When there’s a lull in the air, it simply means that a storm is brewing in the horizon. It’s just a matter of time before the clouds burst and the brouhaha resumes with renewed gusto.
Most of the Ganpatis are now in the sea melting into the briny foam or bobbing up and down until the sea decides what to do with it. Environmentalists from all parts of Maharashtra have realized the need to turn to an eco-friendly version of the celebration. Two huge artificial wells have been provided to immerse the clay Ganpatis and the Plaster of Paris ones separately. The clay ones will mix and settle down. The POP debris is later removed.
The stillness is punctuated by the faint chimes of celestial cymbals…someone somewhere from close quarters is performing the afternoon aarti. Many more Ganpatis left on the 7th day and the last one before the big day on 29th. People would probably take the opportunity to visit various Ganpati pandals around the city….one of the most famous among them being Lalbaug cha Raja.
We went to see Lalbaug Ganpati some years ago when the children were still young. Giving the serpentine queues a miss, we were ushered through narrow gullies and arrived right before the gigantic form. We avoided the other’s eyes as we were sure we were in for some dirty looks. Abhi, a toddler then had to be lifted off the ground and carried. Sid demanded we do the same with him but he was heavier. So we told him he’d have to walk. Amidst tears and tantrums we found ourselves right before the idol.
Now while we wait for the mayhem to kick-start, let me tell you a few stories about Ganpati:
The one on Ganpati’s origin is indeed interesting. Lord Shiva had many followers and Parvathy was obliged to use their service when she needed something. Wanting someone who’d be dedicated to her and only her, she wiped off the sandalwood paste from her body and fashioned out of it the form of a boy. Imbuing life into it, she instructed him to guard the door of her bathing room. When Shiva arrived outside his wife’s chamber, he was stopped by Parvathy’s young creation. Though at first Shiva was amused, he soon realized the boy was someone to reckon with and began a minor war where his followers joined him. Finally Shiva in a fit of rage cut off the little boy’s head.
When Parvathy emerged she was devastated to see her son so cruelly dealt with. She put her foot down and demanded that her son be brought back to life. Unfortunately the head of the child couldn’t be reused. Shiva sent out men to kill and bring the head of the first living creature they saw on their way. They found that of an elephant and got that back. Hence it is that Ganpati has the body of a human being but the head of an elephant…and probably even the appetite of one.
In a second story Ganpati is said to have walked home after partaking of an enormous feast. He was happy and elated after the good meal. That was when he tripped and fell on his tummy. Now his tummy being the way it is, he couldn’t get up for a long time. Rolling this way and that, he tried his best. And after a long and embarrassing struggle he was up on his two feet. Looking around he saw the Moon God sitting in his white round abode and sniggering. Obviously upset Ganpati cursed him. Every year there is one day when no one should look up at the moon and it’s a night when it’s very hard not to miss the full moon in all its wondrous glory. It is believed that slander may follow you if you do so.
And another favourite — the story of how the two brothers, Ganpati and Kartikeya quarreled (well…expect even God siblings to bicker constantly) and were put to test by their God parents. “Go around the world seven times and return.” The first one to return with the task accomplished would be the winner. Now Kartikeya with his mount, the peacock, and quick as he was anyway was obviously not a fair competition for the slow paunchy but wise Ganpati. And wisdom is what the quick-witted Ganpati relied on. Slowly and deliberately he circumambulated his parents seven times : “There I’ve gone round the world seven times.” His parents were speechless but obviously very thrilled.
There are many more such tales of this adorable God.
When you go to meet Ganesha, be he at a pandal or in someone’s residence, you carry with you sweets (because he loves them), fruits (healthier versions that he may give a cursory nod to), flowers (he loves being adorned in them) and/or a cash donation that you place at his divine feet. Then you proceed to sprinkle turmeric powder, some vermillion dust and a few grains of raw rice. Then you fold your hands, close your eyes and stand before him in obeisance. You can even prostrate if you so wish. If you are a part of an aarti you are not expected to sing along though you may if you so wish. The host will then offer you a little prayer book. Alternately you can take charge of the celestial cymbals or bells. Or you can just clap along.
