Monday, September 15, 2008
Every year around this time, there is a huge festival in Bombay that centers around an elephant-headed Hindu deity called Ganesh. In spite of having significant representation from pretty much every major religion I can think of (and several less-major ones), Bombay remains a majority-Hindu city. Thus, when the city’s biggest Hindu religious festival of the year comes around, the city goes a little crazy.
Last weekend, a colleague invited us to see his community’s large, expensive representation of Ganesh. It’s apparently the “richest” Ganesh in the city, with something like 200 kilos of gold on it. Every year his community gets together on what is ordinarily a sports field for a school, sets up some giant tents that rival the Oktoberfest Festzelten, and spends five days straight worshiping in front of the idol. If you want to see this idol and you’re not a donor or a part of the community (and don’t have an “in” through someone from the community, as we did), you have to wait in line for six hours to see it, and once you get in you’re kept on an elevated walkway on the side and you’re not allowed to stop moving. The whole scene is, surprisingly, not a madhouse.
At the end of the festival, all of the idols from all over town and the countryside, from giant tents like the one above and from small one-room homes, are taken to the sea and immersed. They’re generally made of plaster or clay, and they are meant to dissolve after spending a bit of time in the water. Yesterday was the biggest day for immersions, and the few accessible beaches in town were teeming with people, statues, bedecked trucks unloading statues, groups of men carrying statues, and (like me) onlookers. And all the roads near or leading to the beach are clogged with people walking, trucks and cars driving slower than a toddler walks, people dancing, eating, playing drums, blowing horns, throwing colored powders, and dodging one another. This one is indeed a madhouse.
Oh yeah, and some fireworks too.