Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Elephant Lord Is Here

The festival season has officially kicked off in India, more so in Mumbai, with the onset of Ganesh Chaturthi. Ramzan has also begun. Man may create umpteen divisions but nature has its way of setting the balance right and so we have two festivals- that are as different as night and day as are those who celebrate them- coinciding their beginnings on the same day. It's a strange but very welcoming confluence of festivals across cultures. Me feels closer to Ganesh Chaturthi
though and it remains one of my favourite festivals of the year.

Mumbai looks the best during these 10 days. You can see colourful Ganapati pandals all across town with Ganpatis of all shapes and sizes; the taller they are the more awe-inspiring they appear to be. Almost every locality has a Ganapti pandal. There's hyper activity around each and every one of them and all very lit up. There are themes and motifs and lots of creativity that goes into setting up of some of them. They are awake 24/7. Infact I have noticed that some of these popular pandals in crowded residential areas come alive more after sunset. I suppose that is the time when people find to be convenient to pay their respects and offer darshan after a hard day's work. It looks as if the entire city has come out on streets.

When I was in college, a visit to Lalbaug, considered to be one of the busiest localities for Ganapati festivities, was a must-must on my list. Though I have never seen Lalbaugcha Raja (The King Of Lalbaug; one of the tallest Ganpatis in the city), I used to pay darshan to two other Ganpatis. One was in the lane, curiously named Ganesh Galli, and the other one nearby. It's a nightmare taking your car or hoping to catch the bus from Lalbaug in these days. Serpentine queues line up outside the Lalbaugcha Raja; it takes hours to get darshan. The kind of faith you see pouring out on streets is electrifying.

One of the beauty of this festival is despite being celebrated on a huge scale, peace prevails. Probably one of the reasons behind this is that it is one of the few festivals celebrated at such a grand scale that also has a large and significant presence of women involved in the festivities.

The other Ganapati pandal I used to compulsorily visit was at my college-friend Ashish's at Peddar Road. A very devout Ganapati-worshipping family, the Jhambs have unflinchingly hosted the Elephant Lord at their home for many years. Every day at around 7 pm, they have a small pooja, as they do during a few other times during the day as well. The Jhambs have a fascinating collection of small Ganpati idols that are exclusively and systematically placed on top of a sideboard in their dining room. Every year we could see an addition. It is almost as if you step into Satguru's. When in college, my friends and I used to go together after finishing off our lectures. These days, we are all dispersed busy with our respective lives, families and commitments; it's a pity we do not even ask one another now, we make our own arrangements and go as we please. I do not think I have missed one year, since I think 1995, to go to the Jhambs. I shall miss this year though; I am off to a much-needed holiday this week.

The one place I'd like to get a feel of though, during Ganapati, is Pune. This, many say, is the hub of Ganapati celebrations, though if you go to Parel, Lalbaug and central Mumbai areas, you'd disagree. Maybe next year I might take out some time to visit Pune during Ganapati. That's one more reason for me to visit one of my favourite weekend gateways.

(in pictures: Ganpati temple in Wai, Maharashtra)

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