Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ganapati Bapa Moria!

At this time of year in India there are huge festivals to honour the god Ganesh.  Ganesh statues arrive in people's homes and they spend several days there before being taken to water an immersed.  Ganesh can stay in homes for 3, 5 and 7 days, but the huge immersions happen on the 11th day.  The photo above shows a local family bringing their Ganesh statue home.  It was in the back of a truck being driven down our street (I ran out to take this photo).

The festival begins with the installation of huge statutes of Ganesha in homes and podiums, which have been especially constructed and beautifully decorated. Artisans put months of effort into making the statues.  On Ananta Chaturdasi (the last day), the statues are paraded through the streets, accompanied by much singing and dancing, and then immersed in the ocean or other bodies of water. In Mumbai alone, more than 150,000 statues are immersed each year!

Hindus worship idols, or statues, of their gods because it gives them a visible form to pray to. They also recognize that the universe is in a constant state of change. Form eventually gives away to formlessness. However, the energy still remains. The immersion of the statues in the ocean, or other bodies of water, and subsequent destruction of them serves as a reminder of this belief.  Hindus believe that inviting Ganesh into their homes and then immersing him leads to obstacles being removed and good fortune being brought into the home for the coming year.  The first immersion I went to this year was on the 5th day.  I walked up through the village behind our apartment with Jenni, one of the new teachers, and we went to a lake where the statues were being immersed.  There were family groups standing around their statues, praying, singing, clapping their hands and banging small cymbals.  One family invited me to join in which was great.

The 11th day is the final immersion day.  We were given a half day off school so that we could either go and join in, or get home and stay out of the way of the festivities.  I chose to go and join in.  Jenni and I went to the Marriott on Juhu beach.  

We were able to walk up and down the beach to observe what was happening.  Right outside the Marriott there were many small family Ganesh statues being immersed, but further up the beach there were some big ones arriving.

As the sun started to go down, so did the crowds grow on the beach.  For me one of the most poignant images was the remains of the Ganesh statues from the previous immersions.  Bits of Ganesh, maybe arms or heads, were washed back by the tide and left stranded on the beach.  The idea is that the statues are immersed (visarjan) and left to disintegrate.

The large Ganesh statues take a long time to reach the ocean and be immersed. The slow moving processions commonly start out mid morning and go throughout the night, with the statue only being placed in the water early the next morning. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ellora Caves - Another World Heritage Site

The day after visiting the caves at Ajanta, Sharon, Kylie, Jenni and myself drove to Ellora to visit the caves there.  These caves were carved out with a hammer and chisel over 5 centuries by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks.

These caves line an escarpment and stretch out over 2kms.  In front of these caves are elaborate courtyards and many of these temples are multi-level.

Cave 10

The earliest caves were Buddhist monasteries (viharas).  These caves also contain statues of Buddhist goddesses including the goddess of learning, Mahamayuri.  The most famous of the Buddhist temples is in Cave 10 which has ceiling ribs carved into the stonework.

The Hindu temples and caves are next.  These ones were cut from the top down, so the builders began with the roof and worked down.  These caves are dedicated to Vishnu and Brahma.  The feel of these caves is very different.  The Buddhist one are very peaceful, but the Hindu ones are more dramatic.  

One of the Hindu caves, the Kailasa Temple, was built to represent Mt Kailasa, Shiva's Himalayan home.  The entire thing was built with hammers and chisels and over 200,000 tonnes of rock had to be removed.

Ajanta Caves - a World Heritage Site

There are 30 caves at Ajanta which line a steep gorge in a horseshoe bend in the Wanghore River.  The caves are beautifully decorated with both paintings and sculptures.  The colours were mostly created from local minerals, though the blue colour is made out of lapis lazuli from Iran.

The caves date from around 500 BC but were only discovered by the British army officer John Smith in 1819.  In typical "yob fashion" he graffitied over one of the beautiful paintings!

The caves were built by Buddhist monks and they contain many Buddhist statues include a reclining Buddha. 

Human Pyramids to celebrate Lord Krishna's birthday

Krishna Janmashtami - young men form human towers to try to reach the pot of buttermilk hanging high above the village square. The pot has a cash prize for the team who breaks it - some of these are worth up to $200,000 (but not this one in my village I'm sure!)   The first team start. There is a big base to the pyramid and then more men climb on top.  Now a third layer gets added - there is still a long way to go.  Someone climbs up with a small child on his shoulders - this boy will attempt to break the pot. Another older boy joins and lifts the small child up onto his shoulders.  Although the little boy stood on the shoulders of the rest, he couldn't quite reach the pot of buttermilk and win the prize.