Urging people not to lower their guard against COVID-19, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Friday said he prayed to Lord Ganesh to destroy all "evil and negativity" as the festival dedicated to the deity began amid the pandemic.
With the start of the 10 day festival people welcomed Lord Ganesh in their homes and pandals in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra without any pomp.
This year due to the pandemic online 'darshan' has been kept to avoid gathering as the state government has made it clear it does not want to take any chances amid rising COVID-19 cases.
This is for the second consecutive year the pandemic casted its shadow over the Ganesh Chaturthi festivities with the government putting restrictions in place to avoid any gathering.
Urging citizens to strictly follow coronavirus norms, the CM said people's health was more important than any festival.
'We need to work towards eradicating the pandemic permanently by behaving as responsible citizens. In the last two years, we have been forced to impose restrictions in celebrations.
"People's lives and health are more important than any festival. I am confident Lord Ganesh, who is called Vighnaharta (one who removes all hurdles) will destroy the evil virus," he said.
Thackeray asked citizens to use the festival to launch a movement to get rid of coronavirus by staying alert and following all norms.
"Just like Lokmanya Tilak used the Ganeshotav to inspire people to fight the British, all mandals and organisations should use the festival to create awareness about virus and ensure it is permanently destroyed,'' Thackeray said.
He was speaking after performing the customary puja at his official residence 'Varsha' in south Mumbai, where he welcomed Lord Ganesh.
Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP reiterated his demand for reopening places of worship, saying livelihood of people associated with them was severely impacted.
The festival, the most popular and awaited religious event in Maharashtra, begins on Ganesh Chaturthi and ends on Anant Chaturdashi 10 days later with immersion of idols.
The Maharashtra government has banned physical 'darshan' of Lord Ganesh at community pandals (marquees) and said only online 'darshan' or telecast from pandals would be allowed.
Citing the COVID-19 situation, the Mumbai police have imposed orders under CrPC section 144 prohibiting assembly of five or more persons during the Ganesh festival between September 10 to 19.
No processions of any kind would be allowed in Mumbai during this period and devotees would not be allowed to visit Ganesh pandals either, an official statement said on Thursday. With PTI inputs)