If it were a sport – it would be the world cup, no less. Ganesh Utsav is easily the biggest religious festival in Mumbai. It also marks the end of the monsoons and the beginning of festival season.
At home, the festival preparation includes purchases such as puja items or accessories a few days in advance and booking the Ganesh murti (idol) as early as a month beforehand (from local artisans). The murti is brought home either a day before or on the day of the Ganesh Chaturthi itself. Families decorate a small, clean portion of the house with flowers and other colourful items before installing the idol. When the murti is installed, it and its shrine are decorated with flowers and other materials. On the day of the festival, the ceremonial installation of the clay murti is done along with chants of holy mantras and pooja including bhajans during a certain auspicious period of the day. (Source: Wikipedia)
I was staying at Dadar, minding a friend’s cats. Having seen my share of Ganesha festivals over the years, the novelty had worn off. But I knew this one would be different from the other years.
Ganesh Chaturthi assumed the nature of a gala public celebration when the Maratha ruler Shivaji (c. 1630–80) used it to encourage nationalist sentiment among his subjects, who were fighting the Mughals. In 1893, when the British banned political assemblies, the festival was revived by the Indian nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak. (Source: Britannica)
Day 2 – Mantri Chawl, Prabhadevi. Early evening.
The aarti had started as I watched a family of four hurrying up the wooden stairs of the shared apartments. They stopped on the second floor near a small group of people singing bhajans & joined them.
Central Bombay chawls were bastions of blue-collar labourers working in textile mills spread across central Bombay. The limited space forced residents to share corridors, terraces, even bathrooms. This extended naturally to festivals as well. Ganpati became that festival that brought warring families together, saw romances blossomed, alliances struck – even today – and business ventures planned.
I watched the family that had just got there sing bhajans, segregate and profile the crowd without exchanging a single word. I knew they would work the crowd later using the information they had gathered and put it to good use. An old school face-book.
Visarjan Day 3 – Mahim highway stretching to Bandra. Evening.
It was the day of the visarjan, where they would immerse the idol in the water to bid goodbye. See you. Be good until next year. The suburbs I was riding through hugged the sea shores, becoming natural points for visarjans. Each year, these places would turn into hotspots for huge processions, blaring music and massive traffic jams. This year though, the powers that be had decided to smoothen my ride.
In a bid to contain the spread of the virus during this festival season, Mumbai Police on Thursday decided to impose Section 144 of CrPC in the city from September 10-19. “Mumbai Police impose Sec 144 CrPC in Mumbai from 10-19 Sept. No Ganpati processions will be allowed. More than 5 people not allowed to gather at a place. (Source: India today, 10th Sept., 2021).
Day 5 – Old Cadel road, Dadar. Night.
I was on my way back from a coffee shop when I spotted a small pandal in an old society and decided to stop for a darshan. Two chairs were placed on either side at the entrance, two tubes illuminated the small idol. A few youngsters sat nearby talking about CET exams while surfing the internet. I walked in.
A middle-aged man came up, smiled and offered prasad – two pieces of sakhar-puda & a small piece of peda. The small portion of prasad took me back to a time of ticketed darshans, celebrity aartis, record donations and competing mandals – of who has the bigger, richer, better Ganesha.
I lowered my mask, smiled back and popped the prasad before heading out.
Visarjan Day 8 – Bandstand.
The five of them were riding the empty cart on the road while a cop kept a wary eye on them. They didn’t care or mind. The solemnity of carrying a god out to sea was done. They could go back to being teenagers again. Now they enjoyed the drizzle, their kurtas soaked, as they sat atop the cart. It gained momentum, they laughed silly and rode through the otherwise busy lane.
Visarjan Day 10 – Worli Sea Face.
The last day for Visarjan – the day for traffic nightmares when all work would be stalled, postponed or cancelled. This year, there were just small tempos. No harassed traffic cops or people in cars with “wtf am I doin out” expressions. Traffic was heavy but nothing unusual. Under my helmet, bandana and face mask, my face broke into a smile.
I saw a small family in a car. They were accompanied by a few friends. They asked a traffic cop something, he took time out to explain and point out. A sight I never thought I would see. I felt a sense of strong kinship with people there – a feeling of belonging right then that made me bow my head too.
Vighnaharta – the remover of obstacles.