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Swine flu infects Ganeshotsav festivities

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LOW-KEY CELEBRATIONS.

Alka Kshirsagar

Pune, Aug 14 With alittle over a week to go for Ganeshotsav, due to begin on August 23, swine flu is casting its dark shadow on the public avatar of the festival, which sees the involvement of over 4,000 mandals, attracts nearly 25-40 lakh visitors to Pune and accounts for an estimated turnover of Rs 400 crore.

The mood everywhere in Pune is sombre, and it is evident that Ganeshtosav 2009 will be sober, subdued and stripped of the customary lustre.

Hatti Ganpati, a prominent mandal, has already announced its intent to dismantle the pandal, do away with the usual elaborate lighting, decoration and tableau, and substitute the public ceremonies with a low-key pooja of the Ganesh idol in the adjoining temple. Meetings and discussions are under way, and several others are expected to follow suit.

Though the 10-day festival has been celebrated publicly for over a hundred years — since 1893 to be precise, in recent years it has evolved into an important socio-cultural event which draws hordes of people from surrounding towns and villages to make an annual pilgrimage to the big city.

Lakhs are driven by reverence to the God who removes all obstacles; almost as many come just to see the grand spectacle.

“This year, the general recession and drought conditions would have affected the turnout,” says Sham Marne of the Akhil Navipeth Hatti Ganpati Mandal, adding that the swine flu is reason enough to call off celebrations altogether.

According to Appa Suryavanshi, trustee, Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati Mandal, some 40-50 lakh devotees throng the temple during the 10-day festival. He puts the totalspend on sweets, clothes and donations at around Rs 400 crore.

“Most of this is through small donations, though some of the top mandals also get sponsorship,” he says, adding this may be hit with the usual crowds missing this year.

A large number of local workmen are directly or indirectly dependent on this 10-day extravaganza: mandal erectors, decoration specialists, lighting technicians, sweetmeat makers and flower vendors to name a few.

Though the vanguard — the mandal builders — has already got down to work on some streets, the next few days will determine just how lacklustre things will be.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 15, 2009)
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