It’s that time of the year again when the denizens of Mumbai welcome to the city the multi faceted elephant god, Ganesh. He is one of the most revered gods in the Hindu pantheon and the annual festival is an integral part of Mumbai’s social fabric. Ganesh, believed to be the son of goddess Parvati and lord Shiva, has been worshiped in parts of Maharashtra, Andhra, Telengana, Tamil Nadu and other places across Western and Southern India as part of the larger Hindu fabric. However, the very public celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi that happens today was introduced and encouraged by freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak in the late 1800s to unify various segments of the population on a common social platform and stir up nationalistic sentiments amongst the Maharashtrian population against British rule. Today Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the biggest and most popular festivals of the year, especially in Mumbai, where there are hundreds of Ganpati ‘pandals’ around the city with everything from small simple idols to elaborate creations over three stories high. Given that the idol is immersed in the Arabian Sea, the more environmentally conscience nowadays use idols that are biodegradable, allowing for better harmony between religious celebrations and nature.
Ganesh Chaturthi is widely considered an auspicious time for new beginnings and last year around this time as we planned our year long sojourn across India it seemed appropriate to immerse ourselves in the local Ganpati celebrations. So on the last day of the ‘visarjan’ when the largest Ganesh idols are immersed in beaches, pools and lakes across the city we joined the throngs of revellers and made our way to Girgaum Chowpatty to take in all the action.
Now if you have lived in or even visited Mumbai during the period of the festival you know just how frenetic the scene is, and as we descended into the chaos we decided that the only way to survive the madness was to completely become one with it. At that point it didn’t matter who you were, where you were from, what you believed in, it was simply about being in this one big inclusive celebratory moment that is only possible in India. So we partied, as loudspeakers belted out the choicest of bollywood hits and the sea of humanity moved in unison to the beat of a hundred different drums, we joined the chorus of Bapa Moriya Re! What a scene it was! All around us throngs of people moved in all directions, parents held their children above their shoulders so they could survey the sight, street urchins clambered up signposts and street dividers and the lucky (or unlucky, the noise and the crowds can get quite crazy) people who lived along the route to the immersion spots crowded balconies and terraces to catch a sight of the surreal scene as lines of great big idols, some as high as the surrounding buildings, slowly made their final journey towards the sea.
And so we made our way to the beach, as all around us people laughed and sang in the streets, boisterously gyrating in that uniquely vigorous pelvic thrusting, jhatak-matak style that Indians have perfected over years of rigorous training through films and festivals. But as we got to the beach and moved to the sea, the mood changed palpably. The atmosphere of revelry gave way to one of reverence, as if the energy of the ten days of festivity had been all but released. The crowds thinned, the music faded into the background and all around there were groups of individuals surrounding idols big and small, chanting, lighting incense and offering prayers to their lord one last time this year as they waited to carry him into the ocean, bidding adieu to chants of Ganpati Bapa Moriya, pudcha varshi laukarya.
Some Useful Information:
What are the dates? (2017 Edits) : This year Ganesh Chaturthi runs from the 25th of August to the 5th of September with the29th and 31st of August and 5th of September being the major immersion dates.
Where can I see the immersion?: If you want to be a part of the madness or photograph the festivals you can make it any one of the major immersion points ie Girgaum Chowpatty, Juhu Chowpatty, Mahim beach or Powai Lake on any of these days. The biggest idols will be immersed on the final day at Girgaum Chowpatty in South Mumbai. Go in the late afternoon or early evening when the light is good and the crowds are slightly thinner.
Where can I see the nicest idols?: A good place to see a lot of large and elaborate Ganesh idols are the lanes in the Khetwadi area of South Mumbai. Many localities and smaller building communities have innovative and creative idols, some with a social message, and a walk around most neighbourhoods will yield interesting sights. Whilst there are pandals all over Mumbai, the most popular ones being the Lalbaugcha Raja, Andhericha Raja and Mumbaicha Raja can get very crowded and involve long waits.