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While Lalbaugcha Raja inspires lakhs of people to queue up for hours, there is much more to the idol than fulfilling wishes.

The acquired aura has roots in the fascinating history of the area and stories of people who have contributed to the legend.

That inspired Shriti K Tyagi of Beyond Bombay to run a tour called the Lanes of Lalbaug in January. She says, “The walk is not about religion.

Artisans at work on Ganesha idols in Ganesh Gully

For research, I met up with erstwhile mill workers who still live in the chawls. I picked up oral history and wanted to put the socio-cultural perspective in place. I wanted the stories. I don’t want to run a tour that rattles off dates.

I read up on mill workers and referenced from one of the most interesting books on the city, Bombay the Cities Within. Also, a lot of research was put into the rituals.”

The walk starts at Ganesh Talkies and takes in Ganesh Shaalas, the Chiwda gully, Navroz Baug and even the shrine of a woman tamasha artist.

Vaydehi Khandelwal, a Beyond Bombay tour artist, who conducts most of the Lalbaug tours, has photographed the area extensively. She takes us on a walk through the bylanes of Lalbaug.

Ganesh talkies

The walk  starts here  around Lalbaugcha Raja’s official residential address. “On the first day, the ritual of cleansing him with Panchamrit is followed before opening it to the public,” says Vaydehi. She indicates to a stone that is worshipped by the pandit when they start building the Raja. It’s also the only Ganpati which gets protection from the Mumbai police. 

Chiwda gully

Watch them make the famous farsaans that are exported. The gully for munchies is almost 50 years old and also has two factories, apart from the shops.

Chand Shah Waali Dargah

In the same gully, we visit the Chand Shah Waali Dargah. Vaydehi says, “Chand Shah was the younger brother of Lal Shah (Lalbaug gets its name from him). This Dargah was rebuilt after the ’92 riots and has been taken care of by a Hindu family since then.”

Hanuman theatre

Next to the dargah is the Hanuman theatre, once a place for tamasha artists and performances. Started by a mill owner, it was the only source of entertainment for mill workers.

Vaydehi adds, “You also see the shrine of an enigmatic tamasha artist, Mari aai. They never respected women in tamashas, but she became very popular.

Over the years, people started believing it is the shrine of a goddess but oral history and records show that it was dedicated to Mari aai.”

Tavaripada

Sufi saint Lal Shah’s dargah is in the middle of a Hindu residential area and been cared for by a Hindu family.

There’s a well in the precinct which was donated by the tamasha artists as they’d take shelter in the dargah.

Navroz Baug

A typical Parsi colony that was built in the memory of the ship builder Nauserwanji Wadia. 

Ganesh gully

We visit a Ganesh shaala that specialises in making small Ganpatis. A community of artisans works on the idols. Adjacent is a massive pandal made by a moulding engineer who normally works on movie sets. This year, the pandal looks like a South Indian temple from Madurai. The design is more of an intelligent replication. 

Chawls

The tour takes in a look at chawls around the area. Earlier, the chawls had community kitchens (khaanevaals) where wives or men would cook for migrant workers. Much of this charming area is under the threat of redevelopment.

The residents, mostly migrants from Konkan who worked in the textile mills and continued to stay even after the mills shut down following the 1982 strike, are learning to adapt to the changes.

Source: Mumbai Mirror

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