As I have already claimed before that only other city of India that I would like to live in apart from Bangalore, would be Mumbai. I just love the city and every time that I visit my sister, I make sure to live the city rather than just visiting as a tourist. Over the years, this liking has made me travel every 6 months. This time I picked August for two important reasons - The Monsoon and Ganesha Festival. I had originally intended to go during the visarjan to capture the crowd and the immersion of Lord Ganesha. But for several reasons that seemed less possible. So I decided to go during the festival.
I had only 3 days of rest before I packed my bags again. On the day of Ganesh Chaturthi (29th Aug), at around 4:45 AM, I left to the airport. I had expected a long wait at the counter but everything happened fast and I was at the gate within half an hour. Almost immediately, I was to board the aeroplane. The flight was uneventful and as soon as I grabbed my bags from the baggage claim, I headed to the prepaid taxi counter and booked one to Panvel. It was around 8:45 AM by the time I started my drive towards Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai). As soon as I drove out of the airport, a stench filled the air. During my previous visits, I had always enjoyed the drive from airport to New Mumbai but this time it looked very unclean. Even though it isn’t as clean as Bangalore, I had never felt this way before. I thought it was because of the Monsoon. The new bypass road does not take you inside the city anymore, so perhaps thus, i got to see more of suburbs that are not very clean. The sides of the roads were filled with old buildings, houses and lots of garbage mainly consisting of plastic. I think it is hard to maintain such a population in a city and expect 100% cleanliness when people from across the country of different class, creed and culture are all staying in the same place. Recently my notice towards our civic sense has increased. May it be in some streets of Bangalore or in the villages of North Karnataka or now in Mumbai, the case was more or less similar. More the population more the issue.
Anyways, thanks to the google maps, this time I did not have to call my sister to ask for directions. I always get lost when I enter new panvel. I reached the apartment in an hour thanks to a holiday no traffic expressway. At home Akki, Bawa and Deeku were busy preparing for the Pooja. Akki cooked the Mangalore Ganesha Favourites - Mudey (A type of Idly but batter poured in cups made of Jackfruit leaves), Sweet Appam, Sweet Modaka and Spicy Modaka, Chakuli, Laddu and many more. After the pooja at home, we were invited by her neighbours for Aarathi at their place where they keep Ganesha idol. I met Ganesh Bhai and Shivam there. Everyone close to this family had gathered and it was a collaborative effort from all to celebrate this festival. Ganesh Bhai had last night spent considerable amount of time to come up with this magnificent decoration for the pendal. Every year he finds a new design as back ground. They shared with me the pictures of previous years. Aarathi here is much different from what we see in Mangalore. Songs are sung and everyone gets to perform aarathi to lord Ganesha. I got my chance too. My bad headache from waking up at 3:00 AM made me a little dull this day. I enjoyed capturing the Mumabikar spirit of celebrating the festival.
We also went downstairs where another Ganesha idol was placed as a common one for the entire apartment.
We headed back home where Ganesh Bhai and his son Shivam joined us for brunch. After which we made plans for our late night visit to all the important pendals of Mumbai. One of my friend Anupam and I had initially planned to photograph visarjan. Coincidently, he messaged me asking when was I coming to Mumbai and as he learnt that i was visiting the pendals that night he wished to join us as well. I thought of catching some sleep that afternoon but I was unable to do that as I had to finish the novel "Avarana." What an incredible book. I shall save details on this book for a separate post on a later date.
For dinner Akki’s friend had packed some Rajasthani Daal-Bhaati. I went for aarathi and then headed back home for a quick nap. I had much needed two hours of sleep before I could take off on a all night Mumbai excursion.
We left home at around 10:30 PM. Picked Anupam on the way at Vashi. Reached the main city by midnight. Directly went to Lalbagh cha Raja, the most popular Ganesha idol in Mumbai. Even past midnight there was maddening crowd here to view their beloved Ganesha.
We walked several distance to find this contact that Ganesh Bhai had. He would lead us directly to Darshan by skipping the long queue. After a lot of searching we finally met him. He took us through narrow back streets that looked like the ones in gangster movies where the goon is chased by the hero as he escapes through narrow streets full of old houses on one side that has extended their livelihood on to the street. Thats when it began getting exciting for me. I was loving this experience. Soon we got close to the idol. But we still had a huge hurdle to cross. A set of volunteers were struggling to push away others like us from entering. After a struggle of about 30 minutes we finally got in.
