Ganesh Immersion!

Trip Start Mar 29, 2007
Trip End Sep 30, 2009

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Flag of India  , Andhra Pradesh,
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

So where to begin...perhaps maybe some background on the Ganesh Immersion and why it's such a big deal here in Hyderabad (and other locations around India).

Let's start first with Ganesh (or Ganesha)...the Elephant looking deity of the Hindu religion.  You can read all about Ganesh by clicking here....but in short, he's one of the most popular deities in India and is probably one of the best known as well given how easy it is to recognize him.  He is known as the "remover of obstacles" and I can almost guarantee you that every Indian home has at least one small Ganesh statue in their home (I have multiple in mine). what are the holidays which focus on Ganesh and why in heck do you want to throw him in the water?  Ganesh Chaturthi is the nearly two week long celebration in India as the birthday of Lord's the day he made his presence known to man.  You can ready lots about Ganesh Chaturthi by clicking here...but again I'll try to summarize for you and throw in my own color commentary based on what we did for this important holiday.

This year Ganesh Chaturthi started on Sept 3.  The party usually goes on for 10 days and culminates in a bunch of crazy Indians (and tourists...check the pics for us!) throwing their Ganesh idols into a large body of water.  But wait...we're getting way, way ahead of ourselves. 

The Construction:
About a month before the festival, my watchman/maintenance guy/car washer/plant waterer Murthy rings the bell and asks if we would like to contribute to the purchase of a large Ganesha for the building.  I'm always skeptical anytime anyone asks me for money in India...but this seemed legit and the other tenants were all contributing as I chipped in 500 rupees and told him to keep me and Tanya in the loop on the Ganesh activities.  He said no problem and that we were also invited down for a big puja (prayer) ceremony once they got the Ganesh set up and had brought in a holy man to execute the puja.  The next two weeks there was a flurry of activity and construction in a sectioned off corner of the parking garage where the guys that live in my building along with help from Murthy and his family built our buildings' Ganesh shrine and decorated it for the ceremony.  The actual shrine area is called a mantapas or a pandal.  Every group, village, apartment building, neighborhood, etc. was busy constructing their own mantapas specifically for the festival using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc for worship with families, friends and neighbors.  Ours was quite an impressive little Ganesh mantapas and the entire building was pleased with how it turned out.

Visiting Ganeshes (And TV Appearance!):
So for the 2-3 months prior to this festival, the entire population of Hyderabad is either building, buying or worshiping Ganeshes which they will eventually "immerse" or throw into the nearest body of water.  In Bombay they throw them into the ocean...sadly in land-locked Hyderabad, we have to find a lake. the months before the festival, all you saw on the sides of the road where brightly colored Ganesh idols for sale.  Down the side streets and alley's you would see huge scaffolding and draped-off areas where people were busy building their Ganeshes.  Some of these statues were huge (up to 70 feet tall) the crowds around the bigger ones were definitely thick with onlookers and worshipers.  One of my co-workers from Hyderabad told me she takes her kids out for a walk this time each year and they make it a contest to find 11 Ganesh idols preparing for the immersion.  You really can't walk more than a few blocks without seeing one.  Tanya and I managed to check out the largest Ganesh in Hyderabad and even got asked to interview with a national TV channel.  Some of my friends from work said they saw our interview...maybe in some remote village they are actually worshiping they goofy looking white guy who likes Ganesh.  Important point...we also noticed along the sides of the major lake in Hyderabad, these massive construction cranes being set up every 100 yards or so along the waters edge.  We figured these were just the beginning of yet another construction project in Hyderabad....but no...these were actually an important instrument in the Ganesh immersion process...more on that later.

