Photographs: Mahipal Soni/Rediff.com Aditi Bose
If Kolkata has its Durga Puja, Mumbai has its Ganesha festival. Aditi Bose lists out her favourite Ganesha idols in the city.
The way Kolkata made me look forward to Durga Puja every year during my child hood, Mumbai taught me how to enjoy Ganesh Chaturthi. The four years that I spent in Mumbai, I loved the time of the year when the elephant-headed God visited us on Earth.
No matter how crowded the roads or the mandals, no matter how much of jostling amidst people or the smell of sweaty bodies, I made sure that I visited some of the mandals for sure. Here are the ones I loved.
Lalbaugcha Raja at G D Ambedkar Road
When I was new to Mumbai, my neighbour suggested that I begin my 'pandal hopping' with Lalbaugcha Raja in Parel. The Ganesh deity is not only one of the oldest, the most traditional but also one who fulfils the devotees' wishes.
I'm sure it does, because every time I visited it, the place was overcrowded. I was surprised to find people standing in long winding queues. A devotee told me that there was a special line too if I wanted to reach right till the idol's feet.
But I was alright standing with the aam janta. I was used to it after Durga Pujas in Kolkata. But it really surprised me to see that there existed another festival in India where such huge crowds thronged pandals.
As for the idol, in the four years (and others say even more) that I lived in Mumbai, I haven't seen any change in its form. That's what makes it special, I guess. The design, I heard from a relative, is now patent protected. Wow!
For those wanting to visit this mandal, choose the morning hours. The evenings and the night hours tend to get more crowded and the wait can stretch for over 8 to 10 hours too.
Ganesh Galli Mandal at Lalbaug
Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
The first time I had visited the Lalbaug Raja Mandal, I was surprised to find another one so close by. The Ganesh Galli Mandal, is in fact, an even older one. What I liked best about this pandal was the intricacy of its design.
It is known to make pandals which are replicas of various other temples and other famous places across India. The first time I visited in 2009, the pandal has been a replica of the Kedarnath temple.
Last year it was the Pashupatinath temple in Nepal complete with the twelve jyotirlingas at the entrance. It also makes one of the tallest deities in Central Mumbai and even organises blood donation camps.
The mandal remains most crowded from early afternoon till way past midnight. It's a little less during early mornings. But even then be prepared to wait. So I learnt.
Across the road is another pandal worth paying a visit to. It's a small colony called Tejukaya. What I found unique about this pandal was that it depicts the plight of the middle class. One year I saw the deity suspended mid air while the farmers were beating the drums below it! Spell-binding indeed.
GSB Seva Mandal at Matunga
Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
There are two reasons I loved visiting this one. The first is because of all its shine. Yes literally, the deity shone. Because it was decorated with ornaments made of pure gold! This mandal's idol is also an eco friendly one and is made out of clay. And extra point for that for sure. The second is because this pandal shuns any form of local or hindi film songs. Only South Indian traditional instrumental music is played.
Due to all the glittering precious metal, the security here is also more than beefed up with lots of CCTV cameras all round. The crowd also remains pretty controlled. So I didn't have to wait for long hours to get a darshan of the Lord.
This puja is held only for five days. So for those planning to visit, go there in the initial days as the number of devotees increases towards the end.
Ganraj Mandal at Khetwadi
Photographs: Courtesy khetwadichaganraj.com
This one is on the 12th lane. Each lane has its own mandal, so don't get confused. But I don't think you will, for this is the largest crowd puller of the region. They created history in 2000.
The idol they made that year was 40 feet high in the Parashuram avatar.
No wonder that year saw people going crazy just to see what the statue looked like! Like Lalbaug Raja, when I visited this pandal, I was stuck here amidst the crowd almost for the greater part of the day. It was tiring. But I loved the experience. Especially folding my hands in prayer in front of the Lord amidst the twinkling decor light during evening.
Andhericha Raja at Andheri
Photographs: Courtesy Andhericha Raja
Although the deity is not one of the tallest or the most bejewelled one, the pandal is one of the most lavish. I have a special soft corner for it. A personal wish of mine had been fulfilled after a visited it.
For those visiting it for the first time, like I had, I did enjoy seeing the novel ideas that it comes up with to construct the pandal. The one I remember most is when the Akshardham temple was replicated and a huge sand sculpture of the Padmanabha temple was placed at the entrance. Last year it was a replica of the Dilwara Temple at 004Dt. Abu. Almost jaw dropping.
Also, since this is the only one in Mumbai where the idol's visarjan happens one day later than all others, the devotees can get some more time to pay the Lord a visit here.
Ahkhil Mugbhat Ganesh Mandal at Girgaon
Photographs: Courtesy Ahkhil Mugbhat Girgaon's Facebook page
This one's different from many others in the city because the idol is not only huge but is also a shadu idol. Shadu means a type of clay that is got from Bengal and is used to make idols of Goddess Durga. That's makes this one an eco friendly one. Thus it gets my full support. And yes, I got to touch the idol's feet here. That makes this one seem more holy, more pious and less commercialized to me. I don't mind waiting in queues but I definitely don't like being pushed away and not being given any time to fold my hand in prayer. Thankfully, this one (and there are very few like this one) allowed me more than two full minutes of 'eyes closed prayer' in front of the Lord.
Avoid the late evening hours though because it tends to get a little too crowded. Especially post 7 pm in the evening.
Gaondevi Ganesh Mandal at Girgaon
This, more than seventy year old mandal, is located in an old lane in Girgaon. So, the location's not great. And even the pandal is small. I like this one especially for its flower decorations. It is not that other doesn't have it, but there's something different about this one. Maybe because compared to the others, it looks brighter and fresher each day.
Fort Cha Raja near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Photographs: Courtesy Kalasagar ARTS Parel Workshop
This mandal, also called the Ichhapurti Ganesh Mandal is around fifty years old. Well, I did have to wait a couple of hours even in the wee hours of the night but I had got such great reviews about it that I had to see it for myself. And when I did, I was left speechless at the grandeur of the mandal -- it was almost palatial.
Sahyadri Krida Mandal at Tilak Nagar
Photographs: Courtesy Sahyadri Krida Mandal
Started by a small sports club, today it is amongst the popular mandals of the city. It makes it to my favourite list especially for its intricately created décor. For example they have made pandals in the replica of the Mysore palace and the Red Fort. I also have an extra soft corner for this one because after a long morning of pandal hopping, I got to eat prasad here.
All said, all these pandals will make you wait. So either you do so as the many other millions do. Else many have the option of a special pass which will get you a quicker back door entry. But then, I feel, all the fun is lost.