By Ali Abbas:
There is a power cut, Wi-Fi is down, roads have been blocked and traffic jams are everywhere. No, Hyderabad has not been hit by a natural calamity. It is just preparing to host Ganesh Chaturthi. There are not one or two idols of Ganesh, but an army of such idols everywhere.
Like most Indian cities, Hyderabad is developing its infrastructure. So, presently most of the roads in Hyderabad are congested, there are heavy traffic jams, low-lying cable lines, inadequate parking space and a lack of traffic sense. So, devotees have to help their lord reach his place without being hit by a low-lying cable or being electrocuted. This results in a lot of inconvenience for the daily commuter.
Idols of Ganesh are huge. The size ranges anywhere between 10 and 20 feet. So, devotees arrange his glittering and extravagant makeshift throne on the roadside or by blocking one side of the road for nine days.
The noise of bhajans reaches each and every home in the locality and till the seventh sky, where god resides in a non-idol form. So, loud speakers are essential elements of Ganesh puja. But with so many pandals situated close to each other, it becomes a fusion of bhajans.
On the ninth day, when Lord Ganesh is submerged into the filthy waters of the tank bund, the city’s water area, entire Hyderabad comes to a standstill. After that, it takes weeks to remove all the debris and restore the city’s popular picnic spot.
This was not the case during my father’s childhood. Yet, this is how major festivals of Hindus and Muslims are today. Urs, Ramadan, Muharram, Diwali and Holi.
Over the years, the essence and the real messages of festivals have been lost. Unsurprisingly, it has become a source of inconvenience for the people.
About half a kilometre from where I live is the Dargah of a much respected Sufi saint. My grandmother, ever since she was a child, used to visit there to offer her respects. People used to recite the verses of the Quran together and distribute food and sweets amongst the poor residing at the Dargah. For the last few years, the Dargah’s Urs celebrations have become very similar to Ganesh Chaturthi. Lighting, loudspeakers, beating of drums and long processions.
My Hindu friend asks why he has to listen to noises for the whole night during “Jagne ki Raat” or Night of Worship during Ramadan. I think he is right. Mosque is the designated place for worship. But the mosque is not a place from where God’s merciful words should be forced on the entire locality.
During Eid-ul- Adha or Bakri Eid, I see many houses draining away the blood of a sacrificed sheep on the roads. Milad-un-Nabi, the birthday of Prophet Mohammed has become a cause of trouble to people of other religions. One of the key messages of the Prophet is to not cause unnecessary inconvenience to animals or fellow human beings.
Shia Muslims predominantly mourn the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson Imam Hussain. Community remembers the immense sacrifice made by him to save Islam and remain on the right path.Make a visit to the old city of Hyderabad from the eighth to the tenth day of Muharram and one will see plastic water pouches, tea cups and disposable plates littered everywhere. What will shock you is the amount of food being wasted and thrown on the road by the followers of Imam Hussain.
The role of police and authorities in this entire ‘tamasha’ is to provide safety to the participants of the festival. I pity the policemen who stand on duty for 24 hours and bear all this holy inconvenience.
In my view, for the larger good of society, following measures should be taken:
1. Strictly ban the use of loudspeakers for religious, political or business purposes. Prophets and saints never used any loudspeaker to spread their message. They inspired people through their deeds.
2. Prohibit use of public roads and lanes for any religious gathering or for processions. Blocked roads not only affect daily life but also causes problems in situations of emergency.
3. Community grounds can be used for the celebration of festivals.
4. Religious leaders should actively discourage lavish spending on customs and festivals and should encourage community service and welfare.
5. Implementation of laws which exist.
But it is a difficult task to question these blind believers. They may ridicule you or may even turn violent against you. The biggest threat is from your own community. You are also challenging the most powerful centres of power. Religion, politics, and business. Since all three go hand in hand, more tamasha will only serve their purpose.