Hyderabad Diaries: Ganesh Festival 2011

Continued from Part 5

Like most parts of India, the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Hyderabad too, are very grand each year. Attractive idols of Lord Ganesha are installed, and pujas are performed, in elaborately decorated ‘Ganesh Pandals’ all over the city. And, as per tradition, the idols are taken out in a procession and immersed in one among the many water-bodies that adorn the city – with the immersion being carried out on the odd days of the festival. On the 11th day, which is the final day of the festival, all the major Ganesh idols are immersed in the Hussain Sagar Lake in the middle of the city.

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The excitement and commotion, in fact, begins long before the actual festival. As the festival approaches, one can find groups of young boys, with notebooks and receipts books in their hands, visiting the neighborhood houses for contributions. ‘Anna, Ganeshuin Chanda’ becomes a familiar call [Honestly though, for the last few years it has been ‘Uncul, Ganeshuin Chanda’, but that would be a different story, reserved for another day!].

Ganesh pandals are arranged and organized by colonies, apartments, office complexes, individual offices, and even at a few homes. Varied reports suggested that this year, the number of such pandals in the city, were somewhere from 40,000 to exceeding 50,000. They come in all sizes, and while some of them are simple, most others have a theme, with elaborate settings effectively portraying the theme. These pandals are required to obtain prior permission from the Police, and permissions are granted subject to terms and conditions, to maintain peace and order.

Prominent Pandals

Among all the Ganesha pandals put up in the city, the most popular, and the most prestigious one is the one put up by Ganesh Utsav Committee at Khairatabad, close to Hussain Sagar Lake. Popularly referred to as the ‘Khairatabad Ganesh’ it is the tallest in the city and a must visit for most Hyderabadis. On evenings and weekends, the entire area is chockablock with serpentine queues leading one up to the idol. With vendors swarming the place selling everything from toys for children, to snaps of the ‘Khairatabad Ganesh’, the entire area becomes lively and resembles a mela.

The pandal organized by Lorry Owner’s Association near YMCA-Siddi Vinayaka Temple is the most prominent one in the Secunderabad area, followed by two pandals that come up opposite to each other in the RP Road, near City Light Hotel. Every area and every locality, has its own, popular pandals. Every year a group of my friends come together to organize the Ever Green Association Ganesh Pandal in Malkajgiri, and this year, they celebrated their 30th year immersion procession.

Every year, pandal organizers also compete with each other to set up pandals with interesting, refreshing, and creative themes. This year too, one got to witness many such themes – some traditional, some not so traditional. The Khairatabad Ganesh pandal had a replica of Ananthapadmanabha Swamy idol (which became more popular after its hidden treasures were revealed recently), along with Lord Shiva and Parvathi. One pandal at RP Road had a simple Shirdi Sai Mandiram theme, while the other one had an elaborate Vamana Avatharam theme. Each one had its own flavor, and was remarkable in its own way.

Ganeshas 2011

Like every year, this year too, Lord Ganesha idols came in different sizes, and different themes. A few of the notable ones were:

  • The Khairatabad Ganesh measured over 50 feet, and was seated on a ‘Garuda Vahanam’, sheltered by 18 snakes with their hoods open. The organizers claimed that the ‘Vishnu Roopa’ avatar of Lord Ganesh was installed this year, seeking universal peace and harmony.
  • One pandal in RP Road had Lord Ganesh featured with Lord Shiva and Parvathi.
  • Lord Ganesh made of paper cups.
  • Lord Ganesh with idols of Anna and supporters, appearing to be on a fast seeking abolition of VAT on textiles.
  • Dry fruit Ganesha, made of about 51 kgs of dry fruits.
  • 10 headed, 30 foot Ganesha, with each head supposedly depicting a virtue.
  • Ganesha decorated with Diamonds and precious stones.
  • Cricket playing Ganesha, and many more…….

My personal favorite of this year, though, was the black based ‘Balaji Ganesh’ idol at MG Road.

Laddu Auction

A popular trend noticed in recent years is the ‘Laddu Auction’. Every year, a huge ‘Laddu’ is placed on the palm of the Ganesh idol by the organizers. On the day of the immersion, the laddu is auctioned off publicly to the highest bidder. The recent, tremendous growth in the popularity of these auctions is attributable to both the faith among believers that the ‘Laddu’ will bring with it prosperity, as well as the fact that today winning the auction is seen by some as a status-symbol, and short-cut to publicity. These are so popular that the auction of Laddu at ‘Balapur Ganesh’, which is considered as the pioneer of this ritual, is telecast live on all local channels on the day of immersion.

And just the record, this year at Balapur, the Laddu was auctioned for a price of Rs.5.45 Lakhs. The laddu auction fetched Rs.9.10 Lakhs at Ameerpet, and Rs.6.20 Lakhs at Badangpet. At Khairatabad, though, this year the organizers decided against conducting an auction. Instead, the laddu was distributed as prasadam to all devotees on the day after Immersion of the idol.

Immersion Day

The main immersion day, which falls on the 11th day of the festival, is a public holiday. All roads lead to the Tank Bund.  Before the immersion procession begins, most pandals have the customary ‘uttu’ ritual (uriyadi, in Tamil). While the target is supposed to be a pot filled with gifts, these days a fancy star is hung for the participants to aim at.

The main immersion procession begins around noon on that day, and continues late into the night. Most times, it often continues well into the morning of the next day. This year, the procession went on till 3 PM on the next day, at which time, the last idol was immersed! Needless to say, on that day the entire Tank Bund area is crowded. These days, the immersion procession is also telecast live across all television channels.

The immersion day is a tense day for the Police – both Traffic, and Law & Order. Elaborate arrangements are made by them to face the challenges that arise on that day, and everyone heaves a sigh of relief after the immersion procession is completed peacefully.

The ‘Environment’ Debate

As in other places, Hyderabad too, is becoming aware of the environmental hazards of erecting idols made using non-degradable materials and synthetic dyes. These idols have been polluting the water bodies in which they are immersed. The campaign to shift to environmentally safe idols keeps picking up with every passing year. It is hoped that in a few years, the festival would be celebrated using only environmentally safe idols.

Ganesh Festival is an integral part of Hyderabad’s culture. If you happen to be in Hyderabad during that period, make sure you don’t fail to at least visit the Khairatabad Ganesh or witness the main immersion procession. It will surely be an experience.

To be Continued …..

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