The colorful Mumbai Ganesh idols, which are displayed all over the city during the annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival, are an awe-inspiring sight. It's natural to wonder about how they're made and the amount of work that's gone into creating them. If you're interested in finding out, it's possible to see the statues being crafted. Where and how depends on how much time you have available.
Idol making is big business. The skill is handed down from generation to generation, plus many migrants also come to Mumbai to help in the labor intensive process. It gets underway around three months before the festival takes place.
If You Have A Day or Two
Head to the village of Pen, two hours south of Mumbai. It is there that the majority of Ganesh idols are crafted. The idol making industry in Pen is huge, with most people from the village involved in process. But, just how huge is huge? The figures are impressive. Around 500 units produce 600,000-700,000 Ganesh statues a year, with a turnover of nearly 6 crore rupees. More than a quarter of the statues are exported. The rest are sold in India, but for a premium -- everyone wants an idol made in Pen!
You'll discover that idol making in Pen has an interesting history. The villagers have always been artistic. Originally, they were adept at making items such as idols out of paper, and stuffed parrots. When the Ganesh festival went from being a private to a community event in the 1890s, some of Pen's artisans shifted their skills to making clay idols for the festival. They were sold locally under a barter system for a few kilos of rice, but there was no money in it. Of course, that's not the case these days!
A Ganesh Idol Museum and Information Center has been set up in Pen for tourists to learn more. It's open from 4.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m., except on bank holidays.
How to Get There: Pen lies on the NH-17 Mumbai to Goa highway. It can also be reached by train from Mumbai. Not many long distance trains stop there. However, it's possible to catch a local service, such as the Ratnagiri Passenger train from Dadar in central Mumbai (this train only has a mid afternoon departure though).
Since Pen is on the way to the popular beach location of Alibaug, you could combine your trip with a getaway there, or to quieter Kashid beach further south. It won't be beach weather due to the monsoon, but you'll still be able to relax! Otherwise, there are a few decent enough hotels in Pen, such as the Hotel Marquis Manthan.
If You Have a Few Hours
Take a walk around the lanes of Parel, Chinchpokli, and Lalbaug in central Mumbai. You'll find workshops, big and small, everywhere. The most famous workshop is that of Vijay Khatu, in Parel. He has a Facebook Page.
How to Get There: The Mumbai local train is the quickest and easiest way. You can start by getting off at Chinchpokli and heading right up Sane Guruji Road towards Ganesh Talkies and the Lalbaug Flyover. Alternatively, if you'd prefer to take a tour, Beyond Bombay offers guided walks through the lanes of Lalbaug.