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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lalbaugcha Raja

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most important and widely celebrated festivals throughout India. However, it is in Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai that the 12 days festival has its own aura and grandeur. With the passing years the Ganeshotsav has acquired a kind of religious, social and cultural movement. Among all the Sarvajanik Ganeshotsavs, the Lalbaug Ganeshotsav in Central Mumbai has acquired a unique place in the heart and minds of the people of Mumbai.

Lalbaug Ganeshotsav is one of the most popular Ganesh Pandals in Mumbai. The 14 feet tall Ganesh idol erected here has been popularly known as ‘Lalbaugcha Raja’. The huge Ganesh idol owes its popularity to its reputed ability to gratify the wishes of its devotees. It is visited by millions of people during the 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival. The main attraction here is a golden crown of two kg, golden bracelets and other gold ornaments.

There is a curious background regarding the origin of the ‘Lalbaugcha Raja’ Ganeshotsav. The organisation, formerly known as ’Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal, Lalbaug’ was founded in the year 1928, because of a vow (Navas) for construction of the present Lalbaug Market at its existing place. The market place at Peru Chawl was shut down in 1932. Hence, the fishermen and vendors who used to sit in the open place vowed to Shri Ganesh for a permanent place for their market. Due to the efforts of the local Councillor-Late Kuwarji Jethabhai Shah and other community leaders and local residents, the landlord-Rajabai Tayyabali agreed to give a plot for construction of a market. As fulfilment of their wish, the fishermen and the traders established the Ganesh Idol on 12th September 1934 for the first time. The first Ganesh idol was dressed in the customary fashion of a fisherman. Since that day, this Lord Ganesh has become popular as it is believed that he fulfils the wishes of devotees.

Every succeeding year the popularity of ‘Lalbaugcha Raja’ went on increasing. The idol of Lalbaugcha Raja has been represented in various forms reflecting the times since its inception in 1934. In 1946, the Ganesh idol was dressed as Netaji Subhashchandra Bose. In 1947, Shri Ganesh was presented in the garb of Jawaharlal Nehru riding a bullock cart and in 1948 he was made to look like Gandhiji . But after that the surrounding exhibits started getting importance and the idol rose in height.

After independence in 1947, the agenda of the Mandal was modified. With ever increasing number of devotees making offerings in the form of cash, the collection went on increasing and the Mandal decided to contribute its surplus fund for social causes. The Mandal made donations to the Kasturba Fund, the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Fund in 1947 and to Bihar Flood Relief Fund in 1959. It is the first Mandal to contribute one lakh rupees to the ’Army Central Welfare Fund’, in 1999 for the families of the soldiers who scarified their lives to uphold the dignity of the Nation at Kargil. The Mandal has been donating huge amounts of money for national and social causes, deserving institutions and even individuals for medical expenses, education, etc.

During the ten days of the Ganeshotsav, millions of devotees from all over Mumbai and even from remote places in Maharashtra come to Lalbaugcha Raja for fulfilling their vows or seeking favours. People wait in the queue to seek Lalbaugcha Raja’s blessing for hours together. Reportedly, over five to six lakhs of devotees visit for the ‘darshan’ everyday during the Ganeshotsav, usually forming a queue which goes up to eight kilometres in length.

However, from this year the Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Mandal has hired two grounds adjacent to the pandal, where over 25,000 devotees can be accommodated. The grounds have seating arrangement so that the devotees don’t have to stand in a line. This arrangement is a relief to not just the devotees, but also the residents of the area. On an average, during the 10-day Ganpati festival, over 15 lakh devotees turn up at Lalbaug daily. Of these, over 60 per cent are ‘navas’ (those who have taken a vow) devotees.

In view of the terrorist threat the security arrangement around the Lalbaugcha Raja has also been tightened up with the help of 1500 Mumbai policemen and 5000 private guards of the Mandal.

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