At the end of his stay, Ganpati is taken to the beach or wherever else the host decides to take him. If you are going by car, as I once did with a friend, when you are halfway there a lad tags along, running beside the car and chasing away anyone who dares to pretend he saw the Ganpati first. The road is full of them. He follows you up to the beach where he stands – a mute spectator. Here Ganpati is worshipped all over again. Hearts are heavy as everyone takes one last look at the glorious face. The urchin now takes charge, holding the little stand on which Ganpati is seated. Those that are willing to brave the filthy mess that the beach has become over the last few days of Ganpati immersion will follow the young man to the sea stopping where the waves reach out or may even venture a little further. As you watch, the lad will hold the idol atop his head and recede further and further into the waves. He holds it up one last time for us to see and then dunks it fully. He’ll return shortly with the empty stand with a tiny patch of clay still stuck at the bottom-a reminder that Ganpati sat there. The process of immersing Ganpati in the sea is called “Visarjan”. The donations that have come in over the last few days along with the several boxes of sweets are collected and handed over to the lad who took Ganpati into the waters. A whole process of letting go…
But the greater significance is interesting. A God without a form is difficult to worship. The whole creation of Ganesha from mud, that is shaped, coloured and worshipped and then returned to Nature where it will blend back into its original form-a simplification of the greater Hindu philosophy of all forms, living or not, being governed by the same energy or the same God – hence the what is not manifest becomes the manifest and in the end it returns to the non-manifest.
The D-day finally arrives which is heralded by the several band members checking out their drums by rolling their sticks on it regularly. It is very quiet otherwise but the energy levels are very high. We hear the first Ganpati being taken away with the usual fanfare. By afternoon, the air is buzzing and the band music of various groups blend to create a pleasant racket. These various groups set out early but most of them will not reach the beach before late evening. The members of these groups will dance and chant on the streets till they get there. A few of us friends have decided to catch up at the corner of our street which meets the main road. This is one of the important routes that are demarcated for the flow of those going for Ganpati visarjan. The rest of the traffic will be diverted and it is believed that it’s the best day to travel in a city like Mumbai which is known for its bad traffic. Even as we were walking down the street a group of revelers were celebrating their last moments with their Ganpati. They are all dressed in white kurtas and churidaars and have saffron scarves thrown across their shoulders and they all have Nehru caps on their heads. We reach the corner minutes before they do as they are yet to dance their way there. We are late by fifteen minutes and obviously our friends are annoyed. We seem to have timed ourselves perfectly though because within minutes the big Ganpatis begin to pour in moving slowly in huge trucks, tempos or even hand carts. The street corner is crowded with vendors and the local denizens flooding in to catch the spectacle. But this year they’ve opened up both the sides to regular traffic as well as Ganpatis which we later realize was not a great idea.
We spot a Gigantic but beautiful orange-coloured Ganpati arriving on the other side. We cross the road to stand below a flyover. Even as we watch mesmerized, a bus goes past the idol and the two get jammed at the spot. A little drama ensues when bystander volunteer to help. Traffic begins to pile up and many Ganpatis are in waiting on that side. (We also get to see the very dramatic R.K.Studio Ganpati whiz past on the other side. Their Ganpati has a huge Shiv Idol too and water in the form of Ganga spouts from his head.) It’s been a while and the ladies in my group decide to leave with the kids while the men wait to watch what happens. When the better-half arrives about 45 minutes later, he says the situation was very much the same but since the cops had arrived, something should happen. After dinner we stand in the balcony and watch the fireworks that light up the night sky. An hour later, we hear another Ganpati being taken away and they are playing some peppy Hindi numbers(and I think, some English songs as well). For some anything goes in the name of religion and God.
Ganpati is the first in the series of festivals that happens in Mumbai from now on. We have Dassehra, the festival of the Goddess, Durga, next. Then there will be Diwali, the festival of lights and a lot of noise. This will culminate in Christmas and New Year. Was it that it was easier for the people in the olden days to celebrate with aplomb after the rains…lights would not be doused, clothes would not get wet? Or simply that the farmer after having guaranteed that that year’s crop is a good one indeed, decided to rejoice in style?
The next morning on an impulse we all decide to drive down to Chowpathy beach and see if we can catch any of the Ganpatis in sea. Instead we see the Lalbaug cha Raja’s last sojourn. We stop along the curb and watch the huge surging crowds and a faint form of Ganpati at the edge of the sea from a distance. Later we stop on the slope up Malabar Hill and peak down. The Ganpati now sits on a barge amidst tiny human forms surrounded by the Indian Ocean. We do not wait to watch the enormous form making its way into the sea.
It’s now time for various organizations along with government agencies to wake up to the need of the hour and organize beach clean up operations with people of all shapes, sizes and social standing to come together and rub shoulders as they spruce up the Mumbai seaside. For many days from now, the sea will unrelentingly wash back an arm, a foot and whatever else that didn’t deteriorate in the salty water.
So until next year it’s : “Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudichya Varchi Lawkarya.”
Aarti : is the worship of any God with offerings of camphor, incense, lit lamps and chanting and singing that is accompanied by bells and celestial cymbals. Sweets and other foods are also offered before the deity.
Pandal : a temporary shrine
Kurta/Churidaar – A knee-length cotton top/clothing to cover the legs
R.K.Studio – founded by the thespian Raj Kapoor who acted and made many classic Hindi movies
Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudichya Varchi Lawkarya – a chant meaning “Hail Ganpati My Lord, May You come soon the next year” that is chanted as Ganpati is taken away and immersed in the sea.