Ganpati Bappa Morya! Every year, Hindus celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh_Chaturthi Here in Mumbai, in the state of Maharashtra, we do it crazier and with more pageantry than anywhere else. Most of the locals call it “Ganpati”, which is the Marathi word for Ganesha.
When we arrived in Mumbai last year we plunged straight into festival season and Ganpati was the first really big festival we acquainted ourselves with. As luck would have it, we live smack in the middle of Ganpati central. Every night leading up to the festival, there was craziness in the form of parades of people marching up and down the nearby main thoroughfare, blaring music, dancing, and announcing the presence of an EXTREMELY large Ganesha idol that was pulled on a cart, driven on a lorry, or in the back of a large truck, and moving down the street at an absolutely glacial pace to snarl up traffic for hours. Last year, I went on a tour given by the Consulate Community Liaison Office (CLO), but this year, I was ready to celebrate a step closer to the locals and get my own Ganpati.
Picking out your family Ganesha is a big deal. The only equivalent that I can think of in our culture is when families go to pick out a Christmas tree. It’s got to be just perfect, and everyone has to be happy with it.
Along with the DiploBoys my friend, R, and her family, and our driver D, we set out for Lalbaug, aka Ganpati Central. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lalbaug
I knew exactly where to go from last year’s tour, so I indicated to D to pull over near the former Ganesha Talkies building, which used to house the Ganesha Talkies cinema. We found a small Ganesha shop that I remembered from last year, doffed our footwear, and headed inside.
Artists were working on a variety of Ganeshas. The shop had a great selection, but the Ganeshas were small, and the DBs wanted to see BIG. So we headed around the corner for a shop DB1 and I visited last year. Last year, after our tour, another Consulate guy, J, and I explored a bit and as we were walking up to this particular shop, a flatbed pulled up and these guys jumped down to pick up the Ganesha for their society.
Big Ganeshas, while desirable are bahut, bahut paisa. (Big Money.) Societies, neighborhoods, and even families band together and celebrate Ganpati Festival together and buy a GIANT Ganesha. The most famous one is the Lalbaug Ganpati, and people stand in line for hours – hours. The line literally snakes through the Lalbaug neighborhood for a couple of kilometers.
Anyway, when these guys saw J, the immediately locked onto the fact that he had a super-souped up camera, and wouldn’t let us leave, yelling, “New York Times! Front Page!” We got detained for over half an hour while they finished up arrangements with the shopkeeper and brought out their Ganesha. It was worth all the whining of “Can we go yet?” from DB1 to see them triumphantly celebrate their idol’s installment on the flatbed before they joined the chaos in the streets.
But this year, they weren’t around – we were about a week earlier in the season, and the workshop was relatively quiet. So we got to go inside and poke around.
The DBs and their friend, S, ran from Ganpati to Ganpati, pointing out details, excitedly leaning in to see the painting up close.
We moved further and further into the workshop, passing by artists forming the backdrops and thrones, detailing the features, and attaching bling.
You can tell when a Ganpati has been made to order or sold, because they have tags on them.
Then, D found the ultimate cool thing: the Ganpati part molds.
After we exited the workshop on the other side, we followed the shops back around to the main street. We passed lots of shops selling Ganesha accessories – drapes, pedestals, and lights.
We passed by a veiled Ganesha. A crowd was gathered around, waiting for it to be unveiled before being loaded onto the truck, and we decided (everyone but DB1, who decided it was more important to grouse) to wait until the cover dropped.
About 10 minutes later, we were rewarded – with the sound of cheering as the cloth dropped as garbage truck (which you never, ever see here) blocked our view.
We headed along the street, and checked out even more Ganeshas.
After seeing several more Ganeshas and visiting a few more workshops, we decided to head back to the first store. (Of course.)
Arriving back at our store, we slipped inside to pick out our Ganesha.
It took very little time to identify him. One problem: it had a tag on it. Not a plastic cover, that meant it had been “sold, sold”, but a tag, meaning someone had JUST beaten us to it. The DBs were sad. I was sad, if not for the idea of the loss of the perfect Ganpati but the fact that for once they actually agreed on something.
D took matters into his own hands, approached the shopkeeper and began speaking rapidly in Marathi. I was explaining to the boys that we had to pick another Ganesha and suddenly I hear the word, “dusra”. (Second) YES!!!! Turns out he had a second one in that mold and he would prepare that for the other family. Our Ganpati was quickly brought down to the artists for final prep for home.
D clarified this Ganpati was “lifelong”, so they touched up the paint, checked it all over for bling defects, and then applied some borders to the bottom of it.
He’s rocking, right?
DB1 bent to pick him up and D quickly instructed him on the proper holding of a Ganesha for transport. As we exited the shop, DB2 paved the way, clapping his hands and saying, “Yay, Ganesha! Whoo-hoo!” Traditionally, you bring him out and make lots of noise to announce his coming, but DB2 just did this because, well, he’s DB2. Heads turned.
As D would say, it’s another “Madam pagal hai” Moment. (Crazy Madam)
After transporting Ganesha home, we found him a place in our dining room and put him on a colorful runner. I thought it was a nice set-up, but clearly I was mistaken, because when DiploDad and I came home the next evening, we found this:
D felt that we needed to up our game, so he brought an altar, a drape, flowers, lights, a crown and a gem to bling him out, and a modok for him to eat. DB2 added the bracelet later on.
Thank you, D. Jaya Ganesha.