Ganesh festivities begin on a subdued note, BJP protest restrictions

Hyderabad: Every year on Ganesh Chaturthi, the celebrated Khairtabad idol gets a massive welcome by huge crowds. Rich and poor alike visit the huge pandal and offer their first-day prayers.

Ganesh Chaturthi, or Vinayaka Chavithi, kicks off nine to 10 days of festivities which end with the immersion of the idol. The centralized immersion procession of Lord Ganesha at the end of the 11th day is one of the biggest annual events of the city and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.

But this year the festivities are different.  

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Khairtabad idol is reduced to a humble nine feet, which stood at 61-feet last year, and celebrations began on a somber note. The pandal is almost deserted, except for a few volunteers who were seen wearing masks. As the state’s COVID-19 cases are on the rise, government-imposed restrictions made the festivities subdued.

Celebrations in history

Some historians believe that the earliest instances of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations can be traced back to the times when Satavahana, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya dynasties ruled the Deccan that is from 271 BC to 1190 AD. A few historical records also suggest that Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations were initiated by Chatrapati Shivaji to promote culture and nationalism. It was continued during the rule of Peshwas, for whom, Lord Ganesh was a family deity. But that was not in this part of the Deccan.

However, the celebrations were reloaded in the year 1893. Bal Gangadhar Tilak used Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival ‘to bridge the gap between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins.’ At a time when public social, political gatherings were banned by the British, he organised Ganesh Utsav as a religious, social, and political tool that served as a meeting place for people of all castes and communities.

In Hyderabad too, a small pandal with a one-foot Ganesh idol was set up in Khairtabad by a little known person S Shankaraih, who thought such celebrations would bring people together. And how that small celebration in Khairtabad grew in terms of size and popularity, is well-known.

The Bhagyangar Utsav Committee, formed in the year 1980 under the patronage of the then Chief Minster Marri Chenna Reddy, centralized the ten-day festivities in the city.

COVID-19 restrictions and politics

On August 17, the Telangana government announced that no Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in the state as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao said that no permission will be given for the mass installation of Ganesh idols at public places. Muharram procession (August 30) will also see similar restrictions. Hyderabad Commissioner of Police, Anjani Kumar tweeted that events at public places would not be allowed and asked the people to perform Ganesh puja at home.

BJP protests restriction on festival

However, the decision to ban Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations on a large scale as in the past ran into stiff opposition from the festival committees and Bharatiya Janata Party.

Bhagyanagar Ganesh Utsav Samithi general secretary Dr. Bhagwanth Rao insisted that Ganesh mandaps could be erected in apartments, gated communities, function halls, and bastis where COVID-19 did not spread. “There is no need to seek permission from the police for installation of the idols,” he said at a press conference and added, “a mere intimation to the local police station is enough.”

The BJP lawmaker from Goshamahal, T Raja Singh also opposed the restrictions on Ganesh festivities. “There have been reports that the COVID-19 pandemic might continue till next year. Does it mean that we stop praying and celebrating till then?” he asked.

Member of Parliament from Karimnagar and BJP State President Bandi Sanjay Kumar said the government was hurting Hindu sentiments by curtailing the festivities in the name of COVID-19. “When the lockdown was in force, the government allowed to celebrate Ramzan and is now curtailing Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. We condemn this anti-Hindu stand,” he said in a video statement.

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