Ganesh Chaturthi is a celebration for Ganesh’s birthday and is celebrated all over India. In Tamil Nadu it is called Vinayaka Chaturthi. Ganesh Chaturthi lasts for several days (three in South India, eleven in the North), and features Ganesh idols made just for this celebration and destroyed at the end of the festival.
These statues for the homes are often made from mud, formed in molds and decorated. Large painted plaster statues are made and placed in specially erected temporary structures (mantapas or pandals). This is done by various groups, with some sense of competition for the biggest and best statue.
Ganesh Chaturthi started as a private family celebration, and about 100 years ago was turned into a public one by Lokmanya Tilak, an Indian nationalist, social reformer and freedom fighter who saw it as a common meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in a time where the British had banned other social and political gatherings. There is a good article here on wikipedia.
This year’s Ganesh Chaturthi celebration
In Tamil Nadu, the celebration started on Wednesday, 3 September, 2008 and concluded on Friday, 5 September.
Most westerners stay at or around Ramanasramam, and had no idea that this major festival was happening around them. We knew because of of rickshaw driver and friend, Rajan. He helped us get a nicely painted mud statue and the requisite “umbrella.” We set it up on our home altar, and offered it incense and camphor.
For the first evening of the festival, Rajan’s wife gave us some of the ritual food for this celebration. The main sweet dish during the festival is the modakam, a steamed dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments. These are served with a special bean dish, perhaps symbolizing plentitude, as is the case with beans served in other cultures’ holidays.
The first night we went into town. Here is a large Ganesh set up for this occasion.
When we went into this mantapa with our camera, the kids went crazy, asking for their photos to be taken.
Ganesh was also up in lights outside the mantapa.
The next day we went into town to see some of the many Ganeshes that had been put up.
There was a group of kids around most of these statues. If you look closely at the bottom of the statue, you will see a number of ‘mud’ Ganesh statues that were probably made on Wednesday.
The last day is the culmination of the celebration. The statues are paraded through town. This is a very festive scene, with maybe a few thousand people gathered, many walking in groups with their Ganesh, others watching from the sidelines.
As we came into the area where the statues were gathering, we entered from the back, where some Ganeshes were being taken up the street. Traffic was almost stopped, and was rerouted in many places.
Again, the boys were excited to have their photos taken.
Many Ganesh statues are gathered at this point. And a voice can be heard on loudspeakers, addressing the group as the statues are gathered.
Excitement is in the air as the statues are gathered together.
Parade officials are gathered, ready for the rest of the walk to the tank.
As are police. The parade goes through a Moslem part of town, and though ordinarily there is no trouble here between Hindus and Muslims, sometime (due probably to all the alcohol consumed this day), fights break out.
Here is a group of women police.
And lines of male police.
Colored powder is put on faces, and thrown on people, just like at the holiday of Holi in other parts of India. Here is a man with a silver face.
And a group of young men, covered with colors.
The excitement is building as they were getting ready for the next stage, the walk to the tank, for the immersion of all the Ganeshes (and the washing away of any sin of the participants).
Including this Ganesh we saw the first night.
Immersion in the tank.
We stopped and had a quick bite to eat, then headed to the final destination, the biggest water ‘tank’ (reservoir) in Tiruvannamalai town.
From there there is a wonderful view of Arunachala.
We had to walk over the outflow of the tank to get the the road where they were coming in. Here is Carol, getting across.
And boys waiting in a good spot to view all the festivities that are to come.
First to come was a group of sadhus, leading the procession. Naturally there were chanting, with the man in white leading the chant.
Then came a contingent of police.
Then the parade of Ganeshes.
We then rushed back to the tank to get a good view of the finale.
First the sadhus came to the tank and chanted a blessing.
Then the crowd and the statues started arriving, to be carried into the tank.
More and more statues were brought up and into the tank.
One by one, the statues are brought up, and taken into the tank.
They are then submerged, amidst the crowd, now waiting in the water.
Here’s Rajan and me, ready to go home after the event. I have some colored powder on me, too. I was concerned about getting this on the camera, but it was spared.
We saw only one other westerner, a woman sitting on the tank wall, saying that she watched this every year. And she warned us that many of the men had ‘probably been drinking.’
Just a few more amazing days in India.