The historic Shivaji Park in Dadar west was decked up for a mega event on Thursday — the swearing-in of Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray as the new Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
The venue, carefully chosen by the party managers, has a fond, emotional connect with Mumbaikars and is famed for several reasons for the city's 1.70 crore people.
The 28-acre sprawling venue, with trees lining its outer borders, has a tall statue of the great Maratha warrior king, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, and a small Ganesh temple known as the Udyan Ganesh.
There is also a modest memorial of late Sena founder Bal Thackeray, who was cremated here in a public funeral a day after his death on November 17, 2012, and a bust of his wife, Meenatai, at the ground's entrance.
This is the same 94-year old ground which has given a 'Bharat Ratna' to India in the form of Sachin Tendulkar, who cut his cricketing teeth at Shivaji Park during the mid '80s, and a prominent member of the World Cup-winning cricket team of 1983, Sandip Patil.
This is also the venue where the Shiv Sena was virtually born and nurtured with its annual Dussehra rallies, a red-letter day in the calendar of all Shiv Sainiks, from where the party's founder used to address the cowering leaders in Delhi and Mumbai.
The ground, the biggest in south Mumbai, is a heady mix of cricket, politics and Shiv Sena, and a 'katta' (low flat wall) runs around its full boundary, with a paved pathway visited by thousands of morning/evening walkers every day.
Its history dates back to the pre-Independence era, when it witnessed several epochal events under the British Raj with several important rallies, public/private meetings and programmes being organised here to drum up support for freedom by the then prominent leaders of India.
Later in the post-Independence, the ground hosted the protagonists of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement, led by the legendary Acharya P.K. Atre and other stalwarts.
Owned by the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), there are 31 tenants on the ground, including the Shivaji Park Gymkhana, Bengal Club and others who occupy nearly half the area of the park, while the rest is open and windy for the most part of the year.
The ground has hosted some of the biggest political names in recent Indian history such as Indira Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee, among others. Sonia Gandhi had addressed her maiden rally at Shivaji Park before the 1998 Lok Sabha elections.
Politically speaking, Shivaji Park has always been considered an 'extended campus' of the Shiv Sena, with the late Bal Thackeray's Dussehra rallies getting prime coverage. The legacy has been continued by his son and Chief Minister-designate Uddhav Thackeray since the past many years.
"Early mornings are usually the time when cricketers of all ages in full gear troop here for training or practice. In fact, some of them play dedicatedly as if they want to break all records of Sachin Tendulkar," laughed retired college professor R.N. Desai, who is a regular morning walker at the park.
Other legendary cricketers to have trained or played at Shivaji Park include Ramakant Desai, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil, Dilip Vensarkar, Vijay Manjrekar, Dilip Sardesai, Ashok Wadekar, Balu Gupte, Eknath Solkar, Chandrakant Pandit, Lalchand Rajput, Pravin Amre, Vinod Kambli and Sanjay Manjrekar, among others.
The Shivaji Park vicinity also has some well-known citizens, mostly in old buildings, including former Lok Sabha Speaker and Shiv Sena CM Manohar Joshi, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena President Raj Thackeray, singer Anup Jalota, actor Milind Soman, several top cricketers, businessmen and other celebs.
The ground is flanked on the west by the Veer Savarkar Memorial, the Babasaheb Ambedkar Memorial, Balasaheb Saheb Thackeray National Memorial in the erstwhile Mumbai Mayor's Bungalow, and other important buildings, with the Arabian Sea in the background where the Rajiv Gandhi Bandra-Worli Sea Link looms faintly on the horizon.