Covid turns tide on India’s Ganesh festival traditions

Covid turns tide on India’s Ganesh festival traditions

In the quiet housing estate of Angrewadi in the heart of Girgaon in south Mumbai, people are celebrating the 100th consecutive year of the Ganesh Chaturthi, the Hindu festival of the elephant-headed god of new beginnings. Statues of Lord Ganesh are brought into homes and put on display for offerings and prayers.

On the 11th and final day of the festival, the ritual of Ganesh Visarjan takes place – falling this year on 1 September. The statues, normally made of soluble plaster of paris, are traditionally carried in a public procession with music and chanting, and are then immersed in either a river or the sea. Here, they slowly dissolve in a ceremony that dramatises the Hindu view of the ephemeral nature of life – but also causes widespread pollution.

In Mumbai alone, around 150,000 statues are immersed each year.Angrewadiresidents normally head to Girgaon Chowpatty beach, just over a mile away. Most statues from south Mumbai are submerged in these waters, including one particularly revered idol, Lalbaugcha Raja, which stands over six metres tall.

But not this year.

In Mumbai – one of the Indian cities most affected by coronavirus – devotees are not heading for the beach this year. Instead, Mumbai’s ngoverning body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), has installed more than 200 artificial ponds across the city so that the tradition may be upheld while preventing large crowds gathering.

Environmentalists hope these ponds, which will reduce pollution, will become a permanent fixture

“We will be immersing our eco-friendly idol in a small aluminium tub this year,” says DV Kulkarni, head of Angrewadi’s event-organising committee.