Updated: Sep 13, 2018
Before the serene, devotion-invoking Ganpati idols make their way into the streets of Mumbai, they meet their creators here.
The Ganpati idols of Mumbai are a class apart. They exude aura and grace. Their smiling eyes gaze with compassion. Their calm benevolence fills you up with devotion. And, the life-like colouring, proportions and attire makes you believe that you are in the presence of God.
If you take a walk through the lanes of Parel, Chinchpokli and Lalbaug in Central South Mumbai, you will stumble upon several workshops, big and small, where some of these devotion-invoking Ganpatis slowly take form.
Vijay Khatu’s Workshop in Parel is one of the big and famous murti karkhanas of Mumbai. It takes its name after its founder, Vijay Khatu, who used to be a mill worker before it shut down. Vijay then became a student of the famous murtikarak [idol-maker] of Mumbai, Dinanath Weilling, and has been making idols for several decades now. In the last 40 years, he has created more than 250 Ganesha idols of over 25ft.
The workshop is well known for its creation of Vasaicha Maharaja, the only fully-dressed Ganesh idol in of all of Maharashtra state. Some of the tallest idols for famous pandals of Mumbai like Chandanwadi, Khetwadi, Tulsiwadi, Chirabazaar and the very important Chinchpokhlicha Chintamani come to life in here. Vijay's Ganpatis have loyal clientele from Nashik and Pune as well. Under Vijay is a large team of idol makers and artisans, many of whom travel in from Bihar for the season. Work begins three months before the festival. And, assumes a delirious pace closer to the date. Lately, he is training some of them in eco-friendly Ganpatis.
Be prepared to meet a rather large congregation of Ganpatis here, a fascinating line-up, ranging in sizes and shapes. Row after row of Lords patiently wait to be put together, some missing hands, some legs, some trunks, some colour. Their vehicle, the rat, are parked in another section.
It is strange to see them devoid of their aura, at the mercy of humans.
In the misty atmosphere of POP dust, there is moulding, welding, and colouring in progress. Many artisans are perched on scaffoldings, some on the shoulders of the mighty God, with paint cans and brushes, in a meditative work mode. In time each idol will become quite different from the other in colour, theme and propping – A slight tilt of the head, a levitation, a dance pose, an ornamentation, the number of hands, an inspiration from politics or movies. Every imagination will be crafted to perfection as per client brief, then wrapped in plastic for protection from the monsoon.
Soon, these Ganpatis will be available for darshan and offerings. Devotees will queue up for hours and scramble for a mere glimpse. The idols will assume individual identities with their location's names attached to theirs - Parelcha Raja, Girgaumcha Maharaja, Chinchpokhlicha Chintamani. They will even be pitted against one another's glory for 10 days in the media and in conversations. But right now, in this workshop, they are all just Ganpatis in a blissful state of chalky-white sameness.