At Agripada, a lasting Ganpati tradition continues in sensitive times

Lalbaugcha Raja idol procession halts for two minutes opposite Hindustani Masjid, welcomed by Hindus and Muslims together

It all started over two decades ago, when slogan-shouting Hindus accompanied by loud music led their Ganpati deity into localities offering namaaz. So, at a time when the polarisation of communities is once again in the spotlight, the genuine amity at the annual pit-stop of the Lalbaugcha Raja at minority-dominated Agripada during the holy month of Ramzan was a sight to witness.

"Our Muslim brothers have been coming to welcome the lord at Byculla for over more than 20 years," said Lalbaugcha Raja mandal president Sunil Joshi. As the idol makes its way from Lalbaug to Girgaum Chowpatty, it makes a series of scheduled halts en route to immersion, Agripada being one.

On Sunday, around 100 policemen and a Special Reserve Police Force battalion stood guard at this most sensitive spot. And, as has been the tradition, Lalbaugcha Raja was garlanded during his two-minute halt right opposite Byculla's Hindustani Masjid, by Hindus with Muslims standing alongside.

With idol worship banned in Islam, members of the community who participated in Hindu festivals were often isolated. "The practice was in existence a long time back, but now the masjid does not participate nor pays any money," said Altaf Patel, general secretary of the Hindusani Masjid, who himself is a part of the committee and remains present onstage when the Ganesha idol comes visiting.

Former MLA Madhu Chavan is among those ensuring that everyone gathers at the time of the procession. "We have been doing this for years and both communities participate," he said.

Before Ganeshotsav begins, trustees of the mosque and the Lalbaugcha Raja mandal meet to ensure that the arrival of the procession in Nagpada and Agripada does not clash with namaaz timings. "If the procession reaches here by 6 pm or before that, it stops until namaaz is complete," said one of the trustees.

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