Ganesha Chaturthi, Chennai Style

Today was day 7 of Ganesha Chaturthi, the Hindu festival celebrating the (re-)birth of Lord Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati.  To celebrate this festival, many Indian families display a statue of Ganesha in their homes, and after making specific types of offerings and engaging in certain rituals, will immerse the (usually clay) statue in water.  Recently, this has become more of a community affair, in that neighborhoods and clubs will display large statues, and throughout the festival (but generally on the first, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, or 11th day) they will take the statue on a procession and immerse it in a large body of water.  For a coastal city like Chennai, this is the Indian Ocean.

Of course this has environmental implications; and in a country of 1.2 billion, as expected there have been efforts to ensure that the statues are made of biodegradeable materials and use safe paints.  In Chennai, there were designated points where people could go with their statue, police escorts, and people had to sign in, having registered (theoretically, anyway) to be able to participate.  This generates a huge line of trucks carrying these statues and the people (men) who will carry them to the sea, but the large crowds also created a very festive atmosphere.

Over this year’s ten-day festival, it is expected that over 1,700 Ganesha statues will be immersed in the ocean.

We took the opportunity to see what was going on at the southern end of Marina Beach, where most of Chennai’s Ganesha statues are to be immersed in the ocean.  It’s hard to get a sense of the atmosphere just from photographs.  Tomorrow I’ll post a video I put together – check back!

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Just a few of the thousands of Ganeshas that will go into the sea this week.

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Everyone at the beach was in a festive mood, and asked to be photographed, even though they knew we couldn’t provide prints.

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Here, a Ganesha with a boat is prepared to be lifted.  The boat didn’t actually float.

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The Ganesha above, its creators proudly informed us, is made of 500 kg of coconuts.  It is held together with some sort of paste that is edible for fish (the translation didn’t quite work out).

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The family above wanted us to take photos.  They live about 150 meters from the beach.  The kids have their own Ganeshas.

 

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We passed by this truck and the fellow in the center was insistent we take a picture.  He kept telling us, “the eyes, the eyes.”  Finally I realized they had found a way to motorize the eyes so that they would regularly “blink.”

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This is probably the best vantage point to get an idea of the length of the queue.  To the right, it’s about 350 meters to the beach.  Straight ahead, the line stretches well out of the line of sight.  For these policemen, it’s been a very long day…

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