Posted by: robie2002 | 24 September, 2008

Lalblog cha Raja


My trip to Mumbai this month coincided with Ganapati (Ganesha) Festival, and it was great to be in the city when something genuine was happening.

I was honoured to be asked on the Sunday of my arrival to visit the flat of a very good friend to take part in that evening’s prayers; after which we retired for a more typical evening with some other friends, some Kingfisher and some Carlsberg.

My induction in to Ganapati did not stop there however, with one of the many highlights of the week being a visit to see Lalbaugh cha Raja (the King of Lalbaugh, often to referred to as the King of Bombay). Now the Lalbaugh Ganapati is famous as being the biggest in Mumbai (not Maharstra though as there is a larger one in Pune); Lalbaugh is also the home to the second biggest Ganesha idol in Mumbai as well.

Now it is incredibly difficult to see the Lalbaugh cha Raja, if only for the time it takes, people will think nothing of queuing 12-14 hours (up to 24 hours in the prayer queue). However, this being Mumbai, there is always a way round things if you know the right people, and so all week a colleague, known to well connected, was trying to see if he could get me in. However each evening that during the day he had promised something might happen, he was strangely nowhere to be found…

Then, on the Thursday, the call finally came at 9pm, that there was maybe a 5% chance that would be able to get in. We were off.

What an evening it turned out to be. The ‘pass’ was actually arranged by another colleague, much to my friend’s chagrin none of his direct contacts had come through. And even as we arrived in Lalbaugh it wasn’t certain that we would be able to get in; as you can imagine every volunteer helping out has at least 100 people asking if they can get them in, so all were trying to get at least 10 people in to the queue.

When we first arrived we were told that the pressure was too much at that time, and to see some of the smaller idols instead; mind, when I say small they must easily still have been 10 – 12 feet tall. The first we saw had some animated wooden figures portraying a story about a charlatan cut down to size by Ganesha and was it was all pretty easy to get in to see.

Next we were off to see the second biggest Ganesha (the Prince as my colleague put it). This necessitated a quick short cut past a reasonable queue, but was by no means a taster of what was to come. The ‘Prince’ (sic) is pretty awe-inspiring in himself. Technically he is not allowed to be taller than the King, but can be more ornate, and was probably my favourite, even ahead of the King.


Then, photo snapped, aura breathed in, it was on to try for the main show. The fervour of the crowd and sheer number of people thronging around the entrance and all roads leading to the King is unbelievable, well until you remember this is a city of 16 Million people. The ebb and flow though is like a rough sea off a beach set with a red flag, seemingly always ready to sweep up the unsuspecting in the relatively unseen undercurrent. Thankfully my minders kept me close at hand and guided me through the meleé.

We were waiting outside the queue for an hour with a rising sense of excitement, fuelled by the expectation of the thronging queues and animated, massed crowds. Standing there waiting, I had time to take in all around me and was amazed by the advertising. It was, I realised everywhere, outside the main centre I could understand, but even here, flanking the patient, queuing masses, were the words, “Lalbaugh has opened its door to beauty. Step in”. Somehow it felt wrong, felt like actually everyone was queuing to get a facial.

In the meantime the battle between the swarm of people trying to cut in to the queue, and the marshals meant to be keeping them at bay seemed to be on the verge of descending in to a full on riot, police were loitering with intent and batons drawn, it was just at this point that We spotted our man on the inside and had to make for the queue; brilliant! Now I have fought crowds in Hong Kong as a child, elbows out, eyes open, always aware of where my family were as well as the path to my destination, but this was an entirely different game altogether; I was genuinely worried for my health for a few minutes, not least when one of the marshals started trying to manhandle me out of the queue just as I was about to succeed in getting in. He was  seemingly questioning why I, a foreigner should be allowed to cut in, a thought I couldn’t really fault him for as I was asking the same thing myself ‘why should I get in ahead of all these people genuinely clamouring to see the King? He’s not even my god, I don’t have a god…’

Through sheer persistence it all got settled and I was in… Conspicuous, and being eyed suspiciously by those around me, but in. The highlight of the formal queuing was the arrival of a Bollywood star who sauntered past most of the line, until a suitable  murmur of recognition had built up, and then with timing from years of knowing when to maximise attention he stopped to receive the flocks of excitable fans (all ages and both genders) wanting autographs and photos before continuing on his way.

After winding our way round the temple complex, some permanent, some erected for the Ganapati Fest, we arrived at the final turn. And after queuing for 12 hours, waiting in line while ungrateful foreigners jump the queue at the last moment, you turn that corner and….it is all over in the blink of an eye, well almost, it must last all of a minute as there are marshals furiously shoving everyone along so as not to hold up the 12 hours of queue still behind.

Still, it is a magnificent sight, not just the Ganesha, but the whole hubbub, chaos, the energy, the colour, the noise, the pressure of so many people straining to see their god, to make their wish. And that is the crux of it, they say that you should make a wish when you are in front of the idol and it will come true; and what was my wish, well if I told you that it wouldn’t come true would it…!?




  1. R,
    you have witnessed what i havent so far 🙂


  2. Whoopee! God blessed? A post! A miracle! 😉

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