Monday, September 15, 2008

Ganupati

Posted in Diversions, Foreign Service Life, India at 9:26 pm by graceandpoise

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.

(thats the Ganesh idol at the far end)

(that's the Ganesh idol at the far end, something like 22 feet tall)

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.

4 Comments »

  1. Brian Manning said,

    Greetings,

    I read your blog – hope you don’t mind a stranger making an inquiry.

    I’m an FSO hopeful (should be starting A-100 in January) and was hoping you might be able to tell me a bit about Mumbai. I’ve seen it on old bid lists several times, and think it sounds quite interesting. I’d welcome your general thoughts on life in the city, and would appreciate if you could please address the issue of safety for women. Is it safe enough for a 20-something woman to make her way around alone during the day? I, myself, have spent a fair amount of time in rough, underdeveloped spots, but my fiance hasn’t – we’d like to bid on spots where she’d feel comfortable on her own during the day. Also, do you think Mumbai would be preferable to Chennai and New Delhi?
    Thanks so much. I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog.

    Brian Manning
    manning08@gmail.com

  2. Brian –

    Yes, a 20-something woman should be just as safe making her way around Mumbai during the day as she would be in someplace like DC. From what I hear, the same can’t be said for Delhi (though I’ve not been there myself). Life here in Mumbai is what you make of it, as in many places, though in Mumbai there is certainly always something going on if you feel the wish to be out and about. Bombay can be pretty intense and even stressful at times, particularly for those who haven’t traveled much before, but if you’re both up for the challenge, you can have a great time. Seriously though? See what’s on your bid list and see what excites you both, and go from there.

  3. margo said,

    Hello, my friend…you are really demonstrating your *Westerness* by using the word “idols” to describe the representations of their pantheistic view of a Supreme Presence in Life. Your proudly sub-titling your blog, ” A Seattleite….”…found your choice of words interesting. Have fun on your jouney….

  4. To Margo: I don’t think it’s a bad word to use, and certainly not a pejorative one. Particularly since I’m now working with – and related to – a whole lot of people who are practicing Hindus, and it’s the word they use.


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