Mumbai: Blood and plasma donation camps, contributions to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund and felicitation of Covid warriors as well as soldiers who lost their lives in the India-China standoff in Galwan — this is how the organisers of Mumbai’s iconic Lalbaugcha Raja mandal, where lakhs come to pay their respects to the city’s tallest and most revered Ganesh idol, plan to celebrate the Ganpati festival this year. This is for the first time in 86 years that the Lalbaugcha Raja Ganpati idol will not be installed.
Given that Mumbai is grappling with Covid-19, the Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal has decided not to organise its mandal this year. As of 30 June, Mumbai has recorded more than 76,000 cases, of which more than 28,000 are active.
Sudhir Salvi, a functionary of the organising committee, told ThePrint, “There won’t be any idol this year. Instead we will do aarogya seva (health service). We decided to take this decision keeping all the devotees of the idol in mind. Their safety is of utmost importance and we need to avoid crowding.”
The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi falls on 22 August this year and the complete Ganeshotsav is celebrated for 11 days. Last week, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray directed all Ganesh mandals to restrict the height of the idols to 4 feet so that fewer people are required to transport the idol from the workshops to the places of installation. He also directed them to ensure there are no processions and crowding.
Blood and plasma donation
The Lalbaugcha Raja mandal organisers have decided to launch a blood donation and plasma donation drive instead of the traditional celebrations, and are in talks with Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEM) in Parel, adjacent to Lalbaug, for devotees to be able to donate their plasma. “We are close to finalising the arrangement. We will ask people to register with us for plasma donation and take them to the hospital,” Salvi explained.
KEM Hospital is one of the 21 hospitals that are part of the Thackeray-led government’s Project Platina, the world’s largest plasma therapy trial and treatment project for critically ill Covid-positive patients. As part of the project, the state government has also set up plasma donation banks.
“We have also decided to donate Rs 25 lakh to the chief minister’s relief fund upfront,” Salvi said.
Meanwhile, the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti, the coordinating committee for all Ganesh mandals in Mumbai, sent a letter Wednesday afternoon to the Lalbaug mandal organisers, urging them to reconsider their decision. In its letter, the committee suggests keeping a smaller idol, of 4 feet, to continue the tradition.
Honouring policemen, soldiers
Every year, lakhs of people from across Mumbai make their way to Lalbaug to pay their respects to Lord Ganesh, many walking long distances and standing in serpentine queues for long hours to pay their obeisance.
Until last year, Bollywood actors, politicians, wealthy industrialists and cricketers would typically be the VIPs visiting the idol, with a separate entrance for them and organisers keen on taking photos of and with them. However, this year, the VIPs for the Ganesh mandal will be the families of policemen who have died on duty while battling Covid in the city, and the families of soldiers who have lost their lives in the Galwan Valley clash with China.
“We are in the process of contacting the families of such policemen and soldiers. Unfortunately, given the current situation we will not be able to felicitate them in person, but we will do so online,” Salvi told ThePrint.