Ganesh Chaturti is one of the most popular festivals in Maharashtra. Known for its origins dating back to pre-Independence era, this festival started by Lokmanya Tilak has been instrumental in bringing people together to fuel the independence movement in the state. Over the years Ganesh Chaturti has not only become a festival of fervor and extravagance, but some Ganeshas have earned the reputation of granting wishes and brining good luck to visitors, and hence they witness long queues by devotees for a glimpse or as they call it - Darshan. While some Ganesh Mandals or Ganpati’s are known for their spiritual greatness, some are known for their size, while some for their jewels; each has some significance or the other. Pune and Mumbai are the two cities which come alive during this 10 day festival. Known for their opulent and grandeur celebrations, these cities attract devotees and tourists not only from other states, but other countries too.
We at CarDekho decided to explore this festival by visiting some of the most prominent Ganesh mandals in Mumbai and Pune. Since we knew we’d have to tackle narrow lanes, heavy traffic and drive for long hours we needed a steady, reliable companion for the job and couldn’t think of a better option than the Datsun GO. Its tiny dimensions and spacious interiors were apt for this travelogue and the driving comfort was beyond compare! We started our travelogue in Mumbai by visiting three of the most prominent mandals – some were of historic significance while some of a spiritual kind.
We started our day by visiting the first Ganesh Mandal in Mumbai. Located at Keshavji Naik Chawl, (KNC) in Girgaum, this Ganesh Mandal has completed 122 years in existence. Located in a hard-to-find tiny chawl (a common housing building with each family getting small rooms and sharing a common balcony) in Mumbai, this is one of the simplest Ganesha we’ve seen. Earlier in the days Ganesh Chaturti was only a family affair restricted to people’s homes. The idea of organizing a festival to bring people together stemmed in Lokmanya Tilak’s mind from the concept of a chawl. You must be thinking how? In a chawl families have better interaction as their doors are always open (literally), and the shared balcony is a great conversation initiator. Resident families share better ties and tend to help each other more than community housing systems or flat systems. Since there is more interaction amongst the residents, Lokmanya Tilak thought of replicating this concept by bringing in a common Ganesha to get the people together and hence the birth of the Sarvojanik (communal) Ganeshotsav
The Datsun GO at the Keshavji Naik Chawl, Mumbai’s first Ganesh mandal which is a 122 years old. Since the chawl was too narrow, we really couldn’t get the permission to take the GO till the idol’s footsteps
Initially the Ganesh festival at KNC was an informal affair with few families participating, but over the years as the festival gained popularity more and more people joined in. To manage the tasks at the festival a formal body called Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha (SGS) was created which is responsible for organizing the festival annually. The SGS is the oldest Ganeshotsav institution to have a formally written constitution for conducting the Ganesh festival.
The written constitution
The Keshavji Naik Chawl is not just known for its Ganeshotsav, but also for some of its former residents which include the famous Marathi poet Shri ‘Keshavsut’, freedom fighter S.M. Joshi and the first Chief Minister of then Mumbai state Mr. B.G. Kher. Currently during Ganeshotsav the KNC hosts expats and tourists giving them information about the rich history of the KNC Ganesh festival along with hosting them for a scrumptious traditional Ganeshotsav meal; they also have regular lectures and discourses to keep the legacy going. Unlike many other Ganesh festivals, the KNC festival is a quite one with no exuberant over the top decorations and fanfare; the Ganesha idol is also a simple eco-friendly one. When you visit this place you feel the simplicity of the people residing here along with the ethos they believe in. No loud speakers, no blaring music only low key spiritual chants and the humble smiles and greetings of the people who have kept this rich tradition going over the years, the way it was intended to.
After getting our dose of history we headed to the most popular Ganesh festival in Mumbai – Lal Baug cha Raja. Founded in 1934 and located in the bustling area of central Mumbai, this Ganesha is known as ‘Navsacha Ganpati’ aka the wish granting Ganpati. There are two lines for the darshan – Navsachi line and Mukh Darshana chi line (the glimpse line). The former as the name suggests is for people who want to get their wishes fulfilled; they get a chance to go right up to the stage and touch the idol’s feet and take his blessings so as to get their wishes granted. This line attracts a lot of people and it is estimated that sometimes devotees wait for as long as 20 to 40 hours for darshan. The latter is for people to get a glimpse of the lord’s idol from a distance. This line is not short either and it takes a good 5 to 8 hours to get darshan in this line. On weekends the number easily goes up to 12- 18 hours!
