Several millions of people in Mumbai and in other parts of Maharashtra trooped out onto the streets to bid an emotional adieu to their favourite elephant-headed Lord Ganesha at the end of the 10-day Ganapati festival Wednesday.
The day started with colourful revelry, as people sang bhajans and danced, and performed aartis of around 100,000 big and small idols of Lord Ganesha before taking them in huge processions to the beats of drums in the fourth and final phase of immersion Wednesday.
An estimated 450,000 idols were taken out for immersion in the rest of Maharashtra, especially the coastal Konkan region, in the state's biggest annual religious festival, first popularised by Bal Ganghadhar Tilak as a public event to mobilise support for the cause of freedom from British colonial rule. The celebrations completed 120 years this year.
The processions progressed slowly Wednesday, as a sea of humanity accompanied the idols to designated immersion sites at the beaches, creeks, ponds, lakes, wells and specially created artificial immersion spots around the city, and big and small rivers in the rest of Maharashtra.
Mumbai's traditional immersion spots are the beaches at Girgaum Chowpatty, Shivaji Park, Worli, Juhu, Versova, Marve, Madh Island, Manori, Gorai, Thane Creek, Bhayander Creek, Vasai Creek and a lake inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivli.
The Mumbai and state police have made elaborate arrangements for security, traffic regulations and safety of the devotees everywhere, with other state and central agencies on stand-by to tackle any emergencies.
In Mumbai, besides the police, State Reserve Police Force and Rapid Action Force, helicopters of Indian Navy and Coast Guard conducted regular sorties to keep an eye from the sky.
The official agencies are helped by personnel of BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Home Guards and trained volunteers of the 11,000-plus Ganeshotsav organisations to maintain security and order.
In an unprecedented development this year, at Girgaum Chowpatty, hordes of stingray and jellyfish washed ashore. This spot is the biggest immersion spot for some of the most gigantic idols measuring 20 feet tall and above, and the deaths of sea creatures caused concern.
Last week, during the first phase of immersion, around five dozen devotees were stung by these fish, creating a scare among the people.
This forced the BMC to issue special alerts dissuading people from venturing into the sea water more than a metre deep, and asking them to wear gum-boots. Devotees were told not to enter the water bare-bodied, and children were asked to steer clear of the water.
Special medical teams with medicines have been kept ready to tackle any eventualities out of the aquatic threats, city Mayor Sunil Prabhu said Wednesday.
Several social organisations, NGOs and societies have made arrangements for giving drinking water and snacks to the security personnel posted on duty for long hours at various points in the city.
Some of the biggest idols of Lord Ganesha including Lalbaugcha Raja, Ganesha Gullycha Raja, and others, many over 15-20 feet tall, were due for immersion later this evening.
This year, barring around two dozen organisations, a majority of the organisers voluntarily reduced the size of the idols to a manageable 18-20 feet.
The Western Railway and Central Railway have arranged for special suburban services Wednesday night, while BEST will run special buses to clear the huge rush of devotees returning home after the immersion till Thursday morning.
As in the past, after the immersion, scores of school and college students, youth organisations, NGOs, political parties and even some corporate groups will help the sanitation workers clean the city after the conclusion of the festival.
In the Konkan, thousands of household idols were taken out for immersion in the local rivers, ponds and the beaches dotting Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts since Wednesday morning.
Mega processions were witnessed in Pune, Kolhapur, Nagpur, Nashik, Jalgaon and other major cities carrying big and small idols for immersion to local sites.