For the first time in its 75-year history, Mumbai's popular Ganesh idol known as Lalbaugcha Raja and its massive marquee have been insured for a whopping Rs 26.5 million (nearly $600,000).
Another insurance policy of Rs 10 million has been taken for the 1.5 million devotees likely to visit the venue at Parel in central Mumbai during the 10-day long Ganesh Chaturthi festival.
The festival, marking the birth of elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh, started Wednesday.
Ganesh idols are worshipped for 10 days and on the 11th, the statues are taken through the streets in processions accompanied with dancing, singing and fanfare to be immersed in sea, symbolising a ritual see-off of the god.
According to Sunil Joshi, president of the Lalbaugcha Raja organisers, the insurance cover has been taken in view of security considerations for the devotees - comprising people from all over the state, foreign tourists, VVIPs, top industrialists and Bollywood personalities.
"We have taken out two separate insurance policies from the private company, Bajaj Alliance, for which we have already paid a premium of Rs 140,000," Joshi told IANS.
The Ganesh pandal - as the marquees are known, its decorations and lighting have been erected over the past two months at a cost of nearly Rs 26.5 million. In case of any mishap, this will be fully covered by the insurance company as per its usual terms and conditions.
Similarly, the second component of Rs 10.1 million will provide cover to the huge crowds of devotees in case of any kind of accident.
Although Joshi declined to comment on the reasons for this unprecedented decision, terrorist activities in neighbouring states like Gujarat and Karnataka could have prompted the organisers to go in for insurance.
Mumbai's most-awaited idol of Lord Ganesh - the 12-ft-tall Lalbaugcha Raja - arrived Sunday at its traditional venue in Parel.
The organisers - Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal (LRSGM) - made a special concession for the media on the occasion of the idol's platinum jubilee, giving them a preview.
Established in 1934, though LRSGM is not among the oldest in the city, it has been growing in popularity over the years.
Devotees like Pushkar Damle, a social worker and businessman, said he makes it a point to go with his family every year and pay obeisance to Lalbaugcha Raja.
"There is a certain divine feeling that we get there, it's difficult to express it in words. It's almost like performing a pilgrimage," explained Damle, who lives in Thane.
Recounting its origins, LRSGM secretary Sudhir Salvi said the Ganesh pandal and the nearby Parel market are located on land donated by a Muslim businessman, the late Rajjabali Tayyabali.
In 1934, the idol was attired in the traditional dress of the local Koli fisherfolk, who believed that their two-year prayers for a permanent marketplace was fulfilled because of prayers to Lord Ganesh.
"Over the years, on certain occasions, Lalbaugcha Raja has been adorned in different attires. For instance, just prior to independence, in 1946, the idol was dressed as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose," Salvi said.
The very next year, when Ganeshotsav was celebrated barely a month after India's freedom on Aug 15, 1947, Lord Ganesh was dressed up like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, free India's first prime minister, and depicted as riding a bullock cart.
The following year, when the country's joys turned to mourning with the assassination of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, Lalbaugcha Raja was attired in his simple clothes, Salvi added.
"There is an attempt to tell a historic story or commemorate an important national event whenever possible. Hence we occasionally deviate from the regular attire of Lord Ganesh," Salvi explained.
In 1946, despite bloody communal riots in the city, the organisers refused to change the route to take Lalbaugcha Raja for immersion to the historic Chowpatty beach in south Mumbai. Finally, the idol was taken for immersion only after 21 days, by the same route, with full security provided by its own volunteers.
This time, Lalbaugcha Raja and the devotees are being provided round-the-clock security by over 2,000 volunteers throughout the 10-day festival.
The umbrella organisation of 8,840 registered public Ganeshotsav associations, Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvaya Samiti (BSGSS), said insuring Ganesh pandals and devotees "is a positive step which can be emulated by others as per local needs".
BSGSS president Pandurang Jadhav told IANS that the organisation had cautioned all Ganesh mandals two years ago to ensure adequate security devotees during the festival.