Mumbai, Sep 8 (IANS) For the 120th year in a row, Maharashtra and Mumbai are all decked up to accord a grand welcome in their homes and public pandals to their favourite elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesh, who will be worshipped for 10 days starting Monday.
Though there are no specific security alerts, Mumbai police have thrown a massive security blanket over the country's commercial capital that witnesses some of the most opulent celebrations.
The soaring inflationary trends and the truant weather have not dampened the enthusiasm for the state's biggest public festival started modestly by freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1893.
Many organisations have budgets running into millions of rupees for the celebrations, insurance, security and related aspects.
Themes for the festival range from saving the girl child, opposition to rape, impact of inflation and the tragic suicides of farmers, as also health and security.
Nearly 30,000 policemen and officers from various agencies like the State Reserve Police Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Rapid Action Force, the Border Security Force, Maharashtra Police, traffic police, and affiliated organisations will be deployed round-the-clock for the next 10 days, said Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh.
"We have formed a special squad to tackle harassment of women during the festival. It will be deployed at all major venues for women's security," Singh said.
"There are no specific terror threats. However, taking into consideration the overall security scenario in Mumbai and India, we have made all necessary arrangements for a peaceful celebration," said Joint Police Commissioner (Law and Order) Sadanand Date.
The state government has chipped in by relaxing certain norms during the festivities.
There will be no power cuts for 10 days, certain schools have been given 4-5 days' off for the festival and other initiatives have been taken to spread the cheer during the festival.
This year, Mumbai will have around 11,400 public Ganeshotsav mandals, including around 6,000 that have huge Ganesh idols, said Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvaya Samiti (BSGSS) chief N. Dahibhavkar.
"Besides, over 180,000 people will worship Ganesh idols in their households and in organisations like banks, government and private departments, social groups etc., to make it around 200,000 Ganesh idols this year," Dahibhavkar told IANS.
In a historic decision, the BSGSS decided earlier this year to restrict the height of the gigantic Ganesh idols. Dahibhavkar has claimed 99 percent success in this endeavour.
"A vast majority have come down from 32-feet tall idols to a manageable 18 feet, though around two dozen are still a bit on the higher side," he said.
"We will persuade them again and next year, you will see idols up to 16-18 feet."
Police and Ganeshotsav mandals have identified 200 spots that get extremely crowded during the festivities, like the famous Lalbaugcha Raja, which attracts around 1.20 million devotees every day.
Security agencies and Ganeshotsav mandals have joined hands to install CCTVs at all major venues, including 52 which have been identified as "sensitive".
Over eight million people are expected to be out on the Mumbai roads during the festival. These include 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, Ganesh Gully, GSB Seva Mandal which 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.
Fort Vibhag, Andhericha Raja, Tulsiwadi where the Ganesh idol is decorated with 300,000 pieces of artificial diamonds, Sahyadri Krida Mandal in Chembur and Lodha Foundation which will have Ganesh idols from 10 different countries - are some other famous, must-see Ganesh pandals.
Other attractions would be celebrations at the homes of Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Nana Patekar, Govinda, and Marathi film personalities like Sachin and Supriya Pilgaonkar, leading industrialists and politicians from many parties.
Religious ceremonies shall be conducted in tandem with a host of social and cultural programmes planned for the occasion at various Ganesh marquees.
Besides Mumbai, mega-celebrations will take place in Pune, Nagpur and the entire coastal belt of Konkan, where thousands of small villages annually come alive with the music and lights of Ganeshotsav.
Thousands of workers and those employed in Mumbai and its suburbs have started their yearly trek back home to Konkan and coastal areas for Ganesh festival. Trains, boats and buses are running overfull.
Bidding adieu to the benign elephant-headed god -- considered the destroyer of all evils -- will start in phases from Tuesday (Sep 10). Processions will be taken out to several immersion points on the beaches dotting the city, lakes, wells, artificial ponds, creeks, and other places.