Friday, September 21, 2018

[Must-Visit] Ganesh Pandal! Mumbai's Oldest: Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati, Girgaon.


Heard of Girgaoncha Maharaja?

I am sure many of you are nodding your heads for a 'YES'. Girgaon after all, is home to Mumbai’s popular and most sought after Ganpati Pandals such as Girgaoncha Maharaja who gives tough competition to the top Ganpati pandals of Mumbai like Lalbaugcha Raja, Andhericha Raja, Fortcha Raja, GSB Mandal and many more every year.

But did you know?


In the shadow of many such famous tall and giant Ganeshas, in a narrow gulli (alley) brimming with small room tenements, hole in the wall shops and people on the move, lies a petite Ganesha, humbly nestled in the quiet hug of a close knitted community.

I first came across 'Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal's Ganesha' while searching for 'unique eco friendly themed Ganesh Pandals to visit  in Mumbai' just 2 days back. On reading further, I couldn’t help but sit up and take notice as I came to know how rich in history the pandal  (canopied tents set up at corner of streets) was and how rooted its celebrations associated with Ganeshotsav.

Inspired by Lokmanya Tilak and his idea of uniting people for the freedom struggle through the cultural thread of a public celebration (sarvajanik mahotsav), this was THE FIRST Ganesh pandal to have been set up in Mumbai in the year 1893. The same pandal was later graced by the presence of the man himself - Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the year 1901 when he chose this place to render an enthralling speech thereby making this THE ONLY pandal in the pages of history that can boast of an event of such significance.

The very next day, armed with my camera and a water bottle, determined to visit the city's oldest Ganesh Pandal and Mumbai first Sarvajanik Gaeshotsav Mandal, I set out on my Ganesh Chaturthi Yatra for the season!

My Yatra to Mumbai’s Oldest Ganesh Pandal:


Lane towards Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal oldest in Girgaon, Mumbai.
It's a maze! The busy lanes of Girgaon.

Ascending from the overfoot bridge at the railway station, the town opens into a maze of quaint narrow alleyways crowded right to their edges by two-three storeyed apartment houses with hardly any spaces in between them. A multitude of shops lines the bazaars imparting a unique character to the alleyways, full of teeming life.

Houses near Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal in Girgaon, Mumbai.
2 storeyed chawl housing system of Girgaon.

I ask a few people in my way for directions (I prefer people over Google maps) but to my surprise, I receive blank stares at the mere mention of Keshavji Naik Ganpati Pandal.

To avoid getting lost in the network of lanes, I now turn my attention to Girgaoncha raja thinking having come so far, though my heart was firmly set on Keshavji Naik Ganesha Pandal only.

The tactic helped and pat came the replies:

'Oh, you want to visit Girgaoncha raja? Go straight, and then turn left'

On my way through the lanes in Girgaon, I came across a couple of hoardings flaunting the names of various Ganeshas housed from different mandals in different lanes at regular intervals.

Among them, I kept looking for the one with 'Girgaoncha Raja' printed on it.

I can still vividly recall how my eyes shone the moment it fell on the huge hoarding that I were to cross next – 

It read: Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sanstha, Mumbai's First Ganeshotsav, Keshavji Naik Chawl, 126th year.


Lane towards Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Mumbai's First Ganeshotsav in their 126th year:
Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesha at Girgaon.

Already tired from walking a fair distance and inquiring a good number of people to reach wherever I was (you see, in a maze of alleyways, it’s easier to lose your sense of the place and time), I read the board twice to confirm that I had indeed reached the Ganesha that I was initially hoping to meet.

Yes! I had read this right: It was Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesha indeed!

As I entered the lane beyond the board - I felt my heart jumping in joy and excitement –like my kind and benevolent friend, Ganesha had really invited me to His house.

Main lane leading to Keshavji Naik Chawl Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Entrance to the Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesh Pandal.

After Reaching His House: Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesha, Khadilkar Road, Girgaon.

Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl Eco friendly Ganpati in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganesha seated surrounded by the one storeyed houses in the chawl.

Time stands engaging with the hustle-bustle of the world outside as I step in the chawl where the main pandal is set. It's like entering a different era of the same place Mumbai, like soaking in a different version of the same festival - Ganesh Chaturthi. There is no loud music blaring from the loudspeakers, no DJ's, no expensive embellishments nor any unnecessary ostentation, all the banes of the modern day that we have come to embrace in the name of celebration and festivity are absent. Instead what you do get is pin drop silence, and lots of peace.

Eco friendly Ganesha at City's oldest pandal- Keshavji Naik chawl in Girgaon Mumbai
Time stands still at the Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati Pandal in Mumbai.

Perhaps, this was the way Lokmanya Tilak had envisioned the festival to always be: Of people coming together, not for some commercial, rowdy jamboree and loud Bollywood music blaring from loudspeakers but to exercise their faith and dig into their own goodness by coming together on one single platform and sharing their thoughts with one another on important matters for the greater good of the society. The vision of unity in diversity that the great people of the ages envisaged came at home in this modest pandal.

Eco friendly Ganesha at City's oldest pandal- Keshavji Naik chawl, Girgaon Mumbai
Eco friendly peaceful Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Ganesha decked in flowers at City's oldest pandal- Keshavji Naik chawl, Girgaon Mumbai
The Sanstha orders its idol from the same sculptor family for the last four generations.

The deity of the Ganesha is seated amid humble d├ęcor ornamented with fresh flowers and fruits within a temple-like structure made of thermocol. It is dark all around, enhancing the luminescence of the garlanded deity of Ganesha even more. He glows and in His effervescent light, everything, all worries, all thoughts, all darkness ceases slowly, everything seems to fade away… when and how I do not know. The entire setting lends an ethereal radiance to the pandal.

A man prays at Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati in Girgaon, Mumbai.
Ganpati Bappa Morya!

There is no one in the pandal except an elderly man, a local resident, who is circumambulating the Ganesha. I relay my appreciation to him to which he says that the celebrations have always been like this, solemn and rooted, for the past 12 decades. Made of natural shadu clay, the idol is also the same size every year – about two and half feet in height. He added that there are cultural programs for children in the evenings like dance, dramas and traditional song reciting and it is at that time that the whole atmosphere resembles a fest or a mela.

Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati in Girgaon, Mumbai.



I also learnt that the Ganesha of Keshavji Naik Chawl (managed by Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Sansthan) is brought in the chawl in a traditional manner in a palki (palanquin) every year. It is later taken for visarjan in the same palki and during both these events, the residents walk barefoot as a mark of respect. It might not be a celebrity pandal per se but it is no less renowned: Freedom fighters like Balasaheb Gangadhar Kher and S. M. Joshi have stayed here for sometime, late Shiv Sena President Bal Thackeray has delivered a speech and God of cricket Sachin Tendulkar also visited the Bappa for blessings.
Mumbai's first Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal -  Keshavji Naik Chawl houses in Girgaon, Mumbai.
A house adjoining the Ganesh Pandal in Keshavji Naik Chawl.

'Come in the evening aarti today.', says the elderly man as he prepares to file out of the pandal.

It isn't possible for me to travel all the way again this far but nevertheless delighted for the invite, I smile in acknowledgement: 'Whenever Bappa calls, then'

Hopefully, again next year.

|| Ganpati Bappa Morya ||

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Address: Khadilkar Rd, Kandawadi, Urankawadi, Mangal Wadi, Girgaon, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400004.

Traveller Tip: The Ganesha of Keshavji Naik Chawl Ganpati, Girgaon remains seated for the entire 11 days of the festival after which it proceeds for Ganesh Visarjan.

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