Updated: Jun 27, 2018
Every year the elephant-headed lord, Ganpati or Ganesh, is brought home by millions in Mumbai. Serene-looking idols of various sizes, some truly larger-than-life at over 40ft height, are worshiped with immense devotion and fervour for 11 days. And then bid goodbye by immersing them in the sea, with a chant that sends the Ganpati away to return again after a year. “Ganpati Bappa Moriya. Purja Varshi Lavkariya.” “Praise the Lord Father Ganapati. Do return with haste in the coming year.”
This is the extremely colourful, pompous and packed-to-the-brim Ganpati Visarjan.
In the September of 2012, on Anant Chaturdashi, the finale of Ganpati festivities, I set off for Girgaum Chowpatty, Mumbai with my bestie, my camera. I’d travelled to Mumbai so often before, I used to consider myself a local. It’s only when I moved here earlier that year did the polychromatic city turn me into a tourist.
I chose to go to the most resplendent send-off that Mumbai gives at Chowpatty beach on Marine Drive. The most famous Ganpatis of Mumbai, Lalbagh cha Raja, Mumbai cha Raja [Ganesh Galli], Khetwadi Ganraj, among others, are immersed every year to one of the largest congregation of devotees.
The insane decibel levels of the drums; The intoxication of thousands of dancing-chanting devotees; And, the sights of colossal Ganesh idols scuttling towards the waves through parting crowd is nothing short of sublime.
513 pictures in 5 hours. One of my greediest times with my camera. Stored for posterity, like most of my photography, when I returned to my work desk.
So, when my hard disk crashed later that year, my heart had a grand immersion of its own.
“It’s so you can make new memories,” my friend told me.
True. But I will miss the wide-eyed curiosity I carried with me on a crowded local train to Churni Road. When I came out of the station, I was engulfed by the mass of people that chose which direction I should walk towards. Along the way, I was openly welcomed into intimate family aartis. There were many motley-sized idols, but the devotion for each one was the standard XL-size. I will miss how I was drawn closer and closer, knee-deep into the icky-looking brown waves of the Arabian Sea, crumbling my resolve to not step in it. And, I will miss the bewilderment I felt every time a new Lord turned onto the sands from the main road, pale-ing the one before him. The highpoint, literally, was the climb atop a truck to take in the cinemascope. The mystery of where the sea of people ended and the sea began, remained unsolved.
I had turned from the Visarjan soggy from sweat, the sea and electric energy. The Ganpatis were gone.
But, last week when I was looking at my old laptop, the formidable brethren suddenly sprang out at me!!
This was boggling. I had looked for backup remnants everywhere. Many times over the years. Even in my old laptop. The only surviving picture of that electric evening had been on Facebook. [Sometimes FB does make you grateful]. It seemed to me that the Gods themselves decided to materialize to convince me of miracles.
It is believed that at the Visarjan, the lord Ganpati takes with him obstacles and troubles. But for sure, I know that when He returns, He brings hope and happiness as big as His belly.
Ganpati Bappa Moriya! We know how the rest of the saying goes. :)
The classic spot for Visarjan in Mumbai is Girgam Chowpatti. I would recommend to start at Churni Road local train station and walk up to Chowpatti to get a true feel of the journey. The visarjan of the more important Ganpatis starts post sunset, but you get the full picture if you get there an hour before sundown. Visarjan continues through the night as more and more giant Ganpatis queue up for their turn on the Marine Drive.