Friday, September 12, 2014

Festival Time

Upon arriving back in India from a brief trip home, we witnessed our first Indian festival. Like many things here, I'm not so sure I fully understand what's really happening.

The Hindu people worship many gods but select one as their main god. Ganesh is a favorite choice as he represents good luck and this is his 10 day festival. Numerous small shrines pop up for the occasion and families go out and buy a special Ganesh idol to take home and worship for a few days.

Sales are brisk and families eat only veg to show their willingness to worship while the idol is in their home. All over town groups or individuals sponsor large Ganesh statues where people can come make an offering (money, flowers, and food) and receive a blessing. Awards were given to the largest, most decorative, most visited, and most eco-friendly Ganesh statues in the city.

Then, on either day 1 1/2, day 3, day 5, day 7, or day 10 (depending on how long you want to fast from meat) with day 10 being reserved as the most exciting day as the giant statues are all immersed, the family loads up their personal idol and makes a festive trek to the nearest immersion point located at a natural body of water.

They unload their family idol onto a table where they worship and say their good-byes to Ganesh. Boisterous singing, chanting, drum banging, chalk throwing, all serve to express their feelings.

When the family has finished, the statue is blessed and handed over to one of the men waiting to take it out in the water for immersion. Our lake had the added threat of crocodiles.


It is loaded onto a floating dock with other family's idols and one by one each idol is gently submersed in the water and brought back up only to be lowered down permanently. All of the idols are left to live out the remainder of their lives in the water. Environmental concerns have prompted people to favor plaster-of-paris versions that will dissolve in a matter of hours, but with so many thousands of idols being left in the lakes and oceans the amount of dead fish and pollution resulting from this tradition is astounding.

The good-byes finished, the family wraps up their celebration with some fruit and candied offerings before heading home.

All the large tents are dismantled and people resume normal life waiting for their next big festival which happens in two weeks. That's when the lady god Durga will get to celebrate 9 nights of dancing and have her chance at immersion. 

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