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The economics of Ganeshotsav

The LPG cylinder has breached the ₹700 mark and comes for nothing less than ₹900 or so in the grey market. Yet, the fervour to celebrate Ganeshotsav does not seem diminished across Mumbai.

Updated: Sep 13, 2018 00:37:33

By Smruti Koppikar

Mumbai’s first Ganeshotsav has been popularly traced back to 1893, a year after it was recorded in Pune, driven largely by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. (HT PHOTO)

The prices of petrol and diesel have sky-rocketed and continue to rise by the day, making Mumbai one of the most expensive cities for fuel. The LPG cylinder has breached the ₹700 mark and comes for nothing less than ₹900 or so in the grey market. The state government’s ban on plastic and thermocol products – much needed but also vehemently argued against – has limited the number of items available in markets. Yet, the fervour to celebrate Ganeshotsav does not seem diminished across Mumbai.

Despite the bandh on Monday, three days before the festival could begin, and the squeeze that has come thanks to the high prices, markets have been crowded with shoppers, eco-friendly items from Ganesh idols to innovative decorations are being pushed, thermocol products are being sold at concessional rates – is it ethically okay to use banned items to please the god? – there are new variations of the traditional ukdiche modak on offer, and Ganeshotsav socialising has fallen into a league of its own.

Is Ganeshotsav Mumbai’s very own festival, a cultural marker beyond the religiosity? Is the pot-bellied, elephant-headed, modak-lover Ganesha the presiding deity (aradhya-devata) of the city, as a few historians have said and so many people believe? But how can this be? For, the city takes its name from goddess Mumba Devi who is worshipped with devotion and fervour.

The ten-day sarvajanik (public) Ganeshotsav draws deeply from history and politics. Mumbai’s first Ganeshotsav has been popularly traced back to 1893, a year after it was recorded in Pune, driven largely by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. This happened on the back of Hindu-Muslim riots that year and was a shrewd way to challenge the British regime’s allowance to Muslims to gather for Friday prayers.



However, there may have been public celebrations earlier. Bombay Gazette of 1886 has descriptions of “crowds who carried in procession an infinite number of idols of the god Ganesh. Each little quarter of the town, each family with its adherents organizes a procession of its own... A crowd, more or less numerous, accompanies the idol, clapping hands and raises cries of joy, while a little orchestra generally precedes the idol”.

The early beginnings show that Ganeshotsav was a political act. A private religious celebration had been given a public character for political reasons.

From there, the festival has been politicised to a point where rival political parties or politicians compete to host a pandal, offer a popular television or film star as the day’s attraction, draw in lakhs of devotees and generally turn the ten days of religiosity into a mega event. Every aspect – idol, decorations, programmes, music, procession and immersion – is over-the-top.

Who isn’t familiar with sarvajanik pandals, so many of which are erected with money often extorted? Many of them encroach on roads, flout civic rules, violate Noise Rules. When corporates and real estate companies began to sponsor pandals, the commercialisation of the festival reached a new peak.

Now, there are prizes running into lakhs offered by politicians and corporates for the best decorated idol or pandal or the most creative one or whatever they fancy, there are Ganeshotsav discounts on apartments and white goods, there are special accesses to sought-after pandals, the pandals themselves are the season’s best advertising platforms, and, of course, the queues at iconic venues such as Lalbaugcha Raja are longer than ever.

What has happened over the years is beyond commercialisation. There is now a Ganeshotsav economy in which a number of people have a large stake, investments are made and realised, trade does not get dampened even by high prices because it happens in the name of the god, and the economy allows the channelling of scarce resources into a pre-decided event.

It’s a pity that there isn’t a comprehensive and long-term study yet of the economics but if there was one, it would show the buoyancy – or the lack of it – in the city’s economy.

So, over the next ten days, there will be talk about high prices, bad roads, and poor management of India’s economy but none of these may reflect in the celebrations or the lusty cries of “Ganpati Bappa, Morayya”.

First Published: Sep 13, 2018 00:37:24

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