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Getting ready to greet the king

mumbai Updated: Aug 10, 2010 01:46 IST
Aarefa Johari
Aarefa Johari
Hindustan Times
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At this time of the year, he is the unchallenged king of Mumbai.

There’s a month to go before the elephant-god arrives in the city, and devotees of Lalbaugcha Raja are working full-time in service of the Lord known for granting wishes.

In the heart of Lalbaug, the stage has been set, the roof has been raised, truckloads of Plaster of Paris have been emptied into the maidan, and karigars (local sculptors who will create the idol) are getting ready to mould and paint the 12-foot divine figure.

But a veil of hushed secrecy surrounds all the activities.

“Every year, the face and expression of the Lord remains the same, but we change the pose that he strikes on his singhasan (throne),” said Santosh Kambli, artist and owner of Kambli Arts, which has been making the Lalbaugcha Raja idol since 1935.

“That’s all I can say for now — the rest is a surprise for the day the idol is unveiled.”

But for the city’s favourite Ganesh pandal, innovation in décor or themes is hardly a concern.

Crowds throng there for just one reason — the fulfillment of their most precious desires — and nearly everyone has a story to tell.

“Ten years ago I went to the Raja to pray for a child, and for money to pay back my debts. Both my prayers bore fruit that year itself,” said Anjali Rabale (37), a Grant Road-based maid who now visits Lalbaug religiously every year along with her son.

“I was fortunate to be able to rest my head on the Lord’s foot for a few seconds,” she added.

With lakhs of devotees set to visit the pandal every day of the festival, the organisers will need to take on over 3,000 volunteers from Lalbaug, besides the paid staff.

“Our focus is to ensure the smooth running of each devotee’s darshan,” said Satish Khankar, president of the Lalbaugcha Raja Mandal for the second year running.

Just like last year, the Mandal plans to provide facilities including clean toilets, supplies of water, tea and snacks and a medical aid unit complete with an intensive care unit.