Ganpati Immersion Day on Chowpatty Beach

Alternative names for today’s post:

Taj Mahal, Schmaj Mahal, or
So, This is What One Million People Looks Like

Alas, the days of Ganpati 2004 are over, after an exuberant night of immersions, marigold tossing, and general revelry. The crowds were immense, estimated at 1 million with about 35,000 cops standing guard. Sounds like a lot of people, right? But really it’s only about 1/17th of Mumbai’s population. Claustrophobes would not do well here.

Rivers of people, occasionally halted by men holding rope “barriers,” poured from the streets leading down to Chowpatty Beach. There were those carefully holding their family’s diminuitive Ganpati, then others in charge of pulling carts or driving goods carriers that housed the idols on top or inside.

I finally got to see some of those 20- and 30-feet Ganpatis, and they were incredible. A couple of my favorites included a gigantic fish swallowing a body (maybe Krishna’s), on top of which emerged a warrior-like Ganesh. It was probably most reminiscent of a Pacific Northwest totem pole. Another fantastic Ganesh had the god wielding the classic Indian spinning wheel (think Bob’s Big Boy holding a pizza, but much much cooler). Surprisingly, I also saw that Ganesha on the white horse that I’d seen a few days back.

We had the great fortune of getting to watch the throngs from the VIP bandstand. But first we had to drive right into the crowds to get to the reserved parking area. Anthony likened the experience to driving through a car wash. There was a total saturation of people on both sides of the vehicle, but we felt completely safe.

Upon entry to the bandstand, I was given a weighty lei of bright orange marigolds and a bouquet of flowers. So, no…I wasn’t exactly with the masses. In fact, I was a bit wary of eve-teasing (groping) rumors that swirl around such crowded festivals. Still, I like to think that I contributed to the joyousness of the occasion by throwing handfuls of marigold petals on the people below. It was a bit like if the Rose Bowl parade and Mardi Gras had a baby — fragrant and wild and thankfully void of frat boys and loose women.

The weather was quite perfect for the immersions. Warm, yes, but also with a breeze, perhaps because we were right on the water. There was a distinct haze over the crowds due to dusk pollution and probably body heat.

After the initial rush to get on the beach after waiting in a holding pen on the other side of Marine Drive, the people were amazingly orderly and docile. Many were completely covered in red/hot pink powder, one of the signs that people are enjoying themselves. Teenage boys, be-saried women, children in prim, Sunday dress, young, old, rich, and poor all waved at us from the below, encouraging us to throw more flowers. A full-piece brass band played in the bandstand opposite.

And the Ganeshas just kept on coming. Have you ever seen an elephant traffic jam? The scene was something out of Seuss or Dali, as groups waited for their turns to submerge their Ganpatis in the sea. The shore was too far away and the light too faded for us to get a look at the actual immersions, but we were certainly able to see a wide sea of people with dots of pink, saffron, turquoise, emerald, and staggered swatches of madras prints. The greatest thing about Indian crowds is that they are far from homogenous.

We had been there almost two hours and it was too dark to really see anything, so it was time to head home. Some of the Ganpatis hadn’t even left their posts yet as we would find out when we got back to our neighborhood and the fireworks to denote the Ganpatis departure were going off. But we were pleased that we’d seen as much as we had. Besides, the moment we got home and sat down to dinner, the skies opened. The thunder and fireworks competed with each other for the rest of the night.

Sadly, I discovered when I got home that all my photos from the night had been mysteriously erased! I was incredibly upset, but I have since gotten over it. The premise behind the Ganpati celebrations is to spend time to create something beautiful that will live on this earth, but to understand that all earthly possessions will eventually return to nature. I suppose you could liken it to the Christian “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” but there’s much more going on here. At any rate, I figured that while I didn’t have the photos of this year’s Ganesha, I will have the memories. Besides…my photographer friends shot much better pictures.