While Mumbai is famous for its Ganesh utsav pandals, Hubballi is unmatched in Karnataka when it comes to the grandeur of the Chaturthi celebrations of the elephant-headed god.
Held over 11 days, lakhs of people from smaller towns in the region and surrounding districts flock to Hubballi to have the darshan of special Ganapati idols, some of which are more than 20 feet in height, idols made of over 120 kg silver along with gold oraments, artistic idols, specially designed sets that resemble popular tourist spots in the country and colourful immersion processions.
Hubballi city alone has the highest number of community Ganesh pandals, and it nears the 1,000 mark if combined with its sister town of Dharwad.
Name any street in the city in the central commercial district or residential areas, and there is at least one community Ganesh pandal where residents and merchants in the vicinity are involved in the celebrations. With a few exceptions, Ganesh Mandals in cities orgaise more grand celebrations and attract larger crowds.
According to the figures available with the Hubballi-Dharwad Police Commissionerate, a total of 944 community Ganapati idols would be worshipped in the twin cities, including 653 idols in Hubballi city itself. In addition, Ganapati idols will be worshipped in thousands of households.
Attractive idols, special decorations and cultural programmes make the festival an attraction, involving the youth from all communities. Not just in public places and on the street side, idols are installed in apartments, colleges, hostels and government offices, including police stations.
A glimpse into the past
Narayan Pandurangi, a samiti member of the Krishnendra Mutt Sarvajanika Ganeshotsava, said: “There are documents to prove that Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak met Sri Siddharooda Swamiji in Hubballi in 1919, and motivated the people to celebrate community Ganeshotsava. First such event in 1919 was inaugurated by him at the old revenue collection office (Mishrikoti Mahalkari) in old Hubballi, and later its was shifted to Datta Mandir at Krishnendra Mutt."
Amaresh Hipparagi, honorary secretary of the Hubballi Shri Sarvajanika Ganeshotsava Samitigala Mahamandal, said: “With Lokmanya Tilak’s inspiration to start community Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, the first celebration was held at Datta Mandir at Krishnendra Mutt at Old Hubballi and by the railway employees."
As the festival became popular gradually, special lighting, cultural programme and other attractions started pulling people from outside. Now, people visit Ganesh pandals almost throughout the day.
In the 1970s, the trend of installing big idols began at Durgadabail, Hipparagi recalled. Shri Gangadharendra Swamiji of Moorusaviramutt (MooJaGam) started the Mahamandal in 1974, bringing all Ganesh Mandals in Hubballi together, to award prizes for the best idol to encourage artists, to organise immersion procession in a systematic way and to improve facilities at the pandals.
In the last decade, Hubballi has become the centre of Plaster of Paris (POP) idols which usually come from Kolhapur. With a lot of effort, a ban on PoP idols is being implemented over the last three years, and a new pond to ensure a systematic immersion of idols is being developed.
Along with Chitragar, Badiger and other communities who prepare Ganapati idols, Appu Pal and his team from West Bengal arrive in Hubballi to make idols. Pal's speciality is in making huge idols covered with clay brought from Bengal. Bamboo sticks and dry grass are filled inside these idols.
Awareness programmes to make Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations meaningful and eco-friendly have slowly started yielding results. At Gokul village in city limits, where 13 Ganapati idols were installed, this time there will be only one idol. The number of PoP idols has also come down drastically. Also, some Ganesh Mandals have decided to go in for simple celebrations.
Seed-idols, colourless clay idols, immersion in pandal and other eco-friendly initiatives are being taken up in Dharwad.
Some Ganesh Padndals have set the standard by immersing idols at an earlier date and using folk troupes instead of DJs. Thousands of people, music, dance, fireworks and a series of processions are the specialities of idol immersion processions. Traffic congestion is common on these days.
To encourage immersion of idols by dusk, prizes are being awarded to Ganesh Mandals. This is being done to encourage the participation of women in larger numbers during the processions.
Though some people visit Ganesh Pandals with devotion, some come to see the sets, lighting, idols of different variety and beauty, and some just for the "fun" involved in processions.
As farmers have come out of the grips of continuous drought, more people are expected to visit Ganesh pandals in Hubballi this time during the 11-day celebrations. Usually, community Ganapati idols in Old Hubballi area are immersed in the ninth day, while those in the city market area are immersed on the 11th day.
Along with a couple of major ponds, 86 small wells and ponds have been identified for immersion. Security has also been beefed up as Muharram also falls during the 11-day period. A single-window system is also in place this time to give permissions for Ganesh Mandals.