The Ganpati festival is synonymous with the vivacity that characterises Mumbai. The entire city comes alive during the ten days of festivities. It is believed that Lord Ganesha comes down to earth to reside in homes and bless families, and his devotees play the role of hosts with humility and gratitude.
Preparations: Idols are made with great care a month before the celebrations begin. They come in different sizes, colours and forms. Devotees bring the God to the accompaniment of drumbeats and music, with his face covered.
Happy birthday Ganpati Bappa: The first day of the 10-day festival is celebrated as Ganpati’s birthday. The entire city is up early, eager to wish the Lord and prepare his favourite delicacy — the steamed or fried modaks —for puja. We sought his blessings and called over family and friends for a grand celebration. In the evening, devotees conduct the aarthi (worship with lights).. The aarthi is conducted on all ten days. We toured the various pandals (marquees) nearby over the next few days.
Siddhi Vinayak temple: Mumbai’s protector and wish-fulfilling deity Siddhi Vinayak’s temple is situated in the heart of the city. It is crowded throughout the year. However, during the festive time, it is swamped by devotees. The temple is beautifully decorated and lit up and the authorities place a small Ganpati idol near the exit.
Lights and idol worship: The statues of the God range from huge monoliths in the pandals to tiny ones that fit into the palms. Each pandal has a specific theme and unique form of Ganesha. The pandals are open all night long making it possible for devotees to pay their respects to the lord whenever their wish.
Emperor of the clan: Every area in the city boasts of having the biggest statue of Ganpati Bappa, as he is fondly called. However the largest is the Lalbaughcha Raja. Many stand in line for 8-9 hours to catch a fleeting glimpse of this gigantic statue. There is also a strong belief that one’s wishes are fulfilled when one visits the emperor of the clan.
Goodies to relish: Devotees tickle Ganpati Bappa’s sweet tooth with modaks. These are dumplings with a sweet filling of coconut and brown sugar and a dash of ghee. The outer covering is a mix of rice and white flour. These can be either steamed or fried. The other preparations during this festive month include chaklis, a crunchy snack and ladoos, a sweetmeat. Spicy poha, beaten rice, is also served in most households that host Ganesha. Pandals offer delicious rava kheer, a milk and white flour based concoction.
Saying goodbye: While the festival is celebrated for ten days, there are some who send off the Lord in one-and-a-half days, five days or seven days. We carried the idol to Badhwar Park in Colaba, close to the sea, for visarjan (immersion). Many families were assembled there, doing aarthi and puja. After the rituals, we placed him gently on the waves, bid a tearful goodbye and vowed to see him again next year. On the tenth and final day, the day of the main visarjan, the entire city comes to a standstill with trucks carrying idols for immersion in the sea clogging roads. Armies of men, women and children swarm beaches to say goodbye to their favourite God. Girgaum Chowpatty, the main visarjan site, becomes a sea of pulsing humanity chanting “Ganpati Bappa Morya”.
It is delightful to watch the entire city coming together to bow their heads humbly to the mighty elephant-faced God. Disparities in socio-economic status, age and communities are forgotten during the festival.. All one can hear is the mesmerising chants of ‘Morya re‘ echoing all over the city.
How to get there
For Mumbai residents:
Siddhi Vinayak being centrally located in Prabhadevi is accessible by road, via a cab or bus. The nearest station would be Dadar from where one can easily get a cab to the temple.
Lalbaug: Lalbaug is near Chinchpokli, which can be reached via a cab or local train from Dadar station.
Girgaum Chowpatty: This is a must visit for all. It is located in South Mumbai. One can easily walk it down from Charni road station. Or one can even get down at Marine Lines and walk the entire stretch of Marine Drive to reach the beach.
For non-residents: Mumbai is well-connected by air and rail from all major cities. One can access the sites via cab / bus or the local train. The Ganpati festival usually falls in the month of September, when the monsoons are receding, so the city is blessed with pleasant weather. One must remember to dress appropriately to visit Ganpati pandals and temples. Avoid wearing revealing clothes. Expect swarming crowds.