Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ganesh Visarjan: Close up with Ganesha

It had been 4 years since I had been religiously covering it. But not this year. This year, I wanted to pass the baton to someone else. I wanted to hear the story but from the other side. And... it didn't take me long to circle who that someone else would be.

How about my dear blogger friend, Eli @ Expat LivAn expat journalist and writer from Norway living in Mumbai since the past two years?  I thought. It would be nice to hear what she feels about the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Being a regular reader of her blog, I already knew her love for India and that she connected with the festivals and cultures of the country at the same emotional level that I do. Thinking thus, I immediately set off to shoot her an e-mail requesting if she would like to be a guest on My Yatra Diary... and pen down something on Ganesh Visarjan and the festival from an Expat's point of view?

And voila, there she was, in the midst of flying in from Goa and flying out to Europe, all excited to make some time and honor this little corner of mine. I simply couldn't stop feeling grateful and thanking her for this kind gesture of hers.

So on that note, there we go -- sit back, relax and read all that the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi means to an expat, from an expat's point of view -- rest assured, Eli is the kind of writer who shall leave you wanting for more! 

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When I was invited by dear friend Arti to write about Indian festivals in general and Ganesha in particular, I could feel a huge smile spreading on my face.

Because even long before we moved to India over 2 years ago, I had a vision of the Indian festivals. Colorful, noisy, wild, crazy, fun and with crowds of happy people drumming and dancing all over, all the time. I was not disappointed. The festivals here are all that - and so much more. And the Indians make it easy for a curious soul like me to take part. In the start I was a bit intimated by the huge crowds, but my attempt to keep a low profile for me and my camera failed every time. Smiling faces, gentle hands invited me in, to come forward, so I could see better. Sometimes so they could get a picture of me also, because like some said: We have not seen a foreigner in real live before.

A big Ganesha idol Visarjan procession at Mumbai

For each festival I get braver and more relaxed, and appreciate the incredible hospitality that the Indians have showed me. I go with the flow, from festival to festival. I think though that the Ganesha Chaturthi has got a special place in my big Indian Festival heart. :)

Ganesha is worshiped in India as the God of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune, and is invoked at the beginning of a new venture or at the start of a journey. He is the one to pray to if you need to remove any obstacles that are in your way. He is seen as the most important Hindu God, and a God for everybody. During this week, he is worshiped, and then immersed in the sea, a lake or the river at the end of the festival.

Ganesha idol at a home in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival

It’s so empty in our house now, little Sweetha says to me. I see sadness in her big brown eyes and she sighs as she looks down at the small lump of clay left on the tray - where Ganesha had been. And I get it. It is the relationship. It is strong and emotional. The elephant - headed God Ganesha is an integrated part of peoples’ lives. Of their joy, hope and belief. And I feel blessed to be a part of it. To see it and to feel it. It is intense and wonderful.

Even before the festival starts, great excitement is in the air. Families pick out their Ganesha statues to be painted and made like they want it, and they shop for lights and decorations. Then comes the joyful day when they bring their Ganesha statue home.

It’s like we are bringing home our mother or father, a friend said to me ecstatic, - we are so happy! 

All over Mumbai there are processions with people carefully carrying their Ganesha home, accompanied by crowds of singing, dancing and drumming people. Ganesha has arrived, he will stay for 1 1/2 or up to ten days, and he cannot be left alone. I found it pretty funny the first time I heard that people actually took time off from work, to stay home to keep Ganesha company. Now, I get it. I can feel the intense joy in Ganesha’s presence. There is a constant flow of family and friends coming to give offerings of fruit, flowers and sweets and they share food - all for him. A lot of joy, fun – a constant celebration.

But then comes the sad day, the immersion day. We do a last puja at home, and then Ganesha and His procession (including me) - leave the house. Due to heavy rain, we go by car - with Ganesha in the front seat, of course :)

Ganesha idol Visarjan at Mumbai carried in a car

When we come to the local lake, we find ourselves in a constant flow of people, following their Ganesh to the final journey for this year. Some are dancing to the drums, and most are shouting: Ganpati Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya (O Father Ganesha, come again early next year). The atmosphere is electric. To my surprise, I hear myself shouting along as well. 

It’s a chaotic spot, from an expat’s point of view. There is music and drums, and all around us small Ganesha processions appears - on foot, from rickshaws and from cars - and they all head up the hill, towards the lake. So do we. And like the others, we also stop to do a final offering, which includes breaking a coconut, the symbol for human ego (a hard nut to crack). Only to use force and do your best - to break your ego, you will overcome obstacles and release your inner energy. I like that. People are walking around, offering each other fruit, nuts and sweets. - Ganesha is the God for everybody, and this is blessed by Him. Like one big street-party really, except for the fact that we are here to bid farewell to someone.

Ganesha idol carried in rains for immersion in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival
Everybody shares sweets,nuts and fruit.
Amid heavy rains, Ganesha idol puja before visarjan in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival
Final offerings – a sad moment for many.

