The past weekend saw the culmination of Ganesh Chaturti, a 10 day festival celebrated elaborately across Maharashtra and the neighboring states. Ganpati is welcomed into the house on the first day of the festival with five fruits, modaks, a 21 vegetable curry and twice daily aartis. The idol continues to reside in the house until the day you observe immersion or visarjan, and it varies from one to ten days.
Before I moved to India, the only festivals we collectively celebrated were Holi, Navratri, Dusshera, and Diwali, along with Republic and Independence days. I was obviously aware that there are other festivals, but it’s only after you move here, and especially if into a culture or a region that is new to you, do you realize that this country celebrates more festivals than you can count.
The festival dates back to the 17thcentury, but it was not until 1893 that Lokmanya Tilak transformed it into an organized public event. The purpose was to bring the community together and it also encouraged performances in the forms of plays, concerts, and folk dances. This continues on to this date, and you will see various social organizations setting up pavilions in public spaces and covering topics such as female foeticide in the form of a play to get the message across to all strata of society.
My plan this year was to visit Lalbaughcha Raja, which is without doubt the most popularly visited pavilion in Mumbai. The average waiting time is at least 24 hours, and people from movie stars to the common man line up in hundreds of thousands to pay their respects. Alas, it was not to be as we couldn’t get in touch with the guy who could cut our waiting time to 20 minutes in time. This is one thing to remember, there is always a guy to get your things done here. Next year, advance planning.
In addition to the small idols people keep at home, housing societies, residential neighborhoods and other associations display much larger idols in public spaces. These are carried off for immersion is grand style of the last day of the festival. The visarjan turns into one giant street party that lasts for hours with DJ’s and local dhol and band groups, and is something that you should definitely experience once.
With many people becoming aware of the damage that the immersion causes to marine life, more and more are choosing to bring home eco-friendly idols. Made from natural clay found on river banks or paper mache as opposed to Plaster of Paris, these do not cause ecological damage or require a cleanup.
We carried out the immersion of the idol after five days at our farmhouse, followed by a small picnic and later at night a visit to some of the pavilions spread across the city. And as the idols were made from clay, they were eco-friendly and would dissolve and settle back into the riverbed.
If you are moving to this part of the country, embrace the festival, eat some sweets, visit the pavilions, and dance away to the DJ’s and the dhols.