Those visiting Lalbaugcha Raja, the most popular pandal in the city, have been completing their darshan (bestowing prayers) within an hour this year — a far cry from the hours it would take in previous years.
Until 2012, queues for devotees would be mismanaged, sometimes as long as 5km from the pandal and it would take a minimum of seven hours to complete their visit. However, over the past three years, the waiting time has been reduced to less than an hour. To speed up the queue, volunteers release a group of more than 100 devotees into an enclosed space that holds them in a series of parallel lines that leads to the lane where the idol is kept. Instead of a single exit used earlier, devotees are channelised into three exits, reducing the waiting time for devotees further down the queue. CCTV cameras monitor the queues so that volunteers can step in to resolve bottlenecks.
Devotees were impressed with the new arrangements. “It used to take me around four hours when I started coming. On Monday, it took me 40 minutes to complete my darshan,” said Kishan Sakpal, who has been coming to the pandal for more than 10 years.
Mandal members said earlier the queues extended as far as Byculla, more than 4km away. “Now the queues are only as far as the Lalbaug market, which is less than 2km away from the pandal,” said mandal president, Balasaheb Kamble.
He said the 10 mandal members had been deputed to check the smooth flow of queues during rush hour. “We have beefed up security this year by installing more than 150 CCTV cameras, so that we can monitor the queues better and members have been asked to provide all the assistance to devotees in both lines – mukha darshan [viewing the idol from a distance] and charan sparsh [touching the feet of the deity],” said Kamble.
Tanaji Ingle, another devotee who has been visiting the pandal for 15 years, said, “When I visited the pandal for the first time 15 years ago, it used to take just under seven hours for mukha darshan, which now takes me an hour. Devotees have increased, but because of better management of queues, time is being saved.”
Meanwhile, mandal members said the number of people visiting the pandal had increased from previous years. “Nothing, including the footfall, has changed . But we have disciplined the line pattern, which leads queues moving at a much quicker pace,” said Anita Panchal, member.
Priyanka Panchal, another member of the mandal, said, “Earlier, people used to come in hordes and mobs, which was difficult to for us to organise. Now, with the zig-zag lines, devotees can take darshan faster than usual.”
In its 83rd year, the pandal has been designed as a palace (made from fibre) with a 12-foot Plaster of Paris idol, which is covered with 4.5kg gold over the hands, trunk and crown. The idol also wears a gold necklace, thread and ring. Last year, the pandal had 1.25 crore people over 11 days of the festival. “This year, we have an attendance of 15 lakh people per day,” said Kamble.