When you visit the Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal this year, get ready to be greeted by at least 200 security guards, police personnel, metal detectors and more than 100 CCTV cameras.
Security has always been a priority at the city's most popular mandal, which attracts up to 8 lakh devotees every day, with the number of visitors on the festival's first and final day going well above 10 lakh.
"We have to keep increasing security every year, as the number of visitors also keeps increasing," said Ashok Pawar, mandal president. "Though there has never been any untoward incident at the mandal so far, we cannot wait for something to happen," he said.
However, behind the elaborate security arrangements lies a story of faith and devotion towards the Lord who is known to fulfil devotees' wishes. Six years ago, Goregaon resident Kalpana Patil first came to seek the Lord's blessings for her son's Class 10 examinations. "When my son did well in the exam, my faith in the Lord was established, and I have been coming here every year since then," said Patil.
Last year, Shaina Sati, who is from Kerala, waited for 22 hours to seek blessings at the mandal. "I went the previous day at 10pm to wait in line and got the Lord's darshan only at 8am," said Sati.
"Several devotees come here from other countries as well," said Pawar.
For those who cannot come to the mandal, replicas of the Lalbaugcha Raja suffice. "I make several replicas of the idol every year that are taken by high-profile buyers including actors and politicians who believe in the powers of the Lord," said idol maker Santosh Kambli, the third generation of artistes at Kambli Arts, a family business that has been associated with the Lalbaug mandal since 1935.
Devotees donate generously. Last year, the total collections reached a record Rs 22 crore. "We direct the money towards our social initiatives including our dialysis centre and our public library," said Pawar.