Chennai Journal
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Ganesh Chathurti

(Video in 2 parts)

Since coming to India, I've seemed to miss the annual plaster- of- paris- to- the- sea festival that is otherwise known as Ganesh Chaturthi. But this year it fell on Sunday and I had Antony drive me down to the beach to see the festivities. On the way,we passed three wheelers, trucks, and bullock carts with statues of varying size accompanied by shouting and cheering devotees.

The festival is the culmination of a 10 day long celebration of the birthday of Lord Ganesh, one of the principal Hindu gods. Ganesh is the elephant god, a roly poly deity with the head of an elephant and human features such as arms, and he is worshipped as the bringer of prosperity and protector against obstacles. You can follow this link to read more about the story of Ganesh creation.

Ganesh Charturthi is celebrated in Bombay, Tamil Nadu and other states that have ready access to water. The ceremony is not that old -it was popularized by Lakmanya Tilak in the late 1800s whose motives were less religious than political, as he felt that religious celebrations would fuel nationalism and help thwart British rule. The Ganesh idols are decorated by the devotees with garlands and brought to a body of water where--depending on the size-- it is hoisted on a crane and lowered into the sea and then taken out in the water by several men. Although I went around 1 in the afternoon, probably a few hundred Ganeshes had already been submerged--and judging from the idol-laden lineup of trucks and carts on the road to the beach when we left, many more were to come.

In recent years, Ganesh Chaturthi has also attracted criticism for the environmental impact of throwing several thousand pounds of plaster of paris into the seas and rivers. In addition to the longer term impact, scores of dead fish are found in the waters around the festival sites in the days following the ceremony.

Well that explains it! We passed many motorbikes and vehicles with the orange flags. Our driver gave an explanation but it hard to follow. I heard Ganesh and ocean, but I thought my confusion was due to the language barrier. Now I'm sorry I missed the whole thing!
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