Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Immersing the statues

Statues of Ganesh are immersed into water on the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th days of Ganesh Chaturthi. Traditionally these idols are immersed in natural water bodies such as the sea, but some are also put into lakes or even artificial ponds.

Near us there is a pond and so on Sunday evening, the 5th day, Lex and I walked up to the pond to view the immersion.  It was very busy, but as we walked further around the pond the crowds thinned out and we were able to see the barges going out onto the pond with statues that were being put into the water.

It was a very festive event.  There was praying, chanting, dancing and so on.  Everyone was really friendly towards us and happy that we were joining in their celebrations.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why does Ganesh have an elephant's head?

Ganesh is a very special god in Hindu religion.  He is the remover of obstacles.  What I find strange however is that people worship a god with an elephant's head.  How did he come to get this head.  A search on the internet and reading an Indian newspaper for children has led me to discover this story.

The goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva used to live on Mount Kailash.  One time, when Shiva was away from home, Parvati was lonely and longed for a son whom she could play with and talk to.  She decided to make a little child for herself out of dust and clay from the ground and the sweat of her own body. One day Parvati  wanted to take bath and she asked her son to guard the house and hot let anyone in.  Meanwhile Lord Shiva returned home and saw the boy sitting at the doorway, but ignoring him he proceeded to enter the palace. At that the boy stood up and tried to stop Lord Shiva, who cut off the boy's head.  Just then Parvati entered and told Shiva that he had cut off their own son's head.  Shiva was stricken with remorse and sent the gods in different directions to bring back the head of the first creature that they saw.  This creature was a baby elephant.  Shiva used his powers to join the head of the elephant with the boy's body and thus brought him back to life.  Parvati was overjoyed to have her son back, but wondered who would accept him as a god now that he had an elephant's head.  Shiva blessed him and gave him the name Ganesh or Ganpati (pati means leader) and said he would be the god that people would worship above all other gods.

How Ganesh Chaturthi started

On Sunday Lex and I went on a walking tour of different Ganesh shrines downtown.  Although I was under the impression that this was a very old cultural/religious celebration, it turns out I was wrong.  The festival itself dates from around the 1890s and was actually a political response to the British!  At that time India was struggling to gain independence, and the British response to this was to ban political gatherings.  The Indian people therefore decided to use the Ganesh festival as a way of getting people together to pass on a political message without raising the suspicions of the British.  Community mandals were therefore set up as an elaborate stage for Lord Ganesh for 10 days.  On the last day a procession would accompany the statues to their final destination, the water, where they would be immersed amid chants and fanfares.  This celebration brought all sections of the community together and provided a way of informing people about the struggle for independence.

Every Ganesh statue is slightly different.  The one above was made out of thousands of dice.  Others are adorned in real jewelry.  Some of them tell different stories about Ganesh's life.  One thing is very obvious, however, the Indian people love Ganesh and are very devote in their worship of him.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Neighbourhood children

Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrations

Preparations for Ganesh Chaturthi- which marks the birth of the Lord Ganesh- begin up to ten days in advance, and sometimes even months in advance. In virtually every neighbourhood, a brightly decorated and painstakingly crafted Ganesh idol is made, to be illuminated and worshipped for all of the ten days leading up to Ganesh Chaturthi.
Grand pandals or stages are set up and filled with fresh flowers and the idols are dressed up in colourful clothes and glittering ornaments. There is keen competition to see which pandal has been most artistically decorated and sometimes there is even a prize for the best dressed idol!
On the day of the Ganesh festival itself, sweets - especially laddoos and sugary modaks, which are a favourite of the God's -- are distributed (and consumed) and Ganesh temples are crowded with devotees who participate in the worship of the deity.
When all the festivities are over, the idols which have been worshipped over the past ten days are taken out in a grand procession. During this procession the much-adored God is hoisted on willing shoulders, or rides in open trucks and carriages.
Accompanied by fireworks displays, beating drums and the sound of thousands of voices singing devotional songs, the idols are ritually immersed in a nearby sea, lake or river. The immersion ceremony, which is known as the 'visarjan', marks the end of the festivities. The people dance with great enthusiasm and singing rents the air, urging the god to return post haste the next year.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

People Watching

Chor Bazaar is in a Shia Muslim area of Mumbai.  The people here look and dress very differently from the Muslims in the community where I live.

I've started an online photography course and this week I'm taking shots of people.  I tried to do a bit of surreptitious people watching at the bazaar, though some people don't like having their photos taken.

Chor Bazaar - the Thieves Market

Today a few of the teachers went with one of the school's drivers down to South Mumbai to Chor Bazaar - one of the largest flea markets in India.  Apparently it was originally called Shor Bazaar (which means noisy market), but after an incident with some baggage of Queen Victoria's going missing when she visited Bombay and being found again for sale in Mutton Street, the place got renamed Chor (meaning thief in Hindi-Urdu).

The market is famous for antique and vintage items such as old Bollywood posters, Victorian furniture, parts for cars and so on.

After wandering around for a bit (I bought some cabinet handles, Bobbi-Jo bought a table and an antique phone) we all set off for Leopold's for lunch.  The Leopold Cafe is near the Taj Hotel, scene of the 2008 terrorist attacks.  The restaurant was sprayed with bullets - you can still see the bullet holes in the walls.
One of the Victorian buildings along Colaba Causeway

At the restaurant we all had fried rice, and Bobbi-Jo and Evelyn tried the cakes too.  I didn't feel like eating much today.