Lalbaug cha Raja
The most well known and prestigious ganesh utsav in all of Mumbai which attracts maximum visitors, people are known to wait in queue for darshan (glimpse) of the idol for 12 hours, whereas a queue for a pooja (ceremony) can take 1 day, with entire families: grey hairs and toddlers and new-borns all in the seemingly unmoving line.
In 1933, the Kolis (fisherfolk) had a open air fish market at Peru Chawl, on the opposite side of the road and were asked to vacate when the Government acquired the land and allotted it to Bombay Gas Company. The kolis who worshipped Lord Ganpati in the same market up until 1930, begged their god to help them get another patch of land to continue their livelihood. They promised to install his idol if their wish were fulfilled. In answer to their prayers, the Government allotted a piece of land nearby the very next year… True to their word, the kolis installed a Ganpati idol at Lalbaug market, dressed as a fisherman in 1934.
The utsav has gone in scale from then and exponentially from the year 2006, queues are organized into the fast-moving Mukha Darshan line (for a quick peek) and the Navas line (for offerings on stage), which starts two days in advance! Ritual offerings and prostrations take time and people wait patiently, sometimes 15-24 hours to see the Lord.
Preparations begin months in advance as per procedure through meetings and tenders. After muhurta pujan in mid June, there’s a collection drive for funds, sponsors and advertisements and by July 1st week pandal preparations begin.
Earlier, darshan was easy in the first 5 days with queues only up to the road. Now, it’s increased tenfold, with crowds of 7 lakh from day 1, building up to 10 lakh a day. Over 3,000 volunteers help cops manage the flow. The line may seem never-ending, but at a time 200-500 people get darshan in a minute. Despite the scale of operations, due to Lord Ganesha’s blessings, nothing untoward has happened. It’s almost like the Maha Kumbh of Mumbai, only Much bigger.
The Lalbaug cha raja is unique because despite its size of 16 feet, it serves as the puja murti. Venkatesh Kambli, a JJ School of Art alumni, gave Lalbaug cha Raja his legendary serene appearance. Now into its 80th year, his nephew Santosh continues the tradition. “Unlike the stereotypical pot-bellied figure, we have a slim Ganpati which is not overweight. he looks like a real person. He has a smiling face and bright small eyes. His posture, a slightly tilted body, reflects the personality of a benevolent king. His expression has the smile of recognition and pleasure in seeing his subjects.”