Popular movies shape Ganesha avatars

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It is Saleem Basha’s busiest time of the year. The young electrician is racing to finish draping serial lights in a pandal that will house a huge Ganesha idol for the next 10 days.

Every year, Basha waits for this “big job”; he is entrusted with jazzing up several pillaiyar pavilions across the city. And he is not the only Muslim working overtime to ensure that Chennai celebrates Vinayakar Chathurthi in style.

“Vinayakar Chathurthi is a festival that creates thousands of jobs and brings together people of all faiths who work as a team to make it a success.

It is not just a time of intimidating processions and Hindu festivities; it is a celebration of communal harmony,” says Valasai K. Jayaraman, who has been involved in organising public festivities for Vinayakar Chathurthi for the past 22 years, when the trend had spread to Chennai from Mumbai.

“More than a century ago, Lokmanya Tilak popularised such a grand, public celebration of Ganesh utsav to encourage unity and brotherhood among Indians.

It looks like his ideals are still alive,” says Jayaraman, pointing out that it has become a practice for Muslims in several pockets of the city to greet the boisterous processions of Ganesh devotees with laddus and goodwill.

The Prince of Arcot, Nawab Muhammed Abdul Ali agrees with this sentiment. “The Quran clearly instructs Muslims not to abuse other religions’ Gods or deities; it teaches us to be tolerant and such national festivals re-enforce this ideology,” said the Nawab.

“During Eid, our Hindu and Christian friends join us for feasting and fellowship. Numerous religious leaders, including the seer of the Kanchi mutt, Sri Jeyendra Saraswathi, the archbishop of Canterbury and Sikh leaders from the golden temple at Amritsar have visited us at Amir Mahal,” he pointed out.

Vinayakar Chathurthi this year will see different forms of the “Remover of Obstacles”—a “Sevisaikkum Vinayakar” to rid society of all its problems, along with a massive date-and-nut Ganesha will take centre stage among 5,000 other colourful icons of the elephant-God that will be installed across Chennai.

“With so many problems plaguing our society, it is the right time to worship Lord Vinayaka to resolve issues like the Coalgate scam, the Koodankulam conflict, Tamil Nadu’s power crisis and our disputes with neighbouring states,” claims Valasai K. Jayaraman, referring to the 10-foot high Sevisaikkum Vinayakar that has been installed in front of the Sivan temple at Valsarawakkam.

Around 500 kg of dates and 200 kg of cashew nut, almonds, pistachios, cardamoms and dried apricots have gone into creating the giant 15-foot Ganesh idol in T Nagar. The elaborately detailed Ganesha weighs nearly a ton.

“The dates-Pillaiyar took three weeks to put together, and cost around `1 lakh. It is not only eco-friendly, but will prove a rare treat for the marine animals when we immerse it in the sea,” said Mr Jayaraman.

In a rather unconventional celebration of the festival, the Jaya Garden Friends Association in Perambur will donate their Ganesha sculpture to an ancient temple in Tiruvarur, instead of immersing it.

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