Lalbaug is a well-known district of Mumbai. Its original fish market on the coast of Arabian Sea was closed in 1932. In this situation, the fishermen and vendors made a prayed to Ganesha to obtain a new permanent site for their market and their work. Thanks to the authorities, they were eventually granted land. On this, the new market was erected and then the fishermen fulfilled their vow. They installed a statue of the elephant-headed deity on the day of Ganesh Chaturthi.
That fact happened in 1934 and since then the tradition is repeated every year. Because Ganesha fulfilled the wish of those fishermen, that statue became known for fulfilling the desires of its devotees. Therefore, each new celebration became more crowded to the point of reaching the two million people in the ten days of the festival.
In order to manage this number of devotees, the organizers of Lalbaugcha Raja create two different tails. Through one people can touch the feet of Ganesha idol, and through the other one can just see the idol of Ganesha. In both cases the rows are long, but the first is longer. As it is assumed that touching the idol and making a direct offering is more effective in achieving fulfillment of desires.
From this perspective zenith, and also with some comfort, I watched the human tide pushing and struggling to get to the idol. It gave me ambivalent feelings. On one hand, one can praise the devotion and faith of these people. They are willing to wait for hours to barely observe the idol for less than 1 minute and give their coconut offering to an assistant who picks them up in a box without ever touching the feet of Gaṇesha.
On the one hand, devotees can make their donation online and also receive their blessing, but it is good to know that much of the money raised during the festival is used for charitable activities.
The statue of Lalbaugcha Raja from its origin is prepared by the same family of sculptors. The fact that the idol is new and not an image loaded with tens, hundreds or thousands of years of worship continues to influence my perception that the massive visit to the Lalbaug market is more than a spiritual event.
In this respect, it is true that despite being two weeks old, the prana pratishtha is done, the ceremony in which the eyes are painted, thus infusing "life" to the statue. I only count my impressions, which is no doubt dyed by the heat and the roar of Mumbai, but without forgetting that for years I have been a faithful devotee of Ganesha.
Hundreds of thousands of people line up to reach Lalbaugcha Raja during Ganesh Chaturthi. Those who go for the longest and slowest queue can leave their offering of money, sweets, coconuts, flowers, etc. before being quickly removed from there. Some devotees throw flowers from a distance. Others simply deposit their offerings in a kind of lateral section that is filled with bags.
Others give up heavier objects to volunteers, that goes from hand to hand until it is closer to the deity. Many parents go with their young children including babies. I saw the case of a mother who passed her 6-month-old baby to a volunteer.
As you can see, my feeling was not particularly inspiring, although my Ganesh Chaturthi experience was complete. Devotion has many facets and religion as well. Spirituality, in essence, is beyond all these rituals although for some people they are necessary and useful. It is said that there are two points of view. In India, that is true and also falls short. The points of views are infinite.