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India's Ganesh Festival
By Alecia J. Cohen

Published August 3, 2006

Touching down in Mumbai after 16 hours in the air, my senses immediately told me that I was in for an adventure unlike any other. I knew India was going to be interesting, but little did I know I was in for an experience that would change my life. For starters, flying Air India was a smart choice: kicking back and watching Bollywood films while dining on Indian cuisine made the long journey easy to manage.

But travel within India is a slow process. The country reveals herself like a long, flowing sari, bursting with color at each seam, winding around every space of your being as she drapes you completely in the fabric of her traditions. Each day has a way of presenting obstacles in the midst of the heat, even as India’s hidden jewel, her people, open up gently and gracefully through a smile, a cup of chai and the standard salutation, “Namaste.”

I had dreamed of visiting Mumbai (Old Bombay) since I was a young girl. My imagination was filled with an India in which one encounters lovely scented spices, women shrouded in flowing, luminescent saris and temples filled with deities who welcome you with their presence alone. The romantic India I created in my head now stood before me, alongside a chaotic India I could never quite imagine.

Mumbai is one of India’s most dynamic, Westernized cities and offers up everything in raw form. This sprawling metropolis of humidity, hassle, traffic fumes, relentless crowds and appalling poverty attacks all of your senses at once. With 32.5 million urban dwellers, five million of whom who live in shanties and street slums, the broad boulevards, streams of commuters and teeming bazaars create a frenzied feeling bound to overwhelm you within 24 hours of your first visit. While the level of poverty and filth is insurmountable, the level of spiritual wealth and hospitality is far beyond what I have experienced during my travels abroad to some 30 countries.

The journey of my long-planned trip to attend the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Maharashtra began many months back. While I was previously familiar with Lord Ganesh, a chance invitation by a musician friend, Bapi Das Baul (Purna Das Baul), to a Ganesh temple in Paris created a link between this devotional god and me. It was there I received a blessing by a Hindu priest, attended a puja and was given an offering of flowers and fruit.

Ganesh, the elephant-headed god (also known as Ganapati), is the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati and most commonly known as the Remover of Obstacles. He is the god that Hindus worshipped before any others in both private and public ceremonies. He has more than 1,000 names, many of which describe his appearance (Ekadanta; the single-tusked one; Lambodara, the potbellied one; Vinayaka, the remover).

Later last year, when my best friend Shana Dressler suggested I join her at the Ganesh festival, fate had found me once again. Shana had attended the Ganesh festival in 2003 and after receiving a film grant from Kodak Professional, she decided to return to India to complete the project. The idea of returning with a friend who was a professional photographer was an exciting prospect. During our trip attending the Ganesh festival in Mumbai and Pune, Shana and I rediscovered Ganesh as his spirit led us on a spiritual journey. In the midst of this harsh city, we found the god reappearing again and again through each thread of exquisite fabric and in the hearts of its people.

The Ganesh Chaturthi festival is a highly charged 10-day spiritual and community festival that takes place throughout the state of Maharashtra, but is celebrated with the most fervor in Mumbai and Pune. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesh on the fourth day (Chaturthi) of the sixth month (Bhadrapada) of the Hindu calendar each year. It is among the most celebrated of the festivals in India, and perhap

  Travel notes
Festivals in India

Kumbha Mela: The Kumbha Mela (the Pot Fair) is celebrated every 12 years. It is said to be the largest gathering of people in the world. About two million pilgrims from all over the country take a holy dip at the sangam.

Diwali: The festival of lights. It is believed that it was on this day that Lord Rama entered Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. The celebrations commence with a purifying oil bath and the lighting of lamps, symbolic of the spiritual light pervading the earth and the destruction of darkness and ignorance.

Holi: The colorful festival of Holi is celebrated predominantly in Northern India and marks the arrival of spring. It isn’t unusual for participants in the festivities to be covered from head to toe in colored powder.

Hindu-Ganesh Festival Terms

Lord Ganesh: The elephant head God (also known as Ganapati, Ekadanta, Vinayaka and Heramba) is considered the remover of obstacles and also the creator of obstacles to change one’s prospective journey. Ganesh is praised all over India and always worshipped first in temples and private houses.

Puja: the act of showing reverence to a god, a spirit or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, songs and rituals. During puja an image or other symbol of the god serves as a means of gaining access to the divine.

Mandal: The structure or stage-like setting which houses the Ganesh idol or installation. The associations or public groups that gather together to celebrate the festival fall into three categories: neighborhood groups, occupational groups and voluntary associations. Neighborhood groups or mandals draw their membership informally from among those who live on the same street or area of the city. The members of the mandal canvass their neighborhoods for contributions toward the purchase of an image to be set up in the neighborhood, covered by a temporary canopy (mandav) in front of which various religious and cultural events will take place. There is a wide variety in the iconography and programs of the different mandals.

TRAVEL NOTES
The India Tourism Board: www.incredibleindia.org
Air India: www.airindia.com

Where to Stay

Mumbai
The Ambassador
V.N. Road, Churchgate,
Mumbai 400 020
T: 2204 1131

Pune
ER Hotel Regency
192, Dhole Patil Road,
Pune 411 001
T: 403-0303

Places to Shop
FabIndia
Jeroo Bldg., 137, M.G. Road
Kalaghoda, Mumbai 400 001
T:22626549

Fabric Shops
Kala Niketan Silk & Sarees
95, Queen’s Road
Mumbai 400-020
T: 2200-5001

Vendana Fabrics
Chandralok-A 97 Nepeansea Road
Mumbai – 6
T: 2363 2150

Tailor
Anyone who goes to India will want to find a fantastic tailor to turn their beautiful silk fabric into Indian or American styles.

Richns
48-A, Walkeshwar Road,
Mumbai 400-006
T: 369-98-16
 

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