Time travelling with Mumbai’s famous Lalbaugcha Raja.
Walking into Lalbaug on the first day of Ganpati is an experience that will never match up to any I have had before. The images I had seen online didn’t even come close to the scenes that unfolded in front of me. Standing in the heart of all the action, I became one with the wild frenzy of people, lights, colours and clamour, as I walked in unison towards the mythical idol. Seated on his cushiony seat, Lalbaugcha Raja was unfazed by the million eyes looking at him.
The story of Lalbaugcha Raja dates back to 1932 when the Lalbaug market was shut down. The vendors and fishing community prayed to Ganpati Bappa for reinstating their livelihoods. In 1934, by divine intervention or by government benevolence, the market was rebuilt. The very same year as a mark of gratitude, a Ganpati idol was worshipped by the community in the heart of Lalbaug. And as tradition goes in Maharashtra, the moniker became Lalbaugcha Raja. According to my sources, it is the oldest Ganpati idol in history and the most revered.
Here’s a pictorial journey of the Lalbaugcha Raja from the early 1930’s to its present avatar.
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The first idol was commissioned to Madhusudan Kambli in 1935. For the past 85 years the idol has been patented to the Kambli artisans.
The first Lalbaugcha Raja idol from 1935 (right) and the idol as a Maratha warrior in 1936 (left)
In the second decade, Lalbaugcha Raja reflected India’s ongoing struggle for independence.
The two most intriguing styles of sculpting the idols in 1942 and 1945
The Raja in post Independence India is seen as a moral guide and king to his people, with a larger addition of disciples around the main idol.
In the 1950’s, the idol became a mythical scene frozen in time
The 1960’s idol is never seen alone. He is accompanied by multiple characters around him, especially the 1964 idol (no pictures exist) which is depicted in a documentary painting.
On the left is Lalbaugcha Raja in 1950 and on the right is a painting of the idol from 1964 with Jawaharlal Nehru seated
One of the patented features by the artisans from the Kambli family is the slim, athletic human like Ganpati.
Idols from 1970 and 1978
The Lalbaugcha Raja is also known to be Navsacha Raja, or the one who fulfills wishes.
The 80’s saw the idol appear on the stage scaled up to 10 feet and closer to how we see it today
The idol is crafted to tower over the thousands of devotees pouring through the gates of Lalbaug.
Lalbaugcha Raja from the 90’s
In the 2000’s the deity became popular and established as the biggest in the country, managed by the The Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal.
The Lalbaugcha Raja from 2001 (left) and 2008 (right)
2010 till present day
The 21st century Raja is ornate and elaborate, set in custom designed thrones and backgrounds where atmospheric effects have been added from video projections, smoke machines and sound effects.
The present idols are created and curated around a theme each year
Milind Deora takes us behind the scenes to meet the iconic Lalbaugcha Raja and the men who make it happen on 'All Access Mumbai'
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By Soumi Roy Chowdhury
Photographs by: The Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal