Ganpati Part 2
As you may recall, the festival celebrating Lord Ganesha lasts for 11 days. The final three days of these 11 were pretty fun, at least for me personally. Prior to these experiences, the Ganpatis had been sitting in the societies. Along with the Ganpatis was the presence of some exceptionally loud drums. I must admit, I'm really not used to this kind of obtrusive noise just coming from the street - it's the sort of thing you would actually call the police for in the US. I did get accustomed to it, and eventually I came to realize that what sounded like the sound of some kind of military band was really just two little kids equipped with really loud instruments. And at least they never really did it when I was trying to sleep.
Other than that, every day at about 9 o clock there was a society prayer, which my parents only went to once out of 11 days. One day they hired a professional to come sing religious songs for them. There are always a few people manning each Ganpati station and if you go up to one of them, they will always give you a small handful of some treat, always called Prasad, no matter what food it actually might be.
DAY 10 - This was my first day of the new school, and I actually had homework. So I was resigned to a night of drawing and sketching, which is far from my forte. But Pratik said "Tonight we're going to drive around and see all of the awesome Ganpatis. We won't be back until after 12 and the Ganpatis look really awesome and it's a great cultural opportunity for you and you're coming." Well, I thought "eff it, this is a cultural exchange not an Interior Design exchange". Good decision. There are some really awesome Ganpatis around, and the other thing was that all of the crowds at the Ganpatis were very eager to have a foreigner come to see their beloved Ganpatis, so everyone was immensely friendly to me. We went out for dinner at a tastilicious restaurant and all in all I had a lot of fun. Among the awesome Ganpatis was included one that was riding a gigantic dragon. The dragon was some kind of animatronic thing - it moved, it made noise, and it breathed steam out of its nostrils every 10 seconds. I'll have a bunch of sweet Ganpati photos up on Facebook in the next day or two.
Fortunately Sir was very forgiving at school.
DAY 11 - The final day of the Ganpatis. There was a gathering at our societal Ganpati and everyone in the society that I encountered that day impressed upon me the importance of my attendance and one man who seemed to be running the show told me that he intended for me to make some kind of speech. So I went, after probably my most hair-raising motorcycle ride yet from Akshay (which is really saying something) I arrived at the society's Ganpati.
A spot directly in front of the Ganpati was cordoned off by small wood barriers and all the young guys of the society were in there. They instantly invited me in there. The Ganpati looked amazing - it always does, but they seemed to go all-out on the lights that night. Also, there was an unbelievable amount of Prasad placed in front of the Ganpati. There must have a hundred dishes in front of him. They were all covered up, though, so I couldn't see what they really were.
The nightly ceremony included drums, a bunch of organized religious chanting, and a burning of a giant plate covered with candles. My bit ended up being that I went up and was asked what I thought of the Ganpati celebration (I enjoyed very much!), led a recitation of the Gayatri Mantra (which is something I say everyday in yoga), and then led the crowd in a very simple Ganpati cheer. All of it seemed to go over very well. Everyone is always very excited when a foreigner does anything related to their own religion.
After that, Pratik told me that my yoga teacher had specifically invited me to come to her society and see their Ganpati finale celebrations. I was surprised and rather touched by the invitation. So we went to see that. Theirs was a little less organized and more relaxed. People were just sitting around the large central courtyard of the society, watching little kids participate in these goofy games. They reminded me of the Field Days we used to have back in elementary school. Kids were doing things like having races holding spoons with lemons in their mouths, trying to go as fast as they could without dropping the lemon. I liked both experiences quite a bit.
DAY 12 - Technically, I suppose, there are 12 days, the last one being where the Ganpatis are taking to the river. I've discovered that the Ganpatis are made of some sort of hardened sand, so that when they are dumped in the Tapi River they will just disintegrate into the water. I think. Not a hundred percent sure on that. Apparently the Ganpatis this year are eco-friendly, as in they are supposed to not pollute the water at all. I can only applaud this idea, as the Tapi River, for all of its merits, is abominably polluted, and the thought of dumping a bunch of dissolving statues with potentially harmful chemicals into it made me cringe. It was an eventful day in the city. It was tough to get around in the streets. The Ganpati processions stop for no traffic. Also the unsmiling cops were really out in force today, and they were pretty heavily armed with shotguns and assault rifles. Apparently this is a pretty big drinking day, despite booze of any kind being completely outlawed in Gujarat.
For this, my family went to the home of my mothers parents on the other side of the river. Before the Ganpatis are dumped into the river, they are loaded onto trucks and paraded through the streets one last time. Their house has a balcony that overlooks an especially well-traveled Ganpati parade street, so it was another great place to see a bunch of Ganpatis. Another thing, once all of the people sitting on the trucks saw that a gora was taking photos from the balcony, they got really excited and started making poses and offering me huge encouragements to take photos, which was very amusing to me. It was a very enjoyable day for me. I like the food at my grandparents house a lot, and I also like them a lot, so all of that was good. They rent out part of their house to a young doctor, and actually we seem to have kind of a standing invitation to just come to his apartment anytime we feel like it. And actually it's in his part of the building that the balcony with the view is located. So we passed most of the day alternating between watching the Amitabh Bachchan classic Sholay (which, by the way, is an awesome movie) and stepping out to the balcony to see all of the neat Ganpatis passing by. Also my grandma made chicken as a surprise for me. I nearly cried with joy.
So overall, I've definitely enjoyed this festival and I'm going to miss seeing all of these cool statues about when I move around the city. Ah well. There's no shortage of other upcoming festivals, that's for sure.
I was going to write about my new school, but this post has become quite lengthy anyways. So I'll save it for another day.