Swara Bhaskar on Bollywood Bole Toh: Ganpati Bappa Morya
Ganesha has the power to bring one of India's most populated cities to a halt
As a child, I always thought of Lord Ganesha as a slightly tragic figure, having read the Amar Chitra Katha comic about his birth — how Ganesha was created from the remains of ubtan of his mother's body and infused with life, and how he lost his head to Lord Shiva's wrath, only to have it replaced by the head of the first living creature Shiva's ganas came across in the forest. Turned out the poor boy would spend his life and the eternity that is popular mythology with a one-tusked-elephant's head on him. I thought it was a grave tragedy, for a poor boy who was merely obeying his mother.
As I grew, I encountered a lovable version of Ganesha with the portly belly and love for laddoos — in the stories my father told us kids in an effort to acquaint us with our religion and culture. The Ganesha of my father's stories seemed familiar and friendly.
When I moved to Mumbai eight years ago, I encountered an entirely different Ganesha. This Ganesha had the power to bring one of India's most densely populated metropolises to a standstill, caused hours-long traffic jams and commanded an army of frenzied dancers; ecstatic human beings thrusting, to blaring DJ music belting out the latest hits.
This mighty Ganesha had people planning their itineraries for the two weeks when he lorded over the city, months in advance. The faithful collected resources to give him a grand welcome and an even more grand farewell; while the faithless (many friends and acquaintances of mine included) planned getaways from Mumbai at this time, complaining bitterly about the traffic, the noise pollution and the damage to the environment.
Back in Delhi, my Telugu father celebrates Vinayak Chavithi with a quiet puja. He makes a tiny triangular mound of turmeric and sandalwood, carves out eyes and a symbolic trunk and prays to this avatar of the elephant God, immersing the mound in water the next day and pouring the water out in a tulsi plant in our garden. As children, my brother Ishaan and I were not exactly convinced about this 'haldi triangle' being the great Vigneshwara. And it took a lot of patient lectures on faith and symbolism to get us to accept this mound as a godhead. I wonder what the mighty Ganpati Bappa of Mumbai would think of the humble haldi mound version of himself?
My first two years in Bombay, I 'escaped' Ganpati as I was shooting. The year I was finally going to be introduced to this great festival, I waited with trepidation for the arrival of this 'juggernaut' in elephant form. I refused to leave home the first three days of the festivities. On the fourth day, I visited a friend's house who had kept a five-day Ganpati. The warm domesticity took some of the apprehension out of the experience.
I decided to face Mumbai Cha Raja in his domain — in the streets of his overcrowded kingdom. I walked out of my building and joined the milling crowd, passed the dancing baraat-like processions bidding farewell to their favourite deity. "Ganpati Bappa Morya!!" I was initially cautious but — I don't know if it was the beat of the drums or the man who offered me the aarti thaali so I too could be blessed by the divine flame, or it was the sincerity of the sweating traffic policemen keeping order amidst the deluge of celebration — for the first time in my three years in Mumbai, I felt like I too belonged to some community in this large lonely city of broken dreams. Thank you Ganpati Bappa! Purchaa varshi laukar yaa…
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