Mumbai, Sept 12: Ganesh Chaturthi is arguably the biggest festival celebrated in Maharashtra. The month of September cultivates joy, excitement, and extraordinary devotion in the hearts of millions. Ganesh pandals spring up all over Mumbai city, from the more pompous of locations to its humbler suburbs. Each pandal holds a special place in the hearts of the citizens from the area, Vasai is no different.
The most awe-inspiring murti in this northern suburb is the Vasaicha Maharaja. The man responsible for giving Vasai its king is Vidyadhar Chendekar 63), upon whom the residents of Vasai rely for their yearly dose of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations.
“I came to Vasai from Girgaon in 1981 and established the Vasaicha Maharaja idol in 1983. From a very young age I was actively involved in Ganesh Utsav. The Ganpati at Lamington road served as my inspiration for Vasaicha Maharaja,” said Chendekar.
The preparation for this special annual event began about two months earlier with the Ashtavinayak pilgrimage to the eight temples in Maharashtra. Thereafter, the planning for the inauguration of the idol and the work involved begins in full swing.
The Vasaicha Maharaja is no ordinary idol. Its USP is the fact that it is the first idol in the state that was dressed up in full traditional Maharashtrian finery and jewellery, a pratha thatthey have been following since 2008.
Speaking to the Spice Enquirer, Chendekar said, “Generally, the idols are only dressed up in a sehra and pitambar. We add the sadra and pheta as well. The idea of having a Ganpati idol as if he were sitting on the moon, dressed up as a king was my dream. People told me I was mad and that it was not possible to make a sadra for the idol.”
“Eventually on the 25th anniversary of Vasaicha Maharaja, Rupesh Jadhav, who is responsible for the dressing up of Lalbaugcha Raja, said he’ll try and make a sadra for our Ganpati idol, even though he hasn’t dressed an idol in a sadra before. Somehow it worked out.”
“The budget for the whole attire including the sadra, sehra, and pitambar is Rs 1.75 lakh. For the Puja, Ganesh Yag, Atharvashirsha, Samyavarpan, Aagman, and Visarjan, the total cost comes up to Rs 7 to 8 lakh,” he added.
The mandal has around 50 local volunteers who help with the organization of the celebration. They also recruit people from outstation who are willing to help as and when required. Chendekar and his group of volunteers make it a point to donate Rs 2,501 each before collecting any money from the people of the area.
“Only when we donate first and foremost do we get the adhikaar to ask other people to do so,” added Chendekar.
The popularity of Vasaicha Maharaja is such that Chendekar reckons that there is not a single person within the district of Palghar who hasn’t come to see the idol.
For a murti so famous, it’s only fair for it to be crafted by one of the most talented sculptors in the land. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that between 1993 and 2017, the murti was made by the late Vijay Khatu, a renowned sculptor who had also made idols such as the Lalbaugcha Raja and Chinchpoklicha Chintamani among several others.
“I got to know Vijay Khatu about 30 years ago and formed a good bond with him. I was the first person to bring an idol made by Vijay Khatu to Vasai. It was a special idol to him. He used to think of me as his family and would never quote his own price. I would tell him the budget and he’d make it.”
Following Mr. Khatu’s death, the work of sculpting the 15-foot-tall Vasaicha Maharaja has been passed down to his daughter Reshma Khatu.
The Ganesh idol has also been a source of miracles for not just Hindus but also for those of other faiths.
Mr Chendekar narrated the story of a Catholic lady in the area who had a heart ailment. After praying to various gods, she eventually came to Vasaicha Maharaja and promised to donate a silver locket if her prayers were answered. She was miraculously healed and donated the locket to the mandap.
“Vasaicha Maharaja has also blessed people who are trying to conceive, those who want to get married, those who want to buy a house, among other things,” added Mr Chendekar.
However, the mandal is not only active during the festival season. They also serve as an NGO and have played an active part in providing charity since the 1980s.
Mr Chendekar said, “After the Latur Earthquakes, we sent a relief package of Rs. 11,000 on behalf of our mandal to the Chief Minister. We also donated clothes and food packages to the poor and needy during COVID. We have held polio drives, and vaccination drives against jaundice as well.”
With Ganesh Chaturthi a week away, Vasaicha Maharaja’s inauguration will take place on September 21.
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