The Puja (Prayer):
So part of my donation to my buildings Ganesh was to also secure the services of a priest who would come and hold a ceremony for everyone in the building where they would be blessed and protected by Lord Ganesha.  For our ceremony, we carefully marked down the day in the calendar only to come home for it to be told by Murthy that the priest had already come and gone...and that he was a very bad priest and we didn't miss much.  Still pissed me off though...I can use all the prayer and blessing I can get! my relief, the building organized another priest to come and along with my neighbors, Tanya and I came down to the ceremony and proceeded to look confused as chants where sang, coconuts were split, offerings of rice (prassad) were consumed and tikas (dot's on the forehead) were dished out.  The entire ceremony was pretty we were glad we got to finally do it...too bad I didn't get a video or picture of it.  C'est la vie.

The Pre-Immersion Party:
I may have mentioned that Ganesh Chaturthi actually lasts for much longer than just one day.  It's more like a two week festival.  So for each day after the Charturthi leading up to the 11th day. a common site in Hyderabad are pick-up trucks full of screaming and singing (and sometimes drunk) Indian men and boys along with their neighborhoods Ganesh as they go in search for a body of water to dunk their Ganesh into. can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Ganesh is a truck for the entire 11 days.  So where may you ask are these young men taking their Ganeshes too?  To immerse them of course!  But before that, you've got to party...hard.  Tanya had asked about our pre-immersion party for our apartment Ganesh and Murthy (our watchman) told her we'd be leaving Friday afternoon at 1PM and driving down to the big lake in the city center (Sagar Hussain).  He was wrong on both counts.  I was bummed because obviously I can't just leave work on a Friday I figured we'd miss the entire immersion process.  Luckily, as happens more often than not in India...there were several delays with our Ganesh pre-party....and by the time I left work on Friday afternoon....they guys at my apartment had just started the party.  Of course when they see my (a white guy) they want to pull me into their party despite my business attire and their...uh....lack of business attire?  The party was quite fun...basically a bunch of kids trying to knock some sort of piniata type thing with a stick...and a bunch of men dancing, drinking and throwing water on EVERYONE.  They took it easy on Tanya and I as they knew we had just come from work.  Our Ganesh was in the back of a pickup truck ready for the ride to the lake and after 30 minutes of partying, they were finally off.  And by "finally off" I mean they were going about 2 miles per hour and doing more partying, dancing and dishing out prasad than actual driving.  Tanya and I decided to head upstairs, change and join the procession on my motorbike.  By the time we got back downstairs in our party gear (read: clothes we don't mind if they get trashed)...the processing had made it all of 100 yards.  About halfway down the street I see a lot of discussion going on and someone makes the executive decision to take our Ganesh to a much closer lake...bravo I say...great decision.  The processing takes about 1 hour to finally get to a main road where the guys finally all hop in the truck and we move towards the lake...with Tanya and I in hot pursuit. 

The Immersion:

At the lake there were several other trucks with Ganeshes ready for the immersion process and off course one really big crane.  Despite the line of trucks...someone in our group must of paid someone off because we zipped past all the traffic to the front of the line.  Once there, all the men (including yours truly) grabbed our Ganesh and gently placed his heavy butt on the platform attached to the crane.  As we were waiting for others to load their Ganeshes on the of the guys gave me a small Ganesh to immerse which we did in a very respectful manner (at least I hoped I did it respectfully).  Finally the big time had arrived and the crane lifted our Ganesh into the air and hovered about 6 inches above the water as it moved further out in the lake.  When the crane reached the proper immersion point, the Ganeshes were gently toppled over into the lake were they quickly sank into the dark murkiness.  One might ask...doesn't dunking all of these paper-mache Ganeshes colored with artificial coloring and decorations into a lake cause some serious problems to the lake?  And the answer would be yes it does...but this in India and it's a religious thing so people sort of just let it happen.  You can read on the wikipedia entry I linked to above....but a common site in many of the lakes, rivers and streams a couple days after the immersion are the shoals of dead fish that float on the surface for weeks after....mainly because of the toxin's used to paint and decorate the Ganeshes.

I actually missed this festival last year when I was in I'm definitely glad I was in town this year...I'm sure you can tell by the pic's we had a blast.  Enjoy the pics!
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