Lalbagcha Raja is in its 80th year now and the idol has been sculpted by the Kambli family for eight decades now. This family makes the parts of the idol which are then assembled at the pandal and then painted. The height of this Ganesha is a good 20 feet, making it one of the tallest in the city as well. Navigating our way from Girgaum to Parel through the bylanes was a cake walk in the Datsun Go as the light clutch and the steering wheel made dodging traffic and jaywalkers a pleasant experience, and the powerful air conditioning saved us from the sweltering Mumbai humidity. We were (unrealistically) hoping that we’d get the opportunity to shoot the GO against Lalbagcha Raja, but after seeing the long queues, and being laughed at by the cops for proposing this idea, we realized that there was no chance that our GO could get a glimpse of the lord, so we quietly settled with a darshan and some pics of the Navsacha Ganapti Raja. Owing to its importance Lalbagcha Raja is the first idol to be immersed on the 11th day when the festival concludes. This is also the one which starts the biggest immersions process in Mumbai.
Our third and most prominent Ganpati in Mumbai was the Andheri cha Raja. This Ganpati is to Andheri what Lalbagcha Raja is to central Mumbai. Started in 1966 by the blue collar workers of the Golden Tobacco Company, Tata Special Steel and Excel Industries who had relocated from Parel to Andheri, this Ganpati is also known as ‘Navsala Pavnara Ganpati’ i.e. the wish fulfilling Ganesha. Located in a quiet lane in Azad Nagar Andheri, this Ganesha also has hoards of devotees thronging to catch a glimpse and get their wishes fulfilled. Luckily the darshan lines here are shorter and though our Datsun Go couldn’t get a glimpse of the lord, we were able to take it right up till the door step or rather the barricade!
This is as close as we could get to the Andheri cha Raja with the Datsun GO
Why is this Ganesha also called the Navsacha Ganpati? Well, once there was a long lasting strike in one of the companies where the mandal’s devotees worked. They urged this Ganesha for a favourable outcome of the strike, post which they promised to immerse life size idols on the Sankashti day. As their wish was granted, the workers kept their word and since then the tradition has been on. So popular is this Ganesha that its immersion procession is routed through the entire Andheri village. The procession starts at five in the evening only to conclude at the sea shore the next morning; hundreds of people attend this procession with their own arrangements for music, lighting, prasadum etc. A smaller version of this pooja idol is immersed on a particular day called Ananta Chaturdashi. Andhericha Raja is in its 49th year now.
The two day Ganpati darshan in Mumbai had us tackling bumper-to-bumper traffic, hour long traffic jams; testing our driving skills by making us maneuver tight corners and parking spaces, and through all this the Datsun GO was very rev happy. The journey from Girgaum to Parel to Andheri in those two days took a toll on us, but not on the fuel economy of the GO. In spite of travelling so much, the
fuel level in the car just dropped by 3 bars, this certainly made us rev happy.
As we headed to Pune also known as the city of Ganeshas to cover our second leg of the festival, we got the opportunity to drive the Datsun GO on the expressway as well. And what a delight it was. The car is amazingly well planted at high speeds inspite of its size and not once does it scare you when you touch triple digit speeds. The driver’s seat is extremely comfortable and inspite of driving the car for almost 6-7 hours a day not once did we feel fatigued. Good lumbar and thigh support, and the positioning of the gear lever reduced the stress in your arm.
If you ever ask anyone which is the most famous Ganpati in Pune, without a thought the answer will be Dagdusheth Ganapti. This is not just the most famous, but also the richest Ganapti in the entire city, with jewels laden to an amount of almost two crore. The challenge of shooting Dadguseth Ganapti was the same as Lalbagcha Raja. Located in the heart of old city in Pune, this Ganesha sees queues lined up since early morning to witness the aarti. The 2 km square around the temple where the Ganpati is based is cordoned off for vehicular traffic and one can go there only by foot. This Ganesha idol is also insured for a sum of 10 million dollars. The trust that runs this Ganesh festival also runs an old age home along with providing housing and education for destitute children. So famous is this Ganpati, that it has Bollywood celebrities also paying a visit to seek blessings.
