While in India for work I happened to land on a big festival celebrating the birth of Ganesh named Ganesh Chaturthi. Before this week I really had no idea what exactly this festival was with the exception of hearing that there would be Ganesh idols put into a river or body of water to dissolve. Because of some fortunate timing I was able to witness all of the crowds preparing for this ten day festival and actually participate in the “opening” festival with a co-worker’s family.
Lucky ME!!! I also thought what an interesting thing to share with all of you here on this blog… SO if you are interested read on.
Anyone unfamiliar with this event will be surprised with the incredible amount of Ganesh idols that are displayed for sale on the first day of the festival. I loved looking at all the sizes colors and variety of poses as well as the people buying them. I was tempted to get one but these are not built to last so it is probably not a good idea to buy one for a souvenir. Most of these are made of clay and are purposely built to be dissolved in water at the end of ten days.
If you really pay attention to the people and the purchase process like I do (I might stare a little too much) you will note how much care is taken to find just the right one. (I wonder how many people I made uncomfortable) Once the transaction is completed the face of the idol is covered before it is taken away. I am not sure why… I would love an explanation of this left in my comments if you know the reason. In the last picture above you can see one that has been purchased in the middle right of the table and it has a red and white cloth over it’s head.
In addition to all of the idols you will note other vendors selling different plants, flowers, fruits, incense, oils, and colors. I asked myself are they taking advantage of all of the Ganesh buying crowds or was this part of the festival. (I had to ask myself since I couldn’t find anyone on this street that spoke English)
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated at home and it is also celebrated in public. I was told that this was started in the 19th century by a “freedom fighter” that used this to get people out in public and from the little I know this was a way of getting around some anti assembly laws from back then. (I am not doing the story justice but I don’t want to mis-speak since I know that this is such a popular festival)
I want to start with the “public” pandals. These are temporary stages for the idol and can be incredibly elaborate. The picture above is one of these “temporary” stages… hard to believe that this structure was built for just ten days. I only got to see ones near my hotel but was told that there are unbelievable ones found in downtown Pune. (I also saw some amazing ones as I drove to the airport in Mumbai… but didn’t get any pictures)
The structures light up at night and if I had my children with me we would have gone for an evening drive looking at all the amazing displays. I think I would compare this to me driving the family around Christmas time looking at all of the lights. Humble or grand the pandals are all fun to see and the result of the local community coming together for this festival. Here are some examples: (all but one taken within a block of my hotel)
Not only do they have these stages but they also have other pandals that are used to act out different folklore stories. The one I watched being set up was fascinating since it had some complex animatronics, very elaborate lighting, and other props. Unfortunately I only saw it being set up and didn’t get to see it in action. I left the night before it was completed.
I think the big gray man in the back is a monster… I would have loved to see him in action. (Tried to ask some of the men working on this what exactly was the story but they didn’t speak English… )
Next I will share with you some private celebrations. I was invited to the employee lounge at my hotel to watch them start the festival. Unfortunately I arrived at the end…. here are some pictures of the lounge. (You will note that this is a religious ceremony and all had removed their shoes… I was told that it was ok to take pictures)
I want to add that this hotel (Courtyard Marriott Hinjewadi) is definitely my favorite out of any hotel I visit. I have never met a more friendly staff who go way out of their way to make me feel like I am actually visiting a “home away from home”. They greet me by name and bring me small little presents and as you can see even let me participate in employee events. (My colleague, let us call him Sean, and I were the only non employees at this celebration)
Next I would like to share the evening I spent with a co-worker and the beginning ritual of installing the idol into the home. I am still very touched that they would invite me and make me feel like part of the family. Above is the door and below is the beautiful rangoli that greeted us. (the rangoli was made by my co-workers sweet wife…)
In sharing what we did, I want to add the “disclaimer” that I am not a Ganesh Chaturthi expert by any means. I actually barely know what I am talking about so any corrections are welcomed in the comments. From my understanding the home is prepared for receiving the idol and then a ritual is performed to install the idol which brings Ganesh into the idol. After 10 days the idol is immersed and this releases Ganesh to return back to where he lives.
The ritual was complex and I don’t know that I understood even a small portion of what was happening. I was told they were doing a “shortened” version which lasted about 45 minutes. We started by bringing the idol into the home with its face covered. As I entered the room a red mark was placed on my forehead. (I don’t know why… sorry). I was again told I could film… I was worried that I was being disrespectful.
I think the ritual includes introducing Ganesh into the idol, welcoming him, feeding him, and then worshiping him. All of the items I saw earlier that day being sold with the idols are used as part of the ceremony.
I have filmed some of the ritual for anyone that wants to get a better idea of what exactly happens. (there are parts that are not in the exact order) While I do not share the same beliefs I appreciated the faith and devotion of this family and I do hope everyone treats what I am sharing respectfully.
I left the day after this ceremony so I was not able to see the immersion of the idol.
I also missed seeing some of the amazing processions that are done as part of that festival. I did catch a glimpse of some individuals getting ready for a procession and you will note they are dressed in white and orange.
Fortunately Friday as I was waiting for my taxi to Mumbai my hotel held a procession and I got to hear the drums and chants. I was also gifted an orange hat… How can it get any better… well… next time I want to be a part of the drummers. Here is a video of the hotel procession:
Thanks everyone… and Ganpati Bappa Morya.