It is impossible to miss the Ganapati festival if you are in Mumbai. Apart from the household poojas which you might be invited to, there are public festivals at every other street corner. Everything about the festival is photogenic: from the artisanal workshops where the idols are constructed, to the final immersion. A couple of years ago I went to see the immersion again with a colleague who was visiting in India. In the thirty years between my two visits to see the immersion at the Girgaum chowpatty, the event had become highly organized. In the eighties the scene of the immersion was a chaotic sea of people, often bunching up into fearsome knots on the verge of becoming a crush. It is more crowded now, but well-marked lanes for seaward and landward movement make it much easier to visit this incredible Mumbai event as a tourist. There are even tour operators who offer to work it into your itinerary. That’s such a wonderful development!
I didn’t do that today. But on day of the full moon, Ananta Chaturdashi, you cannot be on the roads of Mumbai without passing the large idols starting off on their journey to the sea. Sometimes you see them in passing on deserted streets (photo above, Ballard estate), sometimes the truck with the idol is part of the traffic on narrow roads (photo below, Colaba market). The traffic management has become slicker over the decades. Our taxi breezed past dozens of these clumps of people without getting stuck. Traffic police were on the spot, making sure that no jams develop. Apparently every idol is given a time at which they should start the journey, and a deadline by which to reach the sea. An interesting development which I’d not noticed in previous years is the presence of an “FX truck” in front of the truck with the idol, whose purpose seems to be to light up proceedings.
The Ganapati (aka, Ganesh) pooja was a household affair is many parts of western India before it became a public festival under the Peshwa kings of Pune in the 18th century. The public festival was converted to its present form by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who used it as a vehicle to arouse public sentiment against British colonial rule in India. Household gods are immersed in the sea after one and half, three, five or seven days. Although the immersion of these smaller idols is not spectacular, I like to see the little knots of families reach the sea. If you watch carefully, you will notice many with a slightly lost look on their faces as they leave: it is the end of a festival, after all. The major immersions were done today, on the eleventh day. There is only one major idol left now in Mumbai, and that will be immersed on the fifteenth day. That’s definitely the end of the festival.