The crowd was crazy. Hats off to the volunteers for handling such a crowd. We got into the queue very close to the idol. While waiting for our turn to reach lord Ganesha, Anupam and I got to click few moments.
After a few minutes of wait, we got to reach the idol and sought blessings from Lord Ganesha by touching the feet. While returning, we saw the tired faces of those who where waiting for Manat (That is to reach the feet of Lord Ganesha and sought blessings). They had been waiting since morning. I felt extremely guilty for having gate crashed. For someone without contacts at the place it would take 24 hours for what took an hour for us. But what was good is that free food and water is offered by the volunteers to the devotees.
We took the alley again to reach the main road. Our next stop was « Mumbai cha Raja ». Here instead of taking a Rs10 ticket we made a mistake of going for free darshan thinking it would not be as crowded as the previous one. As this place is very close to Lalbagh cha Raja people visiting there would also come here. The free Darshan line did not move at all and it took us almost more than an hour to reach the idol. I felt happy about this wait because in someway it made up for my guilt of gate crashing at the previous place. During our wait, Ganesh Bhai told me that earlier Mumbai cha Raja was the most famous Ganesha Pendal in Mumbai. But over time due to media publicity Lalbagh cha Raja has gained prominence. There is also some kind of rivalry between the two groups who do not encourage people to wear topi’s (Caps) that board the names of other. This pendal had a speciality. They had recreated a temple called Jejuri with its main diety Malari Marthand.
The volunteers at this place were college kids who did not even bother to get the free darshan line moving. Ganesh Bhai had to scold them in Marathi to wake them up from their relaxed position and have the line moving. At the end of the queue another beautiful Ganesh idol was awaiting us.
Next stop - GSB ganesha pendal. This is considered the most expensive one because of the amount of jewellery on it. The idol itself is insured for a huge amount. This group is led by the Mangalore Konkani community. At 2:45 AM the pendal was deserted hence the darshan was quick. However, only in this pendal, photography is prohibited.
After this, we drove to Chembur and visited the one that is said to be maintained by underworld Don Chota Rajan. This was set in the theme of Sayadris. Interiors though had the feel of ghats at Banaras. The Ganesha idol in a sitting position was lavishly decorated and looked stunning.
We then drove to Subashnagar where Ganesh Bhai had grown up. Here it was only us. The back stage and interiors of this was done by Ganesh Bhai’s friend Prashanth whom we had met last time at the film studio where he is an art director.
Everyone was hungry so we went stopped at this street food place at around 5:00 AM. Poha, idly and vada with some tea made some good early breakfast. It was interesting to see that this place was very crowded.
Our last stop for the day was at RK studios.
And also another one just next to it maintained by some Bank.
It was an exhilarating experience. It never felt like night actually. We returned home by 6:00 AM.
Next day, I slept till 10:30 AM. Had some bread toast for a late breakfast and freshened up. Early lunch was ready by 12:30 AM. Baingan ki sabji and Rice Bhakri. Some rice and sambhar as well. After lunch I caught some more sleep until my cousin Anupama and her family came home. It was great talking to her after a long time.
Normally Ganesha idols are immersed on the second, fifth and eleventh day. At Akki’s neighbours house it is done on the second day. So we got ready for the procession. It was interesting to see several Ganesha idols being taken for immersion. It was raining continuously and that did not seem to bother the devotees from dancing and enjoying their festive mood.
Well there are all kinds of people in India. If on one side there were all these families religiously following the ritual on the other side there were bunch of men who took this opportunity to drink alcohol as they danced. This seemed a little out of place from the tradition that most of the other families where practising.
The lake was all fenced and volunteers arranged by the local MLA were immersing the idol for the devotees. I watched all the devotees carefully carrying their Ganesha to the benches placed and doing one last arathi before handing him over to the volunteers. With emotion and devotion they watched their beloved lord slowly immerse in water taking away all the evil and bad omens.
I have always been attracted to lord Ganesha. I am not sure what is it about this lord that makes me love him more than any other God. Perhaps its the proper blend of man and animal. Not just any animal. For instance, I am not similarly driven towards Narasimha, who again is a blend of man and animal. You feel a personal bonding with Ganesha for some reason that does not come with any other God. With others its mostly devotion but with Ganesha its more of friendship or a kind of feeling when you see a cute baby. You want to cuddle the baby and hold it close to you. And what other place than Mumbai could I have been in to watch this devotion, this love and this friendship between God and man. This would remain as one of my best Ganesh Chaturthis ever.