Morning aarti rush at the Dagdusheth Ganpati temple
The Shreemant Dagdusheth Ganpat temple was established in 1893, the same year Lokmanya Tilak initiated the Sarvajanik (communal) Ganpati festival. This Ganpati is known for its pandal decorations which include life size setups of famous monuments from India as well as abroad. The most popular one was the Hawa Mahal replica of Rajasthan. We were lucky to be able to shoot the Datsun GO very close to the temple and the good-hearted cops helped us out during this short course, allowing us to take the car past the barricades.
A few kilometers before Dagdusheth Ganpati is another prominent Ganesha called the Kasba Ganpati. Located near the historic landmark of Shaniwarwada, this Ganpati has been in existence since the time of the Maratha warrior Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj. When Shivaji and his mother Jijbai Bhosale arrived in Pune in 1639 they also carried their family diety – Lord Gajanan with them. Along the same time a few other families also settled at the banks of the Mutha where the Ganpati was placed. Jijabai thought of this as an auspicious moment and decided to build a temple around the idol. Since then the temple is called the Kasba Ganpati Mandir. After Lokmanya Tilak started the Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav to bring people together to deal with the British rulers, he was also faced with the rivalry of the mandals/ group as to which Ganesha idol would be immersed first. That’s when he suggested that the Kasba Ganpati should be the first to get this honour due to its historical significance. Till date the Kasba Ganpati leads the immersion process followed by its neighbor Dagduseth Ganapti.
Kasba Ganapti Mandir
Old Pune is a temple town with temples of various deities lined up every few hundred meters. The good part is that you get to seek blessings of plenty of gods along the way. The tricky part is that you have to maneuver your way through a sea of humans and tiny lanes which convinced me that my tiny bedroom is way bigger and wider than these streets. All through this the Datsun GO was a breeze to turn around and bypass barricades. It was as easy as maneuvering a remote controlled car.
Shanipar Ganpati – 119 years old
As we headed to our third Ganesh darshan in Pune we were in for a shock. The Shanipar Ganpati which is a 119 year old Ganesh Temple in Pune had shifted its location from Shanipar chowk (where it has been for the past 119 years) to a local municipal school. So after doing numerous rounds of lanes we’d never seen before and being directed from one corner of the traffic crazed area to another, we randomly entered a local school only to find out THIS is where the Shanipar Ganpati had been relocated. I guess even the Lord wanted to make sure that the Datsun GO and we receive his blessings. The trustees were extremely courteous and allowed us to shoot the GO right at the footstep of the idol. On further inquiring about the relocation we were told that since the Ganesh Temple is at Shanipar chowk (crossing), a major traffic junction, it would become very inconvenient for shopkeepers and traffic to function normally during the festival, as the pandal set-up would occupy 70% of the road space; hence the decision to move it to a local school nearby to enable devotees a hassle free darshan and avoid traffic jams.
As we were done shooting the final Ganesha a local gentleman approached us requesting us to shoot the Ganesha at his home. Since we couldn’t refuse we headed over with him only to be greeted by a bunch of old folks who were just excited at the thought that there are people who are travelling in a car to click pictures of prominent Ganeshas and mandals. We were touched by their hospitality as not only did we get an opportunity to witness the Ganesh aarti (worship with prayer chants) up close in someone’s home, but we were also fed a meal fit for king. Not once but twice!
This travelogue has been an eye opener as we witnessed the biggest festival in the state up close. From the dhol tasha’s and spiritual chants to history and grandiosity, Ganesh Chaturti has it all. All through the travelogue we used just one tank full of fuel and were left with a few more miles till the indicator hit low. We won’t be wrong in saying that the Datsun GO has been blessed with a brilliant fuel economy. Guess Lord Ganesha loves this little Japanese mushak a tad too much!