Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ganesh Chaturthi - Mumbai, India

It's been so long since I've blogged that I've almost forgotten how.  But my free day in Mumbai was definitely a blog worthy experience that needs to be shared!

So, this one time, in July, my work asked me if I could go to India for a couple of days...  I said yes and a week later, I was in Mumbai!  I was so totally overwhelmed that I didn't think about spending any extra time in Mumbai so I left Zurich on Monday morning at 8am, arrived in Mumbai at 9:30 that night, worked Tues and Wed and I was back in Zurich on Thursday morning at 6am.  I wasn't really comfortable enough to go out by myself at night plus it was monsoon season anyway so unfortunately, I didn't see anything besides the hotel, the airport (which to be fair, is a gorgeous airport) and the office.

So this time, when my work asked me to go back, I was a little more prepared and managed to arrive a day early so I could see some sights!  As luck would have it, my free day in Mumbai happened to coincide with the last day of the yearly Ganesh Chaturthi festival.  To make a very long and very interesting story short, the Ganesh Chaturthi festival is a 10 day festival that hours Ganesha (the elephant headed God) who is the god that removes obstacles.  At the end of the festival, all of the statues that have been made for the year are walked down to the Chowpatty beach and immersed in the Arabian Sea.

There are thousands of Ganeshas that are walked down to the sea each year.  Some of the Ganeshas (see below) are neighborhood Ganeshas.  Months before the beginning of the festival, donations are taken up from the neighborhood businesses to fund the Ganesha and then once built, the Ganesha belongs to the neighborhood and is available for all in the neighborhood to come to and worship during the 10 day festival.  

Before the neighborhood Ganeshas are walked down to the Arabian Sea, the neighborhood gets together to celebrate by dancing, decorating the Ganesha with flowers and generally having a good time.  We happened to arrive just as one celebration kicked off and this lovely gentlemen brought us all into the center of the dance party!

My dance partner (right)
busting a move

He kept waiving money around my head and passing it out to the band.  He even stuck one to our guide's head!

Our really really awesome tour guide - Pranav!
The neighborhoods build temporary structures for the Ganesha.

Temporary Structure
And the local residents can go into the structure to worship the Ganesha and make offerings of flowers, foods and songs. 
Neighborhood Ganesha #2
Neighborhood Ganesha #3
the party has started!
In addition to the neighborhood Ganeshas, there are also Family Ganeshas.  Here is an example of a Family Ganesha.  They are generally smaller but still amazing and well taken care of and decorated.  These guys all get walked down to the Sea as well.  This family wanted us to come over and take a picture with them. 
Family Ganesha
We stood and watched the parade for about an hour and saw soooooo many Ganeshas!  The crowd got bigger and bigger and bigger.  It was unreal.

After about an hour of watching the parade, we joined in and headed toward the beach.  There were unbelievable numbers of people on the beach.

Every time we turned around, we would see more and more Ganeshas appear on their way to the Sea.

If you'd like to see me busting a move with my new friend and various other short clips from the festival, check out the video that Pranav put together.  

So that's the festival.  The next adventure was getting home!  As you can imagine, with that many people out in the streets celebrating, the traffic was a nightmare.  And traffic in Mumbai is already an experience in and of itself!  But I made it!  I still haven't really seen anything in Mumbai but I'm ok with that.  Be able to see and participate in the festival was such a fun experience and the most culturally different thing that I've ever been able to participate in.

If you guys ever find yourself in India, I can't recommend enough calling up Pranav and doing your tour with him (Grand Mumbai Tours).  He is a local resident with a wonderful passion for his city and he made the day such an enjoyable and stress free experience.