Life should not only be lived, it should be celebrated. – Osho
Apart from the fact that Osho lived in Pune, where you can still visit his meditation resort in exchange for a certain amount of money, I chose this quote as during the past two weeks whole Pune was celebrating as if the world would come to an end tomorrow. The reason was a Hindu festival celebrated in honour of the elephant-headed god Ganesha – so called Ganesha Chaturthi or Ganpati. It is celebrated for ten days, publicly as well as privately at home, and one will find plenty of Ganesh-idols all over the place, in varying sizes and shades.
My flatmate Dustin and I had the chance to experience different angles of the festival, so we got a pretty good insight into the different ways to throw an appropriate party for a god. 😉
The first day, we were invited by a friend to join her celebration at home with her family as well as in her neighbourhood. We’ve been part of their prayers to Lord Ganesha, for which the family installed a shrine with a Ganesha idol as well as offerings to the god, such as fruits, flowers and sweets. After the chanting some traditional food – mainly sweets – was served, before everyone gathered downstairs in the middle of the society in order to watch the dances that the children living close by did prepare. It was amazing! On the one hand, the way the bunch of children was playing and interacting with each other was heart-warming, so pure and innocent… and then the dancing, everyone being a small superstar on stage, putting so much effort and being so proud to perform in front of everyone else. It took nearly three hours until everyone earned his well-deserved applause and another hour for us to reach home, as we developed the genius habit to only charge our phones enough to survive the way to one place but constantly running out of battery before heading home… 😉
Next time, we chose to go to a place that turned out to be insane! Any other time of the year, it would have been just a decent neighbourhood, not too fancy, some labyrinth of streets… But as Ganpati is not any other day of the year, there was a huge party in the streets: Fireworks, disco lights, loud music, drummers, people dancing and spectators everywhere, and most important, huge Ganesha shrines in every corner. There was no centre where people gathered and partied, instead they celebrated in every single street like crazy. When seeing us, people would pull us inside and build a huge circle around us, taking pictures and videos of us dancing with some of their fellows. We even managed to get our own security guard once, protecting us from the masses of people and pushing people away as soon as we wanted to leave our circle, which would have been nearly impossible otherwise…
Every single time we started to dance, people would come over and build a huge crowd around us (even when we were just dancing with a couple of children) which may be explained by the fact that we seemed to be the only foreigners around. But we had so much fun…! I love the way people here celebrate and dance, with such pure joy and fun, with moves and stamina that on the one hand make you wonder which pills they might have taken before and on the other one leave you jealous on the fact that in Germany, you rarely encounter such an authentic expression of happiness. We left the festival grinning and smiling, telling each other again and again how crazy this has been…
As this festival is going on for ten days, we found another spare evening to discover a new side of Ganpati. This time we went to the city centre in order to see what is going on at the temples there… It was again crowded, but much calmer than the time before. Some music, but no disco flair, instead shining temples and well fenced ways to walk on, police men trying to regulate the traffic and a lot of families with small children making their way through the masses. We didn’t have a lot of time initially, but as we were stuck in the crowd more than once without being able to move anywhere, we still managed to spend around two hours there. In total it was a nice evening, but it also felt good to escape the masses again after a while… 😉
Last but not least Visarjan came – the last day of Ganpati, where people would carry their Ganesha idols to the river and drop them there. It is an important ceremony that has the negative side effect that it pollutes all the rivers and lakes. Ganpati is celebrated all over India, with Maharashtra being one of the states where the celebrations would reach an especially high level, which you could tell from the dirt in the water as well. Apart from the mandatory drums and prayers, people this time also threw coloured powder on (the days before we could avoid it somehow) and asked for pictures with us, making us wonder whether not Ganesha should be the main attraction at least today… 😉 So many people, families and groups of friends came to the river while we were there, but still the atmosphere was so calm and peaceful that we found ourselves sitting there and watching the whole process for quite a long time until huge bats on the sky reminded us that it is late in evening already.
These were the four different views I had on Ganesha Chaturthi, a festival that left me with quite a lot of beautiful memories. By now, I believe it is the most diverse festival I experienced so far, ranging from private celebration at home up to huge parties on the streets. I can say for sure that I would definitely come back to be part of it once again…! J
With this in mind… Let’s celebrate!
PS: In my continuous attempt to fight prejudices against India… By now, people treated me as a white girl with a lot of respect here in Pune. No touching, no pushing, they give me space and even while dancing in the crowd there was always at least one person that took great care of me and ensured that noone would come too close or anything, even when we were surrounded by 40 men with not a single woman close by. This might not always be the case, but just because there might be some people misbehaving, we should be careful to not generalise.