Every year thousands of devotees of Lalbaugcha Raja in downtown Mumbai wait for hours in queues stretching between five to seven km, to get their wishes fulfilled during the 10-day long Ganesh Mahotsav. This is the special queue, constructed specifically for ‘mannat darshan’, which starts in the rear, a serpentine queue with about 40,000-60,000 people standing in the line for a minimum 8 hours and maximum of over 24 hours. The line never gets dispersed. It is also completely separate from the ‘general’ darshan which, as a “mukh darshan” is much shorter. Four hours is usually enough.
On Wednesday, Jyoti Pandya, had been standing in the ‘mannat’ queue since 11pm the previous night and finally made it to the darshan at 3 pm. “It’s the faith that brings me here every year. Last year I stood for one whole day in the line as I had a ‘mannat’ or wish, and Ganesha is one God who’ll never ignore you,” says the 43-year-old, household help who had come barefoot along with her 17-year-old daughter Meenaxi, who was still stuck in the line.
Ask her how she feels and she says, “We feel happy in his presence; it’s not unusual to see lakhs of devotees standing the whole day just to see the Lord. There’s light, music and the ambience is so lively. I wish I could come every day.”
Interestingly, followers include a three-month-old infant and a 100-year-old man, all waiting patiently for hours to seek blessings. No-one complains, no one shoves and pushes. You can break out of the queue for a spot of refreshment or to visit the loo and when you rejoin, there is not a word of remonstrance, no shows of bad temper. It is truly phenomenal.
Avinash Kumar, a 27-year-old engineer who has come from Bihar to visit the Lalbaugcha Raja this year, had to stand for 9 hours before he could seek the blessing of the Lord. “There’s no God like him, he’s very attractive. In Bihar you don’t get to see all this, I will try to come here every year, though it’s not easy” he says enthusiastically.
The organizers have been doing their bit, providing provisions including poha, water, tea, and biscuits to the followers to keep them comfortable and have also set up 7-8 medical centres along with stretchers and ambulances across Lalbaug. “Due to fatigue and dehydration, about 40-45 devotees have to seek medical attention from doctors and nurses everyday,” said a volunteer.
On the other hand, a physically vigorous Saranjit Singh from Ulhasnagar, who had come along with his entire family, had been in the line for 24 hours. “We left home at 7 in the morning on Tuesday and got out at 5 in the evening on Wednesday. We are not feeling tired at all, it’s the Lord’s blessing which drags us here” he says. The devotees are given a box of modak and a coconut as prasad.
According to the organizers, the rush will intensify even more at the weekend with people from all over the state over the state flocking to the mandal day and night. “Usually about 70,000 people visit everyday but from Friday it might be double this number. The darshan goes on for 24 hours,” stated a police officer of Kalachowkie division. Total number of personnel deployed at Lalbaugcha Raja is between 4,000 and 4,500. The police too have been working in two twelve hour shifts and security is very tight.