Thursday, 10 January 2013

Behold, the Elephant Lord approaches

Regal grandeur: This idol was at least a good 8 feet in height, and was accompanied by a smaller version at its base.

It is widely proclaimed that he people of Bombay are a festive lot, and can come together to celebrate at the drop of a hat. However, nothing puts them in a more jubilant mood than the festival of Ganeshotsav, the arrival of the Hindu lord Ganesh on earth. While I am not particularly religious myself, the festival is certainly a spectacle to behold, irrespective of your religion or nationality. Spanning for a duration of 12 days, preparations for the festival begin months in advance. As early as January, sculptors and artists begin to hone their skills and create masterful idols in different postures and sizes. While some may choose to depict the lord in dance, others go big, and create larger-than-life models poised upon huge thrones. It is said that the demand for these idols is so high, some sculptors make their entire year's bread and butter by this one festival. 

While these photographs do very little justice to the sheer extravagance of the festival, I hope they will convey perhaps a small feeling of what it was like to stand among the masses. For much better photographs, you can go here.

Mini-me: Identical to the bigger
idol in almost every aspect. 
In the days leading up to the festival, groups of devotees begin to organise venues across the city where they display massive idols of the elephant god decked up in fine linen and gold jewellry for worshippers to pay their respects. The cost for some of the idols can run up to crores (i.e. 10 million) of rupees, with the idols often surpassing several metres in height. Competition between different groups of devotees gets furiously close sometimes, with followers sparing no expense to outdo the other idols in terms of size and grandeur. However this is not a festival of quiet prayer and reverence. Every night, the streets of Bombay come alive with the raucous cries of young and old alike welcoming the lord into their homes. A questionable combination of religious songs and Bollywood hits are blasted through decade-old PA systems at eardrum-shattering levels, and entire species of birds are forced to migrate away from the city. Crowds of people parade down the city's busiest throughfares and bring traffic to a standstill. (ironically, Ganesh is said to be the remover of obstacles)People belonging to all faiths from all walks of life are welcomed over the period of 12 days and the entire city wears a smile of excitement. Sweets are thrust upon those who arrive to invoke the lord's blessing while at other places, masses throng in unaccountable numbers in order to get just a glimpse of tusk.

However, the highlight of the festival has to be the last day, when all the idols in the city are taken to the shores in order to be immersed into the Arabian Sea. The usually vehicle-packed streets of Bombay are deserted by afternoon (out of respect for the lord, or fear of local MLAs) and the routes leading to the beach are cleared to make way for Ganesha's final journey for the year. While I may keep away from religious fanaticism, the level of adoration and respect that the people of Bombay have for Ganesh is unrivaled in any other part of the world. As large contingents of people slowly march towards the beach on foot, they chant and sing praise of the lord, wishing that he may return a little earlier next year. The immersions carry on till late at night, with people coming into the city from all over the country just to witness the annual spectacle. 

Charity amongst the chaos: Even as hundreds flock to ask for the lord's blessing, a man transcends
humanity and distributes bananas to hungry devotees on the way to immersion.
(Thanks for the edit, TheArtistical.)

Until next year: Devotees say their last goodbyes to
an idol as it makes its way down a brightly lit street
This year, I was lucky enough to be caught in the heart of the festivities at Juhu beach, where most of the biggest idols in the city are taken to be sent off. As I staggered around with sand in my white shoes, gazing in wonder at the Lord towering above the tens of thousands of devotees that had gathered. The sea-breeze was substituted with the aromatic scent of incense and dozens of 4-man orchestras played makeshift renditions of old classics much to the crowd's delight. Many were covered with garlands of flowers and were illuminated with blinding halogen lamps. Despite people having walked for miles, all sense of fatigue and weariness was forgotten, and only Ganesh took the spotlight. The whole scene was enough to dazzle and stupefy any outsider or tourist crazy enough to brave the crowds. As the sun began to set and the sky grew dark, the idols slowly made their way to the edge of the sea shore, where they were given their final send off. Young children stared in wonder as the bright lanterns slowly began to fade into the sea, while the old and venerable chanted wordlessly, presumably requesting the lord to give them the strength that they may survive to witness this grand spectacle of man once again. :)


  1. insane.. sounds like a cool experience. You didn't take any footage?

  2. Unfortunately no, although this somewhat captures the essence :

  3. ganpati bappa moryaa...... its always fun to be a part of the festivities.. good one :)