Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ganesh Chaturthi

After the buying and selling of Ganesha, the real festival begins. Our community Ganesh, fully decorated in wreaths and garlands:

The overall celebration, as well as being Ganesh's birthday, is a celebration of and offering to the god of prosperity and good fortune. It is also symbolic of the permanence of the soul and impermanence (is that a word?) of the body. The statue of Ganesh comes from the earth (clay) and at the end of the festival is returned there (submersion into water). Every year his soul returns in another clay body. This bit I especially like, the symmetry and enduring image of the soul.

In my previous blog, I had missed out on the symbolism/representations of the animals accompanying the various Ganesha statues. In the Hindu religion, the gods or mystic presences can be manifested in any living being, all living beings having a soul. Sometimes my limited, but growing I hope, appreciation of the Hindu religion and culture is not up to separating the serious from the exuberant! The mouse (I took to be a rat) is called Mushika and there's quite a story but he is linked with Ganesh, the Peacock, Murugan, is a reformed devil, and the lion is usually associated with Pavarti. The animal presences are generally linked with a particular deity/god.

Our Ganesh was housed in his temporary pandal/shelter, made of woven leaves and highly decorated - in fact a house fit for a king. If you can see on this little photo, our Ganesh is seated on and framed by a serpent, which is also a Vahana (mystic presence in an animal body).

While the Ganesh is in the pandal people come and give offerings and their pooja (prayers). The hope is that Ganesh will bless them and theirs with prosperity and good fortune. These are the traditional offerings given to our Ganesh:
For a set period of time, can be just until that very night, or for a maximum of 10 days,  Ganesh stays in his pandal. Then, the final stage of the festival, Ganesh is transported as part of a parade/procession with people singing, dancing and chanting to his final resting place, a lake or submersion tank. As he sinks into the waters, he hopefully takes away all misfortune and leaves behind prosperity and good fortune.

Drowned plaster of paris Ganesha, covered garishly in colored chemicals, garlands and wreaths have caused big problems and environmental issues for the lakes of Bangalore. All are encouraged to buy clay Ganesha, adorned with natural paints, who just dissolve into the earth, and also, to disrobe their statues before submersion to keep our lakes clean and drains unclogged.

Last night, from the safe confines of Vista, we could hear the parties and parades, as some Ganesha dived into the waters, well into the night. The firecrackers echoed loud and clear. Part of me wished I was there and part of me was content to listen from a distance. We had thought about going to one of the designated "submersion" lakes in the city but apparently nothing happens until evening and then it's a very crowded and noisy, party atmosphere. Wills would have found it all too much - the Ganesha sale was a stretch for him - crowds and chaos are not his thing!  Adam, the white guy, stands out much more but is happy to talk to everyone who asks him where he comes from, where he studies, what football team he supports etc. as he wanders along quite happily through the thronging crowd.

Our community Ganesh will meet his bodily end on Monday afternoon as he plunges into murky waters, which I'm sure is a much more sedate affair and I will be there with my camera!

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