Bangalore, and much of India, has been swirling and erupting in celebration of Lord Ganesha for the past frenzied week! Ganesh’s “birthday” was last Saturday, and most Hindus keep a highly revered elephant-headed Ganesh statue in their home for an auspicious period of time. After 3, 7, or 11 days of daily puja (prayers and offerings), they will take the Ganesh down to the nearest body of water for “immersion.” More puja is performed at the water’s edge, and then the clay or plaster statue is reverently dunked 3 times, and then submerged left to sink and dissolve away…
The immersions are sometimes a quiet affair, with a few family members praying & dunking a 12-inch statue at the waterside. More often the immersions are a loud colorful frenzy of fireworks, drumming, and chanting that culminates in the dramatic sinking of a 5, 10 or even 20-foot high behemoth of a Ganesha statue! Participants are covered in celebratory colored powders, singing and dancing in the streets…. The HUGE statues are transported all over town in pickup trucks, on car roofs, and especially in the trailers of farm tractors especially rigged up with portable generators, blinking lights, pedestals, and sound systems! It’s been a nightly parade, marching band drum-corps, fireworks, and festive frenzy, and will continue for a few more days.
We were at Sankey Tank (lake) last night until 11pm, and then this evening at Ulsoor Lake, to watch the festivities. At Ulsoor, they have a giant construction crane on duty all day and night to hoist the largest of the Ganeshas into the water. In the old days, families would just immerse their statues in any nearby lake or stream… With the population boom here, and the rise in popularity of the festival, the government has designated certain immersion locations that are sealed off from the main body of water. Huge pumps keep the water level deep enough, as it’s important that each statue sinks totally from view. Police and work crews are on hand to keep the hundreds (or thousands) of devotees orderly. Usually individuals can’t just stroll down to the water, but must hand off their Ganesha to an approved worker. He will wade deep into the murky water, do the 3-dip dunk, and then submerge it. After 1 or 2 am, when they finally close down for the night, another crew apparently pulls out lots of the debris (wooden frames, wire mesh, etc.) to make room for tomorrows hundreds of statues. Most of the clay and plaster apparently dissolves or oozes off it’s framework, and settles to the bottom of the immersion pools… The volume of statues is astounding…. Hundreds and thousands daily, in countless liquid locations around the city, and all over India.
As a co-worker explained, the immersion is important to “send the god back to his home. Ganesha is first among all of our gods… we must always pray to him first! We keep him in our homes only for a short time, and then must let him go home. It is to remind us that nothing is permanent in life. Hopefully he will then visit us again and again when we need his help.”
Ganesha is considered the “remover of obstacles,” who is able to surmount any difficulty in life. He is honored and consulted at the outset of any difficult undertaking in order to ensure success. He is believed to be the lord of prosperity, success, good living, intelligence, and peace, and is especially popular with students and businessmen. After the exuberance and fervor of the last several nights, I’d say he is especially popular with every breathing resident of this city of 8 million!!!