As hammer and chisel beat down inside rough sheds and smoothen them into magnificent pandals for Lord Ganesh, the grim reality beneath the glitter is not immediately visible.

Top-notch Ganpati mandals are feeling the heat of inflation like never before. One of the biggest pandals, Ganesh Gully in Lalbaug, has reluctantly substituted its long-time artisan for a new one because he quoted a rate that was merely 5% over his nearest rival. Elsewhere, renowned art directors are reusing raw material and foregoing eco-friendly innovations because mandals are finding few donors this season.

As they watch the Chamundeshwari temple go up in their lane, Ganesh Gully organisers are happy to have retained their fabled grandeur and saved some money as well. “We are not scaling down our celebrations, but it would also be false to say that inflation has left us untouched,’’ says spokesperson Swapnil Parab. “Gone are the days when advertisers would line up to donate. So, we floated tenders and opted for a decorator who was willing to do the same job for less.’’

A few hundred yards away, Lalbaugcha Raja is a rare exception that has not had to cut corners this season. “Ours is a rich mandal with a turnover of Rs 17 crore,’’ says former president Sunil Joshi. “But smaller mandals are weighed down by rising costs of the idol as well as electricity and decoration.’’

The Kambli family of moortikars has been crafting Lalbaugcha Raja since its inception 76 years ago. “Preparing this idol is akin to prayer so we do not even think of costs. As far as the rest of our business goes, as we pay more to night shift workers or buy costly raw material, we find that costs have risen 30-40% over the previous year,” says Santosh Kambli.

Shrinking profits are bothering professional art directors who design Ganesh mandaps. Art director Kiran Bhadekar, who designs for top Thane politicians, says, “We hire labourers from the film industry and pay them daily, and the difference this year is palpable.’’

Leafing through a picture album of his grandiose replicas of Parliament House or Sheesh Mahal, one would never know the worries that designer Manoj Govekar is battling. “In times when households can barely afford to buy vegetables and milk, Ganpati celebrations have become a luxury. Moreover, the business of Ganeshotsav depends on charity. This season, volunteers went around requesting donors to pay Rs 150 against Rs 100 last year given how costs had risen. In turn, the donors asked them to make do with Rs 50 for they were facing a financial crunch too,’’ says Govekar.

For the past four years, Govekar has been using the same piece of fibre by colouring it over. Several innovative materials and ideas are on hold as mandals wait for economy of scale to reduce costs. “I have come across an eco-friendly powder chemical, which can replace thermocol. Moreover, it can be reused for 25 years. However, it requires an initial investment which no mandal is willing to make this year.’’ Now, get trained by priest in PERFORMING POOJA

If you are thinking of bringing home a Ganesh idol this year but do not know how to go about performing the various poojas, here’s help. An increase in the number of home-bound Ganesh idols and shortage of priests during Ganesh Chaturti festival has prompted a Virar-based private trust to conduct lessons on how to perform poojas at home.

The four-year-old Young Stars Trust, a group of youngsters from Virar, has put up banners asking people to enrol for their free Ganesh pooja classes ahead of the festival beginning September 11. Said a resident, “We have to hunt and book a priest at least two to three months in advance. Yet, there is no guarantee that the priest will make it as they are in huge demand. The Ganesh pooja has to be performed in the early mornings and at different intervals during the day. Most priests are lapped by big Ganesh mandals that pay them good money. In a single day, a priest conducts at least 10 to 15 poojas, rushing from one place to another.’’

At least 30 people who bring home Ganesh idol have already enrolled for the classes, which are conducted for around three hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Right from installing the idol to performing the various poojas, the recital of mantras and offerings to be made to the elephant God will be taught, said Rajendra Pathak, the priest who will be conducting the classes.

In fact, the trust has asked families bringing home the idol to contact them in case they find it difficult to get a priest. Those trained by the trust may also be asked to help other families in performing poojas during the festival. The poojas to be performed before the immersion of the idol will also be taught. TNN