Ganesh Chaturthi, Tiruvannamalai 2013

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Ganesh Chaturthi, also called Vinayaka Chaturthi, is a festival celebrated all over India and in other countries with an Indian population. It celebrates the birthday of Ganesh.

Ganesh

Ganesh, also known as Ganapati or Vinayaka (especially in Tamil Nadu), is easily recognizable as the elephant-headed god. He is the god of wisdom and learning, the remover of obstacles (so is on the dashboard of rickshaws and taxis), and the sign of auspiciousness. It is customary to begin Indian celebrations and events by invoking and propitiating Ganesh so that the event will be successful, with all obstacles removed. Ganesh is said to have written down the Mahabharata from the dictation of Vyasa. He broke off one tusk to write with, thus his images show one broken tusk. Ganesh is worshiped by all Hindu sects and is perhaps the most beloved of the Hindu gods. 

The Ganesh Chaturthi Festival

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of  the most popular Hindu celebrations. In much of India the festival goes on for 12 days, though in Tiruvannamalai it only lasts for three. Preparation starts several months earlier as many plaster figures of Ganesh (up to maybe 25 feet high) are constructed and painted. Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colorfully decorated and special temporary structures – pandals in every neighborhood. The pandals are erected by the people of a specific society or neighborhood, and money is collected from the group.

Small clay Ganesh figures are brought into many homes for this festival. The first night of the festival a priest will bring life into the Ganesh figure. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, 21 modaks (rice flour preparation), 21 ‘durba’ sacred grass blades, and red flowers are offered. The idol is anointed with red kumkum or sandal paste. Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda and Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana, are chanted.

On the final day all the Ganesh figures are paraded through the city, then immersed in water (usually a lake, river, or the ocean), symbolizing a ritual seeing off of Lord Ganesh in his journey towards his abode in Kailash and taking away with him the misfortunes of all men.

This post shows Ganesh from the first day of the festival, to the parade and immersion. It is a time of excitement and uproarious gaiety. It seems mainly for men to do, and women to watch. I think some of my Tamil friends think it is too wild for them to participate or to take their families to watch.

The First Day

We start out on the 9th of September to see and photograph this year’s Ganesh figures.

In many places there are groups of boys hanging around the statue, enjoying the special festival time. These are in about every small neighborhood in the city.

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This day most Ganeshes wear blindfolds. These will be removed by the priest during the Pranapratishhtha, tonight.

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The variety is amazing. They all feature his big belly, which contains infinite universes, and the ability of Ganesh to swallow the sorrows of the universe and protect the world. The right hand, palm out, is in a pose of blessing, refuge and protection (the abhaya mudra).

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Boys posing in front of Vinayaka (the main Tamil name, pronounced vin EYE ah ka).

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The large ears and small mouth tell us to listen more and talk less.

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Ganesh is seen sitting on, or riding, a number of different animals in the various representations. I am not sure what the one pictured below is, but it surely is not a rat. Maybe a camel?

In one open hand he holds a ball of food, a sweet – a modaka, made of sweetened rice, reminding us about the sweetness of the realized inner Self. Other hands hold an ax, to cut off desires and cut through obstacles, and a whip, which conveys that worldly attachments and desires should be overcome.

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Gold jewelry and ornaments are popular in India, and most figures are so adorned.

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Ganesh’s official vehicle, his mount, “vahana,” is a rat (or mouse). According to the Ganesha Purana , Ganesh’s rat was originally a celestial musician named Krauncha. Below is a plaster figure of this rat–musician.

The rat is a symbol of our senses, which are never satisfied. They desire new experiences and new tastes. Left uncontrolled, these desires keep growing forever, like the rat’s teeth. The rat, too, is a symbol of darkness and the fear of light and knowledge. Vinayaka has control over the darkness and mastery over our Vasanas (egoistic tendencies). The rat also represents the ego, the mind with all of its desires, and the pride of the individual. Ganesh, riding atop the rat, represents the complete conquest over egoism and of Vasanas.

There is fresh plaster around the arm of this rat. It is has been raining. The rain softened the plaster and the arm fell off. It was repaired as seen below.

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Behind him is a very large Ganesh. Ganesh is the remover of obstacles since an elephant, rather than going around obstacles, can push through them or remove them.

