Come September, streets of Mumbai and Pune in western India, as well as many other cities prepare for the most loved festival Ganesha Chaturthi or Vinayak Chaturthi. The elephant headed God Ganesha, (known by several other names) is prayed to for prosperity and wisdom. Amidst loud chants of ‘Ganapati Bappa Moraya’ the colourful idols that once occupied rows of shelves on street shops are lovingly bought and carried home to the altar.
Weeks before the festival day, street markets begin cleaning, making stands, preparing clay, pre booking orders, contacting artists and helpers. Soon the frenzy of activity heats up, as the festival draws near. Idols are traditionally made with mud or clay, giving them a brown colour. During the prayers idols are smeared with sandal wood or turmeric paste. These eco-friendly idols thus make for easy visarjan or dipping into flowing water after the festival. However, Plaster of Paris (POP) is the new preferred material. It is cheaper, lighter, but certainly harmful to Nature as idols cannot dissolve in water.
Artists arrive to major cities, sometimes from rural homes, the festival provides a big income and a platform created by co-operative organisations. It takes many weeks of patience, dedication and exact materials and temperatures to prepare the idols. The whitish grey or brown idols are left to dry on street pavements (or shop kilns). Once dry, colours transform them magically! Turmeric yellow, leaf green, vermilion red, glittering gold, peacock green…how beautiful the rows of Ganesha idols look standing on the street stands. And why not add some glitter, beads and fancy ornaments for a festive aura? Prices vary according to size and decorations ranging from Rs. 200 to 2 crores!
With great pomp and music, the super size idols are carried to community halls, temple foyers and public gatherings. Smaller idols bought by family members, make their way home covered by traditional silk cloth.
Now, Ganesha is known to have a great liking for food, just look at his big tummy! There are many mythological stories to support this. Festival markets are filled with plenty of fresh fruit – bananas and pomegranate being favourite. Besides garlands of flowers, rose petals, marigolds, banana stems and leaves, lotus flowers occupy every inch of floor space in the market.
It’s a frenzy of hectic activity! Loud noises of people bargaining, soft swishing of women in sarees, young children begging to choose a special idol, bright lights add to the human frenzy, screeching cars and vehicles passing by. Suddenly rises a loud chant from among the crowd ‘ Ganapati Bappa.. Moraya’ ..Salutations to the God.
All is in abundance, all in good spirit.
When a special guest comes home, the house ( or community hall) needs extra decorations and twinkling lights. Another visit to the markets before the last day – decorative lamps, earthenware pots, trinkets, bells, twinkling lights and ….just some fancy stuff!
Suddenly… an eerie quietness descends on the street and shops, on the Ganesha Chaturthi day. Action moves indoors. Prayers, social meets and abundance of festival food.
The markets will have to wait for another year.. till Ganesha visits again.
Have you celebrated this festival? What did you buy from the market? Do share your comments.
For another blog on Ganesha see here.
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