The days of the Ganesh idols towering over Mumbai at over 25 feet are over. Now, idols of Hinduism’s revered elephant god, the harbinger of good fortune, will not grow taller than 15 feet, the committee that oversees the festival has decided.
“Owing to various reasons, including environmental problems and traffic snarls, we have voluntarily decided that all gigantic idols of Lord Ganesh will be of a maximum height of 15 feet. Add to this a base of three feet, making the idol in its entirety only 18 feet,” Naresh Dahibhavkar, president of the BrihanMumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvaya Samiti (BSGSS), said.The 11-day Ganeshotsav starts Sep 11.
Dahibhavkar said that setting the height limit was a unanimous decision of representatives of all Ganeshotsav committees, social and public figures, artists and idol-makers.
For over 10 years, BSGSS has been urging the nearly 10,500 festival associations in the city to limit the height of the idols since tall idols led to accidents and claimed lives of devotees. Finally, they agreed to set a bar.
Members of several associations have welcomed the restriction. They said it would also provide a relief to the security personnel guarding the idols.
“In some Ganeshotsav marquees, there are private security guards along with police personnel, hand-held and door frame metal detectors and close-circuit cameras, which add to the cost of the celebrations,” said S. Dinkar, a former committee member of a Kandivli association.
Also, the smaller the idol, the lesser will the associations have to pay for it. “An 18-foot idol will cost Rs.75,000 on an average. For bigger idols, the cost doubles,” Dahibhavkar said.
However, the biggest issue is that large idols are difficult to handle while being carried through the narrow streets of Mumbai to the crowded beaches for immersion, he said. The procession creates traffic snarls and stops suburban trains for hours. The processions also have to take long detours to avoid the flyovers dotting the city.
Thus, the immersion process is slowed down. Usually, it takes the Lalbaugcha Raja (the famous idol of the Lalbaug locality) up to 20 hours to cover an eight-km way from Parel to Girgaum Chowpatty.
The problems continue even after the immersion, with many of the gigantic idols not getting dissolved in the seawater and washing ashore the next day, littering the beaches, creating environmental hazards and embarrassing the devotees.
Larger than life idols also attract viewers, who crowd the roads, balconies and rooftops all along the route to the beaches. Last year on Sep 11, an overcrowded roof of a shop collapsed in Parel, killing one person and injuring over 12, while the people were trying to have a darshan (glimpse) of the Lalbaugcha Raja.
Last year again, an idol was damaged while it was being transported on rain-hit roads to the marquee in south-central Mumbai. Many saw the incident as a bad omen.
“There was a competitive spirit among the associations, each vying to construct the tallest idol,” said Dahibhavkar.
In south-central Mumbai, old festival associations prefer the idols’ heights between 22 and 25 feet.
In Mumbai, the tallest Ganesh idol has stood at 32 feet, at a Ganeshotsav eight years ago.
The height race has spread to other parts of Maharashtra with gigantic idols being installed in Konkan, Pune, Jalgaon, Kolhapur and Thane.
“There were several reasons behind this obsession for constructing tall Ganesh idols. Large idols attract devotees, sponsors, celebrities and media,” said V. Shrikrishna, member of a Mira Road Ganeshotsav association in Thane.
Last year, BSGSS had under its umbrella over 10,500 public Ganeshotsav associations and 175,000 household Ganesh idols in the city. In the rest of Maharashtra, over 700,000 idols are worshipped and over 25,000 exported to devotees in different countries, said Dahibhavkar.
Started by freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1894 with a small idol, the festival today has transformed into a major social festival and tourist attraction centered around the community worship of Ganesh, the lovable, pot-bellied, four-armed god who is said to remove all obstacles from people’s path and bring them luck.
“The festival is no longer restricted to a particular state or community. It has transgressed social, religious, cultural and international boundaries and is an example of national integration,” Dahibhavkar said.