Mingle with the crowd and enjoy the myriad moods and colours of Ganesh Chaturthi

On the weary Wednesday that followed Ganesh Chaturthi, my mind was filled with images of celebrations that I have seen in Mumbai in the past. The recall drove me to East Masi Street to check how the Temple Town adds its own flavour to the festival. The city’s spice market was a strange maze of barricades. Political posters and saffron flags hung on lamp posts and a flock of khakhi-clad men flanked the stretch. Young men danced to the rhythm of drums, boys fired crackers, women and children relished packets of sundal and aval distributed as prasadam, hawkers called out balloons and toys and the shoppers and onlookers watched in awe. The area was on celebration mode.

Only the Ganesha idols were the silent witnesses to the merry making. Over 200 of them, small and big, sat in a line – some on bullock carts and tri-cycles and some on trucks and tempos, some with modaks and laddus in hand and some bearing clubs and swords, some riding a mouse and some relaxing on swans and peacocks. But each of them had the same gentle and cute look – typical of the elephant God!

The numerous cone speakers blared out cinema songs and religious speeches. A kuthupattu from a latest movie made men move in a fresh energy-rush and a lecture elaborated the significance of the festival and even passersby paused to listen.

Suddenly an angry voice yelled, “This festival is a challenge that we have successfully pulled through.” At the Vilakuthoon junction, a tilak sporting neta barked into the mike, atop a makeshift stage. “We started Chaturthi celebration in Tamil Nadu and the victory is here to be seen for those who opposed!” A group of faithful supporters jeered in response to his provocative words. Religiously offensive and delicate sentences were unleashed, voices raised, clenched fists punched the air above and faces frowned in a fit of rage! Amidst a hundred saffron bandanas, half-a-dozen topis showed up and there was an evident trace of tension in the air. In few seconds, the area got politically painted. The East Masi Street lost its merry briefly.

Unperturbed by the fuss around, women continued to shop, children carried on playing and giggling, men zipped past on bikes and devotees stood with folded hands and a quick prayer on their lips in front of the towering Ganeshas. “Madurai is not a place to whip up religious emotions,” commented a passer-by. But shopkeeper Raja recalled a scuffle that broke out six years ago during the procession, “One group hurled a chappal and the other pelted stones. The police had a tough time and we had to down shutters.”

A thunderous play of the drums resumed and the Ganeshas were wheeled one by one for a final tour of the town. The sun had called it a day and a number of luminous yellow lights lit up the streets, their glow resplendent on the pink, green and blue Ganeshas. As the procession winded through the commercial Masi Streets, every Ganapati idol was given a final arati. Coconuts were thrashed; bananas offered and camphor-lit pujas were performed. Members of the organizing political party blew whistles, wielded saffron flags and bellowed ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, making it a show of religious strength than a depiction of devotion.

After about two hours of dancing, roaring and revelling, the first Ganesha reached the road leading to the river bank, where women decked in silk saris had gathered in large numbers on the platform, to watch the Visarjan. “It’s like live TV here. I never miss the annual event,” said 70-year-old Kokila, a resident of Pechiamman Padithurai. Police watch towers erected on the bund road kept a track of the parade with instructions flowing continuously. The wait was soon over for those assembled on the riverside, as trucks pulled in on the causeway. The decorated murtis of Ganapati were disassembled. The drumbeat rose in sudden succession. Amidst cheering, a seven-feet idol was lifted by a group of men and the next moment the big-bellied lord hit the ground with a loud ‘thud’. The murky waters of Vaigai, splashed drops of filth and slush. In the next few minutes, several other Ganesha idols fell on their heads and split into pieces revealing the Plaster-of-Paris and hay inside. Some men got into the knee-deep water to make the idols sink in glory. Big idols were stomped and jumped upon to make them vanish in the so called river. Suddenly there was no trace of devotion. The much celebrated idols were being dumped indiscriminately. Bhakti and faith made a brief reappearance when a boy cried out aloud. He wouldn’t let his Ganesha go and clenched it tight. His mother admonished him to put it in the water.

Thoughts on religious sanctity and environmental insensitivity remained unanswered after the visarjan. Vaigai, the lifeline of Madurai, stood still with more pollution. Traces of oily synthetic colours, discarded puja items, festered fruits and dried flowers remain afloat on the dirty waters even today. And the Ganeshas lie in garbage! But I know we will all forget and overlook and ready ourselves to welcome Ganapati next year with equal enthusiasm! The celebrations must not stop.

(City 360 is a monthly column that captures the different moods of the city. It appears last Thursday of every month).