It’s just two days to go for one of the biggest festivals, Ganesh Chaturthi (September 19), to commence. Across the city, several sarvajanik Ganesh pandals have already welcomed Bappa and are waiting to open the doors for public darshan.
And, while pandal hoping is certainly on the itinerary for Mumbaiites and tourists, one of the must-visits this year is Lalbaug Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal, Ganesh Galli. Fondly called Mumbaicha Raja, the 22-foot tall Bappa, is one of the oldest pandals in the city. Founded in 1928, the Mandal is celebrating its 96th year of inception with a special theme. “Since 2023 also marks 350 years of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation, to celebrate the important historical event, the theme is centred around Maharaj with a recreation of the Raigad Fort as it was during his reign,” informs Adwait Pedhamkar, Joint Secretary, Lalbaug Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal. “This is done purely from imagination, so if you compare the Raigad of today with our model, you won’t find similarities. To erect the structure, we have used fibre and eco-friendly materials. There’s no PoP used,” he adds.
The pandal is known for its elaborate décor and unique themes. Last year, the pandal recreated the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Varanasi. So, how is the theme selected? “We start planning from May. The committee members ponder over different options and arrive at a consensus. When we came to know about the coronation, we chose that as our theme. It’s our tribute to a great personality who played a crucial role in shaping the historical and cultural trajectory of our state,” Adwait shares.
The Ganpati idol is sculpted by Satish Walivadelar and the set is by art director Aman Vidhate, who has recreated Raigad.
Just the way Shivaji Maharaj is an integral part of the state, the Mumbaicha Raja, too, is one of the most revered Ganpati Bappas of Mumbai. Along with its other famous counterparts, the pandal sees over two lakh devotees making a bee-line for darshan.
Ganesh Galli has always been famous for its tall stature. Taking us back in time to speak about when it all started, Adwait recounts, “In 1977, late Master Dinanath Veling, famous for making tall idols, made a 22-foot Ganesh idol, which was placed in Ganesh Galli. It was then the biggest idol in India as well. We have carried forward that legacy and the height hasn’t changed since then. That time there wasn’t any elaborate theme or décor, since the donation wasn’t much. It was a simple pandal.”
However, with changes in time and the rise of grand themes and lavish décors, the sarvajanik pandal too transformed. “We started the tradition of special themes in 2002. It was, of course, possible because of the monetary donation we receive from devotees. Some so many people can’t travel due to various reasons. We try to recreate different places for them,” he informs.
There’s a lot been said about the PoP ban and a more sustainable approach towards the festival. Talking about the same, Adwait says, “We have adopted sustainable and eco-friendly ways. However, we have maintained the height of the murti because it is a part of Lalbaug Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal’s legacy. It has nothing to do with competition as to whose Bappa is the tallest. We also ensure that visarjan is done on the same day during low tide so that we can go deep inside the sea. Then again, it is up to each pandal how they want to celebrate the festival.”
Ages ago, before commercialisation changed the dynamics of the festival, chal chitra (motion picture or statues) was an integral part of the décor. Social messages were conveyed through them. One rarely finds this unique display these daysin sarvajanik pandals. “And, there used to be small one-two minute-long stories shown through a projector on a particular topic of person. It was truly a nice way to engage the devotees and children. However, today, it is difficult to implement that. For instance, over a lakh devotees visit our pandal. That’s a huge crowd. Now, if we put on even a minute-long video, it will take a long while for the devotees to move,” he says.
“There’s hope for these to comeback and it’ll be interesting to see technology playing a role in it. We will strive to retain as much of the traditional Ganeshotsav celebration as possible,” he signs off.