The Khairatabad Ganesh pandal was established by freedom fighter Shankaraiah in an attempt to bring together the people of the region.

How a 1-foot idol set up in 1954 in Hyderabad became Indias tallest Ganesh idol
news Culture Monday, September 09, 2019 - 17:41

As one alights at the metro station in Hyderabad’s Khairatabad, the otherwise not-so-busy lanes are teeming with crowds eager to get a glimpse of what can be called India’s tallest Ganesha idol.

With Ganesh pandals set up in every nook and corner of the city and every pandal organiser trying to sculpt an idol taller and larger than the previous year, the Khairatabad Ganesha, at 61 feet, stands the tallest among them all.

As the city revels in Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, the Khairatabad Ganesh pandal in itself is a Mahotsavam. The religious fervour among people is palpable in their frenzy to get a glimpse of their favourite god, with generous donations being offered to the Rs 1-crore worth idol. Around 150 artisans worked to sculpt the Ganesh idol, using almost twice the amount of Plaster of Paris compared to last year.

While there are environmental concerns regarding the making of the statue and its immersion in the Hussain Sagar lake (the idol is now as tall as the Buddha statue), the eventful history which turned a small Ganesh pandal into a landmark place of worship is worth a look.

S Sudarshan, chairman of the Khairatabad Ganesh Utsav committee, recounts anecdotes from 1954 when his brother Shankaraiah had first set up a small pandal, with a tiny one-foot tall idol to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi.

“My brother was a freedom fighter and believed that such celebrations can bring the people of an area together. The pandal brought together a large number of people in Khairatabad as it was more of a venue for exchanging ideas and thoughts than a place of worship. But as the years passed, the celebrations grew bigger and the height of the idol grew by a foot every year. By 2014, the idol was 60 feet tall and we decided to stop making the statue any bigger. In 2018, the idol was only 57 feet tall. But this year, after repeated requests from devotees, we built a 61 feet tall idol, and in the coming years too, we hope to maintain the same height and not disappoint the devotees,” Sudarshan says.

Among pictures of former organisers on display at the pandal, one can find Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel occupying prominent positions on the banner.

“It was Tilakji who turned Ganesh Chaturthi into the celebration we witness today in India. During the pre-Independence era, when public gatherings were banned by the British, Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations were a means to bring people together from different regions. And freedom fighters like Tilak and Patel actively encouraged these processions, albeit in the name of religion. This practice came to an end after Independence but was again resumed in 1954, when Hyderabad too probably got its first Ganesh pandal,” Sudarshan narrates.

Every year, the Khairatabad Ganesha assumes a different avatar. This year, 150 workers were brought in from West Bengal, Bihar, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to sculpt the Dwadashi Aditya Maha Ganapati avatar, with 12 heads and 24 hands, believed to bring good weather and rains to the state. The organisers expect at least 5 lakh people to visit the pandal this year.

The famous laddoo prasadam

If you think the idol in itself is a spectacle, Khairatabad is also famous for its laddoo prasadam – this time the offering weighing as much as 750 kg! In 2015, the laddoo weighed 6,000 kg, which even had people coming from Pakistan to see it.

This year, one of the pandal organisers says that the humongous laddoo placed at the foot of the idol is an offering from a devotee in the city.

Until last year, the laddoo was an offering from Malli Babu, a devotee from Andhra Pradesh, and the prasadam was famously known as the Tapeshwaram laddoo. However, this year he backed out citing transportation issues and complaints from devotees of not being able to get a bite of the offering.

As crowds swarm, special arrangements have also been made to manage devotees with even the state police stepping in.

“Over years, the crowds have gotten so huge that we have 40 CCTVs in place to monitor the entire premises,” Sudarshan says.

As commercial as the pandal gets each passing year, there is one thing that hasn’t changed over time – the first Ganesh pandal that was put up by Shankaraiah almost six decades ago. The spot today is a quiet temple with a small Ganesha deity, far away from the gaze of the serpentine queues waiting to get a glance of the 50-ton idol.

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