Mumbai Memoir ~ Blessed by the Elephant God!
Mumbai has a rhythm of its own. From the crack of dawn till midnight hours one can feel the city, grind with an erratic pace. But in the months of August-September, something magical happens to the city as it celebrates the festival of ‘Ganpati’! Ganpati is a popular name of Lord Ganesha, the elephant God, which the Mumbaikar’s (citizens of Mumbai) proudly admire as their favourite deity.
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. On one occasion, little Ganesha was misjudged to be an enemy by his own father. In a fit of rage Lord Shiva chopped off Ganesha’s head only to realize later, that he killed his own son! On hearing about her son’s demise, Goddess Parvati furiously proclaimed to destroy all creations of the universe if Lord Shiva, with his divine powers, refused to bring their son back to life. Anticipating the consequences of Goddess Parvati’s anger, Lord Shiva asked one of the Gods to find the very first living creature facing north. The God found an elephant facing north and thus little Ganesha was brought to life by replacing his head with that of an elephant!
As per Hindu beliefs, Lord Ganesha is worshipped before offering prayers to any other God. This ritual is believed to generate an auspicious start for anything that one aspires to do or be in life. A mouse and ‘modak’ (a sweetened food preparation) are dear to Lord Ganesha. There is a deep symbolism associated with Lord Ganesha that propagates values towards seeking wisdom, prosperity, good fortune and more.
Because of its cosmopolitan culture, every Mumbai’kar, irrespective of their religious backgrounds, feels the ‘Ganpati fever’. Mumbai transforms into a power house of spiritual energy that radiates in every nook and corner of the city during the 10 day celebration of Ganesh festival!
Ganesh festival is celebrated both, privately and publicly. Every family makes a personal resolution to host a miniature Ganesh idol for a time period of their choice. Some worship the idol for 1 and half day and some for 5, 7 or 10 days respectively.
Every year I look forward to visit family and friends who invite me to their home on occasion of Ganesh festival. It’s a nice warm feeling where in the presence of the Lord’s idol everyone meets and exchanges greetings. Prasad (blessed food offering) is offered while the fragrance of sweet incense lingers all around. Ganesh idols are seen installed across all strata of society. Here is a link of a family celebrating Ganesh festival at their home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-3gNFthKe4
The Ganesh idols installed publicly are crowd funded. They are mostly hosted for 7 or 10 days. Almost a century ago, Lokmanya Tilak, a nationalist leader during the Indian freedom struggle, promoted the collective organization of Ganesh festival on a large scale. This initiative primarily aimed to re-kindle the spirit of nationalism among the then society, which was suppressed under colonial rule.
Since childhood I have loved the idea of visiting the pandals (area where the Ganesh idols are hosted publicly). This year I resolved to visit 21 publicly installed Ganesh idols over the span of 3 days. It was amazing to witness the glitter and pomp of the festival as I moved from one street to another admiring the huge idols.
Most Mumbaikars make a mental ‘checklist’ of visiting particular idol installations over a span of 10 days. The most popular publicly installed Ganesh idols are: GSB Seva Mandal, Lalbag’cha Raja, Ganesh Galli idol, Girgaon cha Raja, Khetwadi lane idols etc. Lalbag, Girgaon and Parel areas of (South & Central) Mumbai are rated ‘most active’ on the Ganesh festival celebration front.
Over the years, the festival has massively snowballed into its present day form. Many Mumbai city tour operators organize visits to ‘5 famous public Ganesh idol installations’ for tourists to get a first hand feel of the festival. The tourists thus skip serpentine queues and get direct entry inside the pandal to see the Ganesh idol. The Ganesh idols are huge in size and usually expressed in a particular theme. At some places Lord Ganesha is seen as a warrior, a saint, a king or conveying a mythological story that aims to instil values (of eco-friendly living, protecting and empowering the less privileged) in people who visit. Lot of creative, artistic and traditional elements are poured into the festival. Music, dance, theatre and various competitions are organized for people to bond and enjoy the fun that results.
This year I was touched with the concept of a lady named Rintu Rathod, who made a 32 inch tall Ganesh idol out of chocolate! Her idea was to worship the idol for 5 days and then dissolve it in 50-60 litres of milk! She intended to offer the chocolate milk (as Prasad) to orphanages and underprivileged children, thus positively contributing to the society, in her own small way.
Few of my friends from the developed countries ask me in wonder, as to how can the middle class of Mumbai, who are so much struggling with their finances celebrate the Ganesh festival with such lavishness and pomp? My answer to them is ‘unless the money doesn’t circulate, the economy won’t gain strength, thus festivals like these help the ‘haves’ to buy and ‘have nots’ to gain from selling products associated with the festival, irrespective of the inflations or recessions of the world’. It was heartening to see smiles on the face of two less privileged kids who where helping their mother sell toys to kids of wealthy people who were visiting the Ganesh idols. Faith and hope are the most important elements when one celebrates Ganesh festival with utmost devotion, irrespective of one’s class or creed.
There are chances that such captivating worship of an elephant God may be considered as superstitious and out of blind faith. Well, everyone perceives the concept of God as per their intellectual evolution. But as per my understanding of Ganesh festival, the mindfulness derived from the festival acts like a positive charge to resourcefully solve one’s problems in life. The festival thus adds value by becoming a catalyst in the process!
For a common Mumbaikar, the Ganesh idol acts as a pleasant assurance of ‘good times are on their way’ and ‘this too shall pass’! Psychologically, this projected feeling acts as a positive boost for a person to ‘move on with life’ with a smile!
The ‘aarti’ and ‘bhajan’ sessions (devotional songs praising the Lord) during the 10 day festival is a way to express one’s applauding appreciation and gratitude to the Almighty Power who has created this beautiful Universe and still prefers staying in the ‘invisible mode’!
Like all good things come to an end, so does the Ganesh festival. With jubiliation and fun devotees conclude the festival by releasing the Ganesh idol into a water body near to their abode. This farewell journey of the deity is called as ‘Visarjan’ (immersion ceremony). Enthusiastic Mumbaikars are seen attending huge processions which are rallied around with traditional dance (Lezeem) and ‘Nasik Baaja’ (popular drum beats) as the devotees bid good bye to the Ganesh idols. Off late eco-friendly Ganesh idols are thus being designed out of environmental consciousness among Mumbaikars. Here is a glimpse of the ‘Visarjan’ journey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fYA7zXWTY0
As the idol immerses in water a popular chant in Marathi language is heard in chorus. ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudchya Varshi Lavkar Yaa’! It simply means, ‘Hail to Lord Ganesha, we eagerly await your arrival next year’. After the festival, Mumbai continues with its cacophonic grind, but totally charged with an electrifying vibe which stays intact till the elephant God arrives again to sway the Mumbaikars in a divine trance of His own!
Photo credits Aditya Chichkar & Shraddha Sankulkar