The drizzle stopped as the sun came from its hideout behind clouds and day broke over the Mumbai skyline. Mind was tranquil as the taxi arrived, reminding me of the day's destination -- a shrine thronged by millions of believers seeking blessings before the auspicious start of significant endeavours -- Mumbai's Siddhivinayak temple.
The temple is situated at the heart of the city in Prabhadevi. It being a Saturday after Ganesh Jayanti and ahead of Ganesh Chathurthi, the temple was packed with devotees. Tuesday is the special day here and hence normally is crowded. But Saturdays and Sundays are the most crowded. The temple is heavily guarded. There are police outposts at the entrance to watch visitors and one has to pass through several metal detectors to enter the courtyard of the temple. The temple's trust has also put in place bio-metric systems for security purpose on special days.
Unperturbed by the height of sky-scrappers or the vastness of the slums, the temple, dearest to one of the world's most populated cities, stands holding high its small monumental tower. Mumbai's Ganesh devotees pray at the temple before they begin any new venture or work. The two hundred year-old temple is one of the top in Maharashtra in terms of footfalls and donations. Whenever the stock market takes a beating, market participants are seen visiting the temple to seek Ganesha's blessings. History tells that the temple was completed on November 19, 1801 by Laxman Vithu, an engineer, at the request of a wealthy lady called Deubai Patil. It is said that Deubai, who did not have any children, built the temple so that childless couples could come and pray there. Later, Ramakrishna Jambhekar, a devotee of the Hindu saint Swami Samarth buried two rare idols in front of the main idol of the temple. Fulfilling the prediction of Jambhekar, it is believed, twenty one years later Ganesha self-manifested on one of the branches of a purple orchid tree that grew in the temple.
In 1952 a Hanuman idol was found when the ground was dug up for the development of Sayani Road. This idol of the monkey god, a symbol of strength and devotion to Lord Rama, was installed in the temple and is a favourite deity frequented for blessings by the health-conscious Mumbai youth with offerings such as leaf garlands.
The temple, which was originally a Ganesha idol under a banyan tree had to be developed as the fame of Sidhibudhidayaka spread quickly. This kind of fame was next only to Mumbadevi's, from which the city got its name. As the rush to the temple became too much and started to affect the city life, Maharashtra government formed a trust comprising social workers, doctors, engineers and businessmen and undertook the responsibility of temple management.
The first task in front of the trust was to make a new building that could accommodate the growing number of devotees and reinstall the Ganesha idol there. As per the requirement, a multi-storeyed building was constructed to house the trust's office and a digital library that has thousands of books including ancient mythological texts. Several people including students pursuing professional courses make use of this library which has a book-bank facility through which one can borrow books and return them before the stipulated expiry.
Siddhivinayak, who is believed to have a sweet tooth, is given sweets as an offering and the same is later given as prasadam to devotees. The pathway leading to the deity is crowded with stalls that sell items meant to be offered to lord Ganesha. Bermuda grass to flowers and sweets worth thousands of rupees are sold here. The temple trust has installed systems including Queue Complex to ensure seamless movement of devotees.
Mumbaikars believe that this easy-to-please god answers devotee's prayers immediately. Even politicians and Bollywood stars visit the temple for blessings of the elephant-headed god, who, Mumbaikar's believe, answers sincere prayers irrespective of the devotee's caste or religion. The main entrance to the temple has eight Ganesha statues in line with the Maharashtrian belief. For devotees from Kerala, where idols in temples are situated away from them, it would be a new experience to be able to enter the inner shrine and see the idol at close quarters.
The Siddhivinayak idol, about two feet six inches long and carved of a single stone, is housed in a shrine covered by sheets of gold. The trunk of the idol is turned a little too far to the right than usually seen in Ganesha idols and devotees believe that it adds to the speciality of Siddhivinayak. The upper set of hands hold lotus in one and a hatchet, as if ready to shove away the obstacles from the devotees' lives, in the other. The lower pair has rosary in one hand and modak in the other symbolising His large appetite. The serpent that runs through the right side of the deity's belly could be mistaken for a sacred thread. On the deity's forehead is a symbol of the third eye.
On either sides of the deity are idols of two goddesses, Ridhi and Sidhi. It is from the presence of these two goddesses, signifying victory and prosperity, that the temple got its name Siddhivinayak.
The roads were crowded on the way back as Ganesh Chathurthi idols to be installed at various places were being taken through the streets in processions. Ganesh Chathurthi is a big festival in Mumbai and already idols of various shapes and colours have started appearing on the road sides.
How to get there
The temple is located 25 kilometres away from Mumbai Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport. City cabs are preferable as they charge only as per metre (unlike the auto rickshaws back home).
One can take a local train from Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus and get down at Dadar Station and hire a cab for Rs 25 for the 1.5 kilometre ride to Prabhadevi.
Tuesdays 3.15 am to Wednesday 12.30 am Other days 5.30 am to 9.50 pm