Lalbaugcha Raja - From the Pages of History

Think of Lalbaugcha Raja and what's the first thing that comes to your mind? Grandeur? Celebrities? Crowd? Wish Fulfilling? Well, Mumbai's very own beloved 'Raja' had humble beginnings. Ever wondered what the initial idols looked like? Or how the mandal was formed? Read on to know all about one of Mumbai's renowned pandals - Lalbaugcha Raja.

The Mandal - which was then known as the Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal (Lalbaug) was set up in 1934 in a simple locality, which was then known as Peru Chawl. The chawl and nearby market was forced to shut in 1932 and the locals - mostly fishermen and vendors, vowed to get a Ganpati if their wish was fulfilled. As their vow was fulfilled, the locals formed a committee and in 1934, the first ever idol was welcomed! The ganpati became famous as the 'Market cha Raja' or 'Market cha Ganpati'. As more and more devotees began queueing up to make a wish or fulfil their vows, Navsacha Ganpati and Lalbaugcha Raja became popular names.

The Ganpati idol of Lalbaugcha Raja has been created and designed by the Kambli family of Mumbai since 1935. Earlier, the idol would change every year as per theme and backdrop. Every year, the Mandal would pick a unique theme, ranging from independence struggle to mythological stories & social issues. According to locals, the mandal played a key role during the freedom struggle. In 1949, they have even had a Mahatma Gandhi inspired idol. 

All Archive Images - Credit: Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal

However, post 1990, things changed. The overall set up became much simpler, with just a basic backdrop. The idol was seated on a king style throne. But, the idol features and pose would change every year (till 2007). Some felt it matched the name given by locals, which is - Lalbaug cha Raja (King of Lalbaug). As crowds began to swell, the space required for themes & decorations, also became a major problem (as the pandal lane is narrow, with very little space in and around). Hence, sticking to a standard idol was seen as a good option. Since 2007 (till now), all idols have had the same features and pose. However, since 2015, the latest addition has been a unique throne (prabhaval). Some of the recent ones include Owl in 2016 (Goddess Laxmi's Vahan), and a Kurma Avatar (Turtle) in 2017. During the pandemic, the mandal organised a blood donation drive instead of the usual grand celebration in 2020. The following year, a smaller version of the idol was worshipped by the mandal trustees and members (large scale celebrations were cancelled across the country due to the pandemic, hence devotees were not allowed inside the pandal and other premises).

This year too, the 10-day long celebration will be a grand affair.And, it will also be a poignant moment for several loyal devotees, who have over the years, enjoyed the stunning backdrop and decor created by renowned art director - Late Nitin Chandrakant Desai. Every year, Desai's stunning art work and touch of royalty would turn into a big attraction during the festive season. Post 2015, he also started designing the throne. This year, the celebration shall witness one of Desai's final work as an artist. For this year, the theme is designed to pay a tribute and mark the 350th year of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's coronation. Based on the 'Raigad Killa' backdrop, Lalbaug cha Raja shall be seen sitting on a majestic 25-ft throne, exactly like the one that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj occupied in the fort. The background of the pandal is said to be inspired by the main entrance of the fort, called the Nagarkhana.

 Did you know? In 2011, the Kambli family became the first idol sculptors to patent the Lalbaug cha Raja idol design. As the demand for replicas went up and several other sculptors began copying the idol's style and features, Ratnakar Kambli (who currently heads Kambli arts) applied for a patent, making this the first ever case of patent application for an idol. 

Over the years, while themes and idols have changed, one thing remains the same. The mandal, including locals, have always taken a step ahead when it comes to spreading awareness on social issues. Today, while the mandal does not have backdrops based on social activities, they organise events that help several major causes. Some of the prominent causes includes a dialysis centre, regular blood donation drives, plasma donation camp during the covid-19 crisis, computer training institutes with nominal fees, free IAS coaching among others.

No wonder they say - The King's empire is filled with love and support for everyone.

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Priya Adivarekar

Priya Adivarekar - Founder and Creative Director at Diary of a Dancebee. She is also a renowned Voice Actress and award winning artiste, with serious passion for dance. When not working round the clock, she can be seen reading, enjoying a movie-binge or listening to music.
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