh Gully Mumbaicha Raja celebrations started way back in 1927, but this is the first time the idol will shrink to such a small size.
When the festival started 93 years ago, this Mandal had already become reputed for its extra-big idols, particularly after the trend of gigantic idols started in 1977 with idols going through the roof with 18, 20, 22 feet and some even taller, as devotees gaped in awe.
"Only once, in 1989, it came down to around 15 feet since our revered artist, Dinanath Veling was unwell, but insisted on making the idol. Following medical advice not to overstrain himself, he made the 15-feet tall amurti'a It proved to be his last creation as Veling died the same year," Parab added.
This year, the government had hinted to the BSGSS and other organisers in the state to consider cancelling the celebrations, or postpone it to February 2021 when the Maghi Ganeshotsav is celebrated.
However, Dahibhavkar vehemently protested and pointed out certain historical and religious aspects of the celebrations to Thackeray.
"The upcoming festival (August 22) falls in the Hindu month of Bhadra, while the Maghi month will come in Feb. 2021. This means there will be two Ganeshotsav celebrations in one (Gregorian calendar) year - one in Feb. and other in Aug, next year. This was not acceptable as per religious tenets and traditions," Dahibhavkar said in a detailed explanation to Thackeray.
Moreover, many artists have already invested in making big, medium or small Ganpati idols of plaster of paris this year which will be banned from Jan. 1, 2021, and they would suffer huge losses, he pointed out.
However, other Mandals and organisers concede that given the pandemic protocols, the reduced dimensions of idols was the need of the hour, "since it is the faith in Lord Ganesha and not the size of his idol that matters" to the devotees.
The smaller idols would mean thinner crowds, lesser decorations, diminishing donations and fewer VVIPs who grace the Ganeshotsav celebrations - starting with the CM, union and state ministers, top film and business personalities - with lakhs waiting to gawk at them.