After the final blessings, (and stuffing myself with goodies), we continue to the lake. At one point the Ganesha-carryer is going one way to put Ganesha in to the water. 

Ganesha idol taken for immersion in  Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival
Last holding of Ganesha before seeing Him off.
Then we gather at a small temple, and get the Ganesha tray back, now with a lump of clay on it, to take home - to place where Ganesha had been, to fill the void. And that’s when I see little Sweethas sadness. And I feel sad too.

Ganesha temple in Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi festival

To me, this is an emotional festival, on so many levels, and that’s the wonderful part of it. Ganesha has left, but will for sure be welcomed next year with equal enthusiasm and joy. Farewell for now, Ganesha, see you again. 



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31 comments:

  1. Wow! I really felt amaze at the way she observed and engage herself with the festival and its progress. Actually I was unaware of certain things the Ganesh Chaturthi adopts and bring home a lump of clay is unheard before. Thanks Eli for this lovely post :)

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  2. Thank you dear Arti for hosting me:-) It was a fun piece to write. Thanks for your kind words also:-) Big hugs to you my friend:-)

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    1. Thank you so much, dear Eli for accepting my invitation; such a joy to host an amazing writer like you - thank you for making this special! :)

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  3. I loved reading this from Eli's perspective and loved what she had to say about Ganesh Chaturthi ... I guess there is an emotional connect and that can be seen by all ...

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  4. This is great post! So good to read a different perspective...

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  5. Just realized how the new "point of view" make things so interesting. Great post

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  6. Dearest Elia & Arti,
    The festival itself is of course very intens and meaningful but not the ending by having those statues all dumped into the lake. That will cause a mass polution and WHY?!
    Sad that it rained too...
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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  7. nice idea Arti to know how ganesha festival celebration from the expat perspektif, hope someday i have lucky time to join the ganesha celebration in maharastra :) still on my journey list..

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  8. Eli such a descriptive and delightful post! Just from the pics I can tell the air must have been electrifying :)

    Arti, great job hosting our beloved Eli! :)

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  9. A wonderful post, Eli! Your words express beautifully the joy and richness of this unique festival, and the special place it holds in the collective psyche of Mumbai-wallas. Beautiful shots of some significant moments.

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  10. Well, you might want to have a look at what I wrote about this festival. http://shalinjoshi.blogspot.in/2014/09/why-ganesha-doesnt-want-to-be-back.html

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  11. Great post, its nice for someone else to share their thoughts on what I'm sure is a wonderful festival.

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  12. This time I also celebrat Ganesh Chaturathi in Pune... Your post is too good...

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  13. Nice view... And glad to hear that an expat felt the emotion of the festival. Takes her 1 step closer to becoming a complete Indian :)

    1 thing that hurts about this festival is the day after the 10th day. The amount of garbage lying around on roads leaves a bad taste. Plus the condition of the idols which a few hours before were protected with everything the humans had...

    Wonder when the day will come when we will be more responsible in celebrations...

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    1. Totally agree on that, the consequences of the festival are disturbing. The sooner we go greener, the better it shall be for our own selves.

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  14. A very descriptive narration of Ganesh Visarjan, Eli. The most touching line for me is "To my surprise, I hear myself shouting along as well." Keep smiling always! :) And thanks Arti to let us know the pleasant foreigner's opinion on our loud festivals

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  15. What a great insight into such an interesting festival. I learned quite a lot about the Ganesh Chaturthi. Lovely post, Eli.

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  16. Right decision Arti to let Eli post it :)
    Eli, you have done it nicely ... One can feel the intensity and deep connection you must have made with the spirit of the festival.. I like your lines about breaking the coconut .... For me born and brought up in UP , Ganesha Festival is something fro textbooks and videos... thanks to people like you and Arti, even I could understand the essence of the festival. Thanks again for the post :)

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  17. It wasso cool reading it from Eli's perspective! Everything is "Happy Happy" for me these days as The Durga Pujas are coming! True it feels empty when The Lord leaves

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  18. Omg she knows so many things about Ganesh Festival.That was very unusual from an expat.Kudos to her!

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  19. Ganesh Utsav is my favorite festival among the others and no doubt visarjan day is best in the eleven day festival even though I feel sad. Nice write up. Want to see Durga festival too in Kolkatta

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  20. Wow! So beautifully written.Enjoyed the sweet free flowing journey...

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  21. It was a nice experience to read about this great festival from Eli's perspective.... convey my thanks to her... :-)

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  22. Looking at our own culture through other's eyes makes us look at the things differently! A nice guest post...

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  23. This is such a happy post :-) Love your big Indian festival heart, Eli!!

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  24. wonderful post... I celebrate ganpati chaturthi with enthusiasm too. Happy festivities to all...

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  25. When and where does this festival take place?

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    1. The festival is celebrated across many states in India; the celebrations in Mumbai are grand. It takes place around the month of September but dates change every year so have to be checked.

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