For those from outside, the Ganesh temple and Vazira village are the same. “The village is the temple and the temple is the village,” Vishwas Rawte states. The 77-year-old is one of the founding members of a trust formed in 1970 to govern the temple. Four decades later, the temple is at the heart of life in Vazira.
The village’s inhabitants count themselves as Mumbai’s earliest settlers – its true natives. Nothing remains of the patches of dense forest and paddy and vegetable fields. The wooden houses have given way to highrises. The village doesn’t even look like a village any more.
Rawte, who traces his roots in Vazira back to at least ten generations, says when he was young, in the 1960s, the village had around 70 families. “Slowly, land owners sold off plots to builders. They had never seen such money before,” he says.But the towers of stone remained. Stone quarrying was an active and profitable activity in Rawte’s youth. He recalls climbing a heap of rocks and diving into the Ganesh lake below.
Today, a single beam of rock stands submerged in the square lake bound on two sides by the temple and on the other two by an under-construction tower. Cracked now in places, that rock serves as a living reminder to the origins of the temple.
One fine afternoon, Rawte says, while the rock nearby was being cut down, a napping worker had a strange dream. “In that dream, a voice told him not to break the rock and to build a temple of Ganesh there. When the worker woke up, he noticed that the rock was shaped like the god’s head.”
In 1962, Rawte and his friends got together to clean up the lake premises, and began constructing a permanent structure. Walls have been built around the head and the idol has been chipped into one of the sides. “Ours is the biggest Ganesh temple in the city after Siddhivinayak,” Rawte says proudly, adding each year, they immerse 4000 idols in the lake.
But the several thousands of devotees expected to turn up on Ganesh Chaturthi are dwarfed by the estimated 5 lakh devotees who descend upon Vazira on Angarki Chaturthi, leading to traffic snarls on the arterial Lokmanya Tilak Road outside.