Behind the scenes at Lalbaugcha Raja Ganesh pandal: A team for carpets, another for chairs – art and culture

There’s a hullabaloo around a spiral staircase in Lalbaug, Lower Parel. Situated in a narrow bylane lined with vendors, it leads to the two-room office of Mumbai’s most iconic Ganesh mandal, Lalbaugcha Raja.

It is here that the core committee oversees arrangements — from idol transport to ornaments, flowers, aartis and crowd-management — to lay the ground for one of the city’s largest and most popular Ganesh idols.

On Wednesday, the committee members are bleary-eyed from a week of sleepless nights.

“We started preparing three months ago, but these last few days are like the moment when a batsman walks out of the pavilion to battle on the playground,” says Ashok Pawar, 53, president of the mandal. “The work is divided among 35 executive members and 3,000 volunteers, who take care of everything from drinking water to the final visarjan [immersion] of the idol.”

Within the army of volunteers are teams that take care of just the pandal, or visarjan vehicle, or idol, chairs, or carpets.

With exactly 42 hours to go before Lalbaugcha Raja smiles upon his first visitors of the year, the clock is ticking, adding to the mix of adrenaline and stress.

The day after this year’s visarjan, the core committee of the Lalbaughcha Raja mandal will begin planning for next year. (Kalpak Pathak/HT photo)

Over the next 10 days, 10 lakh devotees will make their way through this pandal, past the idol, and back out again, smiling, hopefully without incident.

Today, parts of the pandal are still bare bamboo poles, their white and grey satin drapery waiting to be arranged.

Twenty men place chairs along the walkway. Most visitors will wait in line for an average of six hours, so any comfort the organisers can provide will be welcome.

“We started work in June,” says Ajay Salvi, 42, in charge of management and construction. “We have to make sure details such as the bamboo frame, prasad, drinking water and portable toilets are all in place.”

Over the past two months, mandal committee members have also had a series of meetings with the Mumbai police, since this pandal draws the largest crowds and is thus seen as a sensitive security situation.

Until immersion, there will be a minimum of 70 policemen and women here at all times, day and night.

“We have prepared maps of the ramps and exits and had detailed discussions to help the police,” says Pawar.

The mandal must also make special arrangements for the inevitable VVIP visitors, which typically include politicians, movie stars and industrialists.

“They are escorted via a special route. While we want to treat everybody equally, this is essential if we are to avoid sparking a frenzy in the crowd,” Pawar says.

A small grey door behind the idol leads to an air-conditioned room with six huge LCD screens on the walls. For the first time, CCTV cameras have been set up across the area to monitor the crowds.

In addition to the intricate beauty of its idol and its adornments, Lalbaugcha Raja (King of Lalbaug, as the idol is affectionately known) is also famous for the unique aesthetics of its pandals.

“I start thinking of the next concept as soon as one year’s visarjan is over,” says production designer Nitin Desai, known for his elaborate Bollywood movie sets (think Jodhaa Akbar), who has been in charge of decoration here for eight years.

This year’s sheesh mahal or glass palace is made of 21 lakh pieces of glass, all imported from Belgium. In the myriad reflections, Desai says devotees will be able to see different forms of Ganesha.

The same glass palace will be seen in an upcoming Bollywood film, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, starring Salman Khan and slated for release in November, he adds.

The idol immersion is scheduled for September 27, and will be followed a week later by the much-awaited auction of the many glittering donations made by devotees to the idol. The mandal will reconvene the very next morning, to discuss plans for next year.

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