Mumbai and rest of Maharashtra shifted into a festive gear with the arrival at homes and public places of thousands of big, medium and small idols of the elephant-headed Lord Ganesh for the 10-day long annual Ganeshotsav on Monday.
The festival, initiated in an open public format in 1892 by Mumbai’s Bhausaheb Laxman Javale alias Bhau Rangari, enters the 125th year.
It was popularised on a mass scale by freedom-fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak from 1893 onwards in Pune to unite the people against the British Rule and in the struggle for Indian Independence.
In less than a decade, it had spread across the state in a big way and even other parts of the country where public Ganeshotsav celebrations were held.
A century and a quarter later, the festival has transformed into Maharashtra’s biggest, most opulent, glittering fiesta drawing lakhs of devotees and tourists, with the biggest celebrations held in Mumbai, Pune and the coastal Konkan region, where Lord Ganesh has for generations been a reigning deity.
This year, more than 1,300 public organisations are holding the ‘sarvajanik’ Ganeshotsav programmes, according to official figures, besides several lakh of smaller and household celebrations across the state.
The fresh aroma of different types of ‘modak’ — Lord Ganesh’s favourite sweet preparation — wafts across streets and roads everywhere as the Ganesh mandals, sweetmeat shops and homes prepare it in abundant quantities to be distributed as ‘prasad’ among the devotees.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis started the Ganeshotsav at ‘Varsha’, the official chief ministerial bungalow, with an ‘aarti’ (an invocation) and his wife Amruta sang bhajans in praise of Lord Ganesh. On the occasion, they prayed for progress and welfare of the people of the state.
Education Minister Vinod Tawde, Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde and her husband Amit Palve, and others also installed idols of Lord Ganesh at their homes.
Senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Narayan Rane and his family members started the Ganeshotsav at their Mumbai home with prayers and an ‘aarti’.
Union Minister for Surface Transport Nitin Gadkari and his family also installed an idol at their private home in Nagpur and performed a puja before a large gathering.
Millions thronged the venues of some of the biggest Ganeshotsav celebrations at Lalbaughcha Raja, Ganesh Gully, Andhericha Raja for a ‘darshan’ of their beloved god.
Long queues of devotees were witnessed since Sunday/Monday midnight of people keen for a first-day ‘darshan’ at these venues.
In King’s Circle, one of the biggest draws is the 68-kg pure gold adorned with 325 kg silver, including a 15-kg silver marquee for the idol installed at the GSB Seva Mandal here.
The huge celebrations and the values of the idols have given a fillip to the insurance business, also.
While the Lalbaugcha Raja is insured for Rs 51 crore, including each and every devotee who comes there, till the final day of immersion, and Andhericha Raja is insured for Rs 3.80 crore, the GSB Seva Mandal at King’s Circle has taken a whopping Rs 300 crore insurance policy.
Another GSB Mandal at Wadala’s Ram Mandir has bought an insurance cover of Rs 105 crore securing them and the devotees against all types of calamities during the season.
In Pune, the five top mandals including Kasba, Tambdi-Jogeshwari, Tulsibaug, Kesriwadi, and Guruji Talim, besides the famous Shrimant Dagdu Sheth Halwai started their Ganeshotsav with traditional fanfare and colourful, musical ‘palanquin’ processions earlier in the day.
Among the celebs, film stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Sachin Pilgaokar, several Marathi actors, television stars, and others like Lata Mangeshkar have installed Lord Ganesh idols at their homes in Mumbai.
In tiny coastal or hilly villages in the Konkan region, traditional family and wadi Ganeshotsav is the hallmark, which particularly attracts foreign tourists.
Unlike Mumbai or Pune, the small and medium idols of Lord Ganesh covered under a veil, are carried by the devotees on their heads traversing though water-soaked roads, wet paddy fields and slippery hilly roads.
Almost every family has its own small, independent, simple yet colourful celebrations, with the occasional neighbours or friends dropping in for the ‘aartis’.
The celebrations attract people from all communities, commoners, leaders, industrialists and celebrities who install an idol of Lord Ganesh and worship it for one-and-half days, three, five, seven or ten days as per their tradition and coinvenience.
After that, it is immersed in a water body — the Arabian Sea, rivers, lakes, ponds, wells, and these days, even artificial tanks as an eco-friendly measure.
The police and individual organisations have deployed tight security including CCTVs, metal detectors, dog squads, bouncers, armed guards to ensure peaceful celebrations.