New Delhi/Mumbai: Silly season or the festive season, it is the same thing in Maharashtra as the 10-day Ganesh Puja celebrations mean a time when all work stops and the world waits until Marathi Manoos are satiated with the festivities and return to work. The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is being celebrated across the country with great devotion today. The day marks the birth of Lord Ganesha, who is considered an embodiment of wisdom, prosperity, good fortune and widely revered as the remover of obstacles. It is a major attraction in Maharashtra, where people celebrate it with great zeal, pomp and religious fervour.

But this time various restrictions are in place due to the Covid pandemic. Mumbai and the neighbouring areas have been witnessing heavy rains since the last few days. The downpour continued on Saturday morning, but people stepped out to bring home the idols of the deity amid chants ‘‘Ganpati Bappa Moraya’’. In some areas, firecrackers were also burst to welcome the Lord. The installation of the deity was done as per the rituals this morning.

Asianet Newsable took a whirlwind tour of the suburbs of the Maximum City to witness the mood and read the pulse of puja mania. We talked to several Bollywood singers-composers to share their experiences of Ganapati Festival this time, who are dwelling for many years here and some of them are budding singers struggling in Mumbai to carve a niche for themselves.

Dr Shailesh Shrivastava, a well-known versatile singer who resides in Goregaon West said, ‘‘Ganesh Chaturthi festival has begun on a low-key note this time and the dreaded pandemic COVID-19 seems to have dampened the puja spirit. The state government has appealed to public pandals to keep the festivities simple. It has also appealed to curtail the height of the idols. The aesthetically pleasing decoration in households and pandals is making way for optimism and a feeling of divinity to take charge with the recitation of religious hymns in an otherwise sombre environment due to the global pandemic.’’

Dev Rathore, a noted Ghazal singer and composer, who lives in Lohkhandwala, Andheri West said, ‘‘Amid the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on public movement, the 10-day Ganesh festival finally began in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra. But the usual pomp and glory is missing this year. The Maharashtra government has issued guidelines regarding Ganeshotsav celebrations, saying that processions should not be taken out before installing and immersing the idols of the deity. It has also said that the heights of Lord Ganesh idols installed by sarvajanik (community) mandals and at household-level should be limited to four feet and two feet, respectively, this year. As a result, the number of people coming out in the market to buy Ganapati idols for installation in their houses, housing societies and sarvajanik pandals, was limited. The usual spirit and fervour of the festival was relatively low this year.’’

When asked, being a singer and composer, what he is doing to mellow the pandemic induced mood of hostility and uplift the morale of young kids, Rathore said, ‘‘We have composed more than hundred songs during this corona crisis for children. The animated film songs on Lord Ganesh will surely have a mesmerizing effect on them.’’

Shashika Mooruth, a bhajan singer said, ‘‘The usual pandal decorations in the city are missing this year and cultural events have been replaced by public awareness programmes and health camps by the mandals. People place clay idols of Lord Ganesha in their home and worship them during the 10-day long festival. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray also welcomed Lord Ganesh at his official residence ‘Varsha’. Some celebrities and political leaders also installed the idols at their places. But the mood is not so enthusiastic this time as it used to be earlier.’’

Harpreet Kaur, a budding singer and disciple of ‘Bhajan Samrat’ Anoop Jalota, who hails from Varanasi and now lives in Mumbai, said, ‘‘In Maharashtra, the day of Ganesh Chaturthi marks the commencement of the 10-day Ganesh festival. The chants of ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’, ‘Mangal Murti Morya’ are reverberating from various corners, streets and alleys of Mumbai and adjoining areas. The aroma of laddoos and modaks specially prepared to offer to Lord Ganesha is making the festival more prepossessing. Irony is heavy downpour for the last few days and Covid-19 has played spoilsport this time.’’

Ishita Mitra who hails from West Bengal is well versed in Rabindra Sangeet. A disciple of Anoop Jalota, she now lives in Mumbai for many years. She said, ‘‘Due to the subdued celebrations, small businesses that thrive during the festival, like flower vendors, sweet shops, outlets selling decoration items, imitation jewellery, transporters took a hit. The pandemic also affected several others, including artistes and transporters. However, in some popular marketplaces like Dadar in central Mumbai, people still came out in large numbers to purchase material required for decoration, puja rituals in the last couple of days. Lalbaugcha Raja, Mumbai's best-known sarvajanik Ganeshotsav mandal, cancelled the festival this year in view of the pandemic, while Wadala’s GSB Sewa Samiti, considered one of the richest mandals in the metropolis, postponed the celebration to ‘Magh Shudh Chaturthi’ in February next year.’’

Meanwhile, President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu have greeted people on Ganesh Chaturthi. Kovind said, the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha, is an expression of people’s enthusiasm, joy and forbearance in taking every section of the society along on this occasion. He said, at present we are facing the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The President hoped and prayed that Lord Ganesha blesses everyone to overcome this pandemic at the earliest possible and we all live a happy and healthy life. On this festival, he called upon people to pledge to strengthen mutual harmony, fraternity and unity among all citizens of the country.

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu said, Lord Ganesha is revered as an embodiment of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. He said, people invoke Lord Ganesha and seek his blessings to remove obstacles in the path before they begin anything new. Naidu said, though huge processions and gatherings are the hallmark of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, this year, people must strive to tone down the celebrations in view of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged fellow citizens to strictly adhere to COVID-19 physical distancing protocols and maintain good hygiene while celebrating the festival. The Vice President hoped that this Ganesh Chaturthi will bring peace, harmony and prosperity in the country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted people at the auspicious festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. In a tweet, PM Modi hoped that the blessings of Bhagwan Shri Ganesh will always be upon people and there will be joy and prosperity all over.

And, last but not the least, while TV channels and FM radio stations have overtaken the culture of pandal music, the clampdown on decibels has also contributed to the change. Imagination and craft combine in awesome ways to produce fantastic pandals housing the deity. Football, cricket, natural calamities, international and national events all find place either in the structure of the pandal or in the gorgeous lights that frame the pandals. And though rising prices have acted as brakes on the display of imagination, nothing can dampen the carnival spirit, many believed.