Mumbai, Aug 23 (IANS) The city of Mumbai reverberated with the first ‘azaan’ (call for prayers) of the holy month of Ramzan and the ‘aartis’ welcoming the elephant-headed Lord Ganesh as the 10-day Ganpati festival began here Sunday.
Several millions of Mumbaikars kept awake through Saturday night for last minute preparations for the installation of idols of Lord Ganesh in different public venues, housing complexes and homes.
Similarly, hundreds of thousands of Muslims got up early to start the first day of the month of fasting and prayers and visited nearby mosques to offer prayers.
Since last night, nearly 200,000 big and small idols started arriving in the city from artisans’ studios in different parts of Mumbai and Raigad for the festival that is celebrated with great enthusiasm in the city, the entire coastal Konkan region and Pune.
The two festivals got off to a peaceful start and there have been no reports of any untoward incident from anywhere, said the city police control.
Over 10,500 registered associations, apart from the 40,000 private housing complexes, have been preparing for the past few weeks for the Ganpati festival, the most popular of the state.
In Mumbai, the main themes at the marquees are the Nov 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and the recent swine flu plaguing the state.
These themes have come alive at thousands of Ganesh pandals or marquees across the city following a suggestion by the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samavaya Samiti (BSGSS), the umbrella organisation of all Ganesh festival associations in Mumbai.
Accordingly, hundreds of artists were till Saturday giving finishing touches to tableaux, paintings and decorations depicting an “artist’s impression” of the twin themes of terrorism and swine flu that are uppermost in the minds of the people, said BSGSS Pandurang Jadhav.
“We are using this festival to invoke the blessings of Lord Ganesh and simultaneously, spread messages of social relevance as hundreds of thousands of people take part during the 10-day festivities,” Jadhav said.
During the Ganesh festival, the pride of place is occupied by the Lalbaugcha Raja (King of Lalbaug) Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal, one of the biggest, most revered and among the oldest Ganesh associations in the city, in south-central Mumbai.
Security concerns are a priority for this association.
“We do not put up thematic displays here. But we have taken very high security precautions for the 15 million devotees expected from Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra during the 10-days,” said association president Satish Khankar.
The association’s 2,500-strong force of volunteers is being helped by Mumbai Police to safeguard the venue from any potential threats. There are hand-held and door frame metal detectors and walkie-talkie sets to send and receive alerts, Khankar said.
Lalbaugcha Raja attracts an average 1.25 million devotees each day and the crowds swell during weekends, Gauri pooja and on the immersion day.
On its part, the Mumbai police have taken precautions to safeguard the Ganesh festival all over the city, an official said.
Wireless vans with GPS, CCTVs, metal detectors, high-speed internet, personnel of Mumbai POlice, State Reserve Police Force and Riot Protection Force will be deployed at several parts of the city in the next 10 days, he said.
Bomb detection squad and dog squads will also be on alert, he added.
Apart from the huge marquees and the estimated 100,000 idols in households, thousands of villages in the entire Konkan region comprising Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg also have their own big and small idols of Lord Ganesh.