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He sits in an unusual posture, feet to his side. As usual, one foot is on the ground, telling us that we can live in the world. One foot pointing upwards tells us that our concentration and meditation should be on the highest, ever focused on the Self, the God within.

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From behind, bracing used in the construction is visible.

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In front of Ganesh here, next to the rat playing the horn, is a different representation of Nandi, the bull, usually seen associated with Siva, Ganesh’s father. This is Nandiswara, Nandi as God.

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Another big Ganesh, this one riding a silver lion.

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A Mud Ganesh for the Home

Today you can buy a freshly-made mud Ganesh for your house. These will be personal idols in the home for a few days, then dissolved in water, like the big plaster ones.

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They are made with a mold. This one is lined with gold powder, so the resulting Ganesh will look golden.

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The craftsman is taking a golden Ganesh from the mold.

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The Second Day

The next day we drove around to look and see what the Ganesh idols were like after the pooja last night.

Ropes of flowers and of sacred grass adorn this Ganesh. He sits on some kind of bird.

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Ganesh sits on Nandi here.

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This very large Ganesh wears a thick flower mala as well as sacred grass and two strings of beads. He sits atop a lion, a goat and a sheep.

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Here another, with a lion, an antelope, and an elephant.

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This Ganesh wears a big dhoti. I think this must be the three-headed form of Ganesh.

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The Trimukha Ganapati: Ganesh with Three Faces. This is the 28th of the 32 forms of Lord Ganapati. In this form he usually sits on a lotus flower.

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This Ganesh is adorned with …

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…malas made of money! Going up from the bottom, Rs. 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 notes.

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Ganesh’s beautiful face.

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This is the lovely Ganesh we saw in the last photo from the first day, sitting on the silver lion, now without the blindfold.

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The Final Day

Ganesh at Ramana Ashram on the south side of the Mother’s Temple. Even at Ramanasramam this is a special time for Ganesh.

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The Vinakaya Parade

The parade starts on Car Street, at the corner of Big Street, and will pass in front of the Arunachaleswara Temple. Approaching this area there are many Ganeshes being transported. This one is carried in a big truck. This is a large Ganesh, maybe 20 feet high.

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Wherever there is a figure of Ganesh there is a crowd of young men. Usually they will have red cloths tied around their heads. Red is a color that Ganesh likes.

In Tiruvannamalai, Holi, the “Festival of Colors” is not extensively celebrated, as it is in most other parts of India. But today’s festival seems to take its place, with the use of colored powders thrown on the participants and rubbed onto their faces.  It is also a time of almost frantic exultation. If you come to this event, be careful to wear clothes that you don’t mind being ruined by colored powder!

In the photo below you can see a cloud of purple powder above the heads of the crowd of young men.

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Ganesh is on his way.

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You can see the attitude of the boys here. They certainly know they are celebrating.

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Boys on the back of a truck. At their feet are a number of clay Ganesh statues, on their way to be immersed today.

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This Ganesh is on a wagon, ready to enter into the stream of the parade. Many clay statues are there, too.

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A long line of Ganeshes, on their way to the parade.

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Here is the beginning of the line for the parade on Car Street. They will assemble here, do one pradakshina of the temple, then go to Lotus Tank to be dumped into the water.

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On the street corner is a bandstand with musicians playing to the crowd, and men making speeches.

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The boys are dancing and getting rowdy!

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There is a long line of Ganesh statues waiting at the starting point.

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Excitement fills the air.

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You can see the colored powder on this man’s shirt and face.

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Some wagons are pulled by bullocks, some by tractors, some Ganeshes are on trucks.

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This is an enormous Ganesh. I wonder how they even got it onto the truck?

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Think they are excited?

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The silver grease paint on the face is another common site today.

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Also present are many police, gathered under a big billboard (“hording”) of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. This seems like a day that the crowd could get out of hand. I am glad that there is such a big police presence. It does not mute the gaiety at all.

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Three Ganeshes in a row.

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This Ganesh leads the parade on pradakshina around the temple. The decorative umbrella is often a part of the iconography.

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First come the drums.

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Being pulled up the street.

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As it passes, we can see Arunachala in the background.

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On the way to the Lotus Tank, we notice this Riot Control Vehicle. The police are ready! Notice the mosque in the background. There is a Muslim presence in Tiruvannamalai. I have never heard of any tension here between them and the Hindus. But the Ganesh parade goes right through a major part of the Muslim neighborhood.

