Mumbai, Sep 9 (IANS) Mumbai reverberated all night to the beating of drums, cymbals and dancing as nearly 200,000 big and small idols of Lord Ganesh were brought in trucks, tempos, cars, two-wheelers or carried on heads, to public pandals or private homes at the start of the 10-day Ganeshotsav festival here Monday.
The night was punctuated by cries of welcome "Ganpati Bappa Morya" and singing of the favourite bhajan, "Sukh-karta Dukh-harta" and other "aarti" by millions of devotees amidst fireworks, as the elephant-headed god was welcomed in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra on his annual sojourn.
After ensconcing the idols at the designated places, devotees in the morning performed the traditional "sthapna puja" for Lord Ganesh, considered a "vignaharta" or destroyer of all evils, at homes or in the huge marquees erected for the 10-day extravaganza.
Homes and sweetmeat sellers have been busy preparing Lord Ganesh's favourite sweet dish "modak" and "karanji", which are also offered as "prasad" to devotees and visitors.
During the festival, the traditional "aartis" will be performed thrice a day, though "darshan" of Lord Ganesh is freely allowed practically round-the-clock, especially at the public pandals.
The soaring inflationary trends and the truant weather have not dampened the enthusiasm for the state's biggest popular festival, started modestly by freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak way back in 1893 to unite people on a common platform.
For the milestone 120th year of the public celebrations, many of the organisations have set up budgets running into crores of rupees for the festivities, insurance, security and related aspects with themes ranging from saving the girl child and opposing rape, inflation and farmers suicides, health and organ donations, etc.
Though Ganeshotsav is celebrated across the country and even abroad, the celebrations are opulent, colourful and elaborate in Mumbai, Pune, the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra - where it was started by Lokmanya Tilak, cocking a snook at the then British government.
This year, Mumbai has around 11,400 public Ganeshotsav mandals, including around 6,000 which have huge Ganesh idols and a few with gigantic idols, said Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvaya Samiti (BSGSS) chief N. Dahibhavkar.
"Another over 180,000 individuals will worship their household Ganpati idols and organisations like banks, government and private departments, employees unions, social groups, etc., will make it around 200,000 Ganesh idols this year. For all practical purposes, it has transcended religious boundaries and is now a national festival," Dahibhavkar told IANS.
Though there is no specific security threat this year, the Mumbai police are not taking any chances and have made foolproof arrangements to prevent any untoward incidents.
Nearly 30,000 policemen and officers from various agencies like State Reserve Police Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Rapid Action Force, Border Security Force, Maharashtra Police, Traffic Police, and affiliated organisations, with gadgetry like door-frame and hand-held metal detectors, CCTVs, dog squads, random checks, etc, have been deployed, said Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh.
The police and various Ganeshotsav mandals have identified 200 spots which attract huge crowds, like the famous Lalbaugcha Raja, where around 1.20 million devotees queue up round-the-clock for a 'darshan' during the festival.
The state government has chipped in by relaxing certain norms during the festivities. There will be zero load-shedding for 10 days all over Maharashtra. Some schools have been allowed four or five days off for the festival.
In a historic decision, the BSGSS earlier this year decided to restrict the height of the gigantic Ganesh idols. Dahibhavkar claims 99 percent success in the endeavour.
"A vast majority have come down from 32-foot tall idols to a manageable 18 feet, though around two dozen idols are still a bit on the higher side. We will persuade them again and next year, you will see idols up to 16-18 feet," Dahibhavkar said.
Mumbai roads will be teeming with an estimated eight million plus people, including lakhs of domestic and foreign tourists who will troop in to soak in the breathtaking sights and sounds over the next 10 days.
Some of the top must-see venues include Lalbaugcha Raja, Khetwadi 12th Lane, and Ganesh Gully. GSB Seva Mandal has a Ganesh idol made of 60-kg gold and studded with diamonds, along with an all-purpose insurance cover of Rs.2.23 billion (Rs.223 crore). Fort Vibhag and Andhericha Raja are also on the must-see list.
At Tulsiwadi, the Ganesh idol is decorated with 300,000 pieces of artificial diamonds. At Sahyadri Krida Mandal in Chembur and Lodha Foundation, Ganesh idols have been sourced from 10 different countries.
Other attractions would be the Ganeshtosav celebrations at the homes of celebrities like Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Nana Patekar, Govinda, Jeetendra Kapoor, the Kapoor clan (Shashi, Randhir, Rishi Kapoor), several top Marathi film personalities like Sachin and Supriya Pilgaonkar, leading industrialists and politicians across all parties.
The religious ceremonies shall be conducted in tandem with a host of social and cultural programmes planned for the occasion at various Ganesh marquees. Top celebrities, especially from the glamour world, will attend the festivities at various places over the 10 days.
Mega-celebrations have also started in Pune, Nagpur and the entire coastal belt of Konkan where thousands of small villages have magically come alive with the lights and music of Ganeshotsav in Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts.
Bidding adieu to the benign elephant-headed god will start in phases from Tuesday with processions taken out to several of the immersion points on the beaches dotting the city, lakes, wells, artificial ponds, creeks, and other designated venues.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)