So the grande finale of Ganesh Chaturthi was indeed pretty grande. The firecrackers started going off sometime in the afternoon, which made me frantically search for earplugs. I found them, because Ksenia is always fantastically well prepared for this sort of stuff, but then I ended up not actually needing them. Rumor has it that people tend to go crazy with these things – kind of like with the rats during the floods: the boys just throw them into the crowds, having a laugh. But no such thing happened.
Instead, we starting walking towards Juhu, got drenched by a quick rain shower, and assembled with quite a few people on the beach. It was still light out, so we were somewhat early. The main event at this time was that we got constantly mobbed by people begging us to take pictures of them. It is quite strange, but people just love to be photographed; they can’t seem to get enough of it. But that’s great, because one doesn’t usually get a chance to take people pictures all that often, and of course the faces and clothes are always fantastic. So we did that for while, and then it was slowly getting dark, so we moved further along on the road to the main Juhu Beach area.
The crowds by now had noticeably densified and there was a good amount of pushing and shoving, and of course constant drumming, chanting, and lots of laughter. We were lucky to find a troupe that had a sizable big Ganesh and a lot of women. Also, it seemed like the smaller the Ganesh the louder and more ecstatic the crowd in front and behind of it. A lot of the crowds seem to enforce a strict teenage boys only policy, which was a bit scary, especially for K and S, who weren’t in the mood to be the only women among a hundred teenage boys. So our troupe was pretty grown up and solidly serious, which was nice.
A few heavy rain showers later, we were passing the VIP stage. There was bunch of important looking people in either all white Indian dress, or in uniforms, some of them well beyond retirement age and bedtime. I was later told that if they were wearing white, then they are most likely politicians. So these politicians and the uniformed brass were sitting there on their armchairs overseeing the crowds like Napoleon a battlefield. It had an odd feel of Soviet Russia, but I guess it was really just India. In any Western country during this sort of event with large teenage crowds one could hope for an odd plastic cup of beer or maybe a paint or water bomb here and there being thrown at the VIP stage, but there was probably no danger of any such thing happening here. After all, Ganesh Chaturthi is also a dry day, i.e. no alcohol whatsoever is being served or sold anywhere in the country, unless it’s a private club, i.e. some place like the Gymkhana. Imagine 4th of July in the US, or Rosenmontag in Germany, or any day in the UK without drinks? People would call for a general strike, I suspect.
Anyways, we then proceeded towards the water, there was a Pooja, i.e. some prayer, offerings, chanting, etc., a small fire was lit, and a few other things were happening, which I couldn’t quite make out. At some point, I was politely asked to take pictures later, and so eventually the big Ganesh got lifted off his pedestal and off he went, slowly being carried into the muddy waters of Juhu Beach. It was quite the spectacle and a lot of fun to watch.
On the way back home, there were hundreds of trucks fully loaded with worshippers and Ganeshes, and the most elaborate one attracted quite a scene. This Ganesh had its own little elaborate house. Inside was what I suspect was a Hindu priest, and so this truck slowly made its way to the beach with an enormous crowd around it, cameras rolling, people dancing, the whole nine yards. Apparently, some of these Ganeshes are 25 feet high, but this on was the biggest that we had seen, and it was quite impressive. I got a few nice pictures of the whole story, which I will put up on my photo blog over the next few days.