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Vinakaya Immersions

Now we are to the high point of the festival, the time when these temporary statues of Ganesh are immersed in water, to dissolve, and set Ganesh on his journey to Kailash.

Police are here to control the crowd. I am glad.

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First to go into the water is a large one. There is a crane here, to lift the largest idols from the trucks into the water.

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The crowd looks on, expectantly.

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Here we go! Up off the truck.

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Swinging through the crowd. The police have kept this area open so no one will be hurt.

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And to the water. I am standing on the edge of the crowd, and it is pushing so hard I fear I will get dumped into the lake, too.

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They tip him over.

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Then a group of boys and men jump into the water to push him out, and to sink him under the water.

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They want to get Ganesh submerged.

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They climb up on Ganesh to sink him.

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Exultation at their success.

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Ganesh’s crown still floats in the water. One man swims towards it.

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He gets it and tries to to put it on his head. First water is dumped on him, kind of like his own Abishekam.

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Wearing his prize.

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Now other groups go by, carrying their Ganeshes.

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Here is a clay Ganesh, ready for a family to immerse. In the midst of a public spectacle, there are innumerable small family rituals, too.

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In the water, they have almost immersed this one.

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There are stairs leading down into the water. The statues are carried down the stairs into Lotus Tank. Arunachala watches all the activity.

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See the boy sitting on Ganesh to sink him into the water?

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Almost under the water.

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Just the top of the head is now out of the lake.

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There are four men in a coracle, a round boat, who have been watching the whole scene from the lake. We suspect they are there in the water to make sure no one drowns.

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This Ganesh is topped by tree branches.

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Here is another view.

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This small one looks like it is carried by just one man.

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These guys lost their grip and dropped their Ganesh. It is big and heavy.

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This nice boy was helping us, to make sure we were going to the right place to get a good view. He was run down by the men with the Ganesh above, knocked off his feet. He was so joyful to be our guide, then he got hurt and withdrew. We hope he was OK.

 

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The Ganesh with the tree branches makes its way down into the water.

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It is not easy, manhandling these big figures.

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As pieces break off, they become prizes for young men in the crowd. We are given the abhaya mudra by this happy prizewinner.

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Another Ganesh into the water, a group trying to sink him under.

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I saw one boy climb on top, only to break though the plaster and drop into the lake inside the Ganesh.

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More come along.

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They pass close by.

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Occasionally there are Ganeshes too big to be carried, and the crane goes back to work.

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Splat!

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I think everyone likes the colored powders.

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The scene continues. More statues are brought up and carried into the lake. Another Ganesh is pushed into the water. It will continue into the night, even after dark.

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While the next one is carried down the stairs.

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And dumped into the water.

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A truck backs up the hill carrying a large figure. I wonder how this is going to get into the water? Where is the crane?

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On the street below the tank there is still a long line of Ganeshes, waiting their turns. Day is turning into night.

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Here is a short video of the action as they start carrying them up the hill.

Carrying Ganesh

Up the hill.

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The line waits. It’s getting darker.

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The light was going fast, so we decided to go, since no light means no photos. And we have enough to show you what this is like.

One thing we did not see today was any other Westerners watching the parade or the immersions. This is such a colorful and festive spectacle! Many Westerners are in town. Their focus is on Ramana Ashram, and I guess they just don’t know about things like this. Too bad for them, I know they would enjoy this.

Related Posts:

Ganesh Celebration in Tiruvannamalai 
Festivals and Celebrations in Tiruvannamalai

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2 Responses to “Ganesh Chaturthi, Tiruvannamalai 2013”

  1. Gautam Bhattacharya Says:

    Richard, I feel sad you were not able to see the Durga Puja visarjana or “bhashan” [Bangala for immersion] at Kolkata. In the middle 60s when rowdyism had not gotten the upper hand, it was still a treat. Oh my, what a sight. But also one to leave some people traumatized for life, watching the beautiful Mother Durgas being immersed and being dissolved into straw and wood.

    All the noise, the singular Bengali rituals that accompany the immersion are an art form in themselves. These appear to be missing at T’malai!! We can read the records from Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita and learn about the customs even at that early period and what Sri Ramakrishna had to say about them.

    Perhaps some friends can send you videos of the Kolkata events, possibly a retrospective?

    But your posts are absolutely delightful and sometimes hilarious!! Thanks and Namaskar.

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