If you are looking to experience some authentic Indian rituals, time your trip to Mumbai in accordance with the Ganesh Chaturthi Festival, which happens for ten days in the month of “Bhaarapada” of the Hindu calendar, which falls between the 20th August and 15th September. During this time, wonderful celebration and merriment prevail all over India, but it is in Mumbai where the most extravagant and feverous festivities are to be found.
The festival celebrates the birth of Ganesha- the God of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. The elephant headed deity is one of the best known and most widely worshipped gods in the Hindu religion, as well as Buddhist and Jain sects. Such an important symbol brings together followers from a spectrum of different religious faiths, celebrating and giving thanks in unison.
Over a month prior to the start of the festival, the city has already jumped into action, the streets bustling in preparation for the momentous event. Time is passed constructing huge idols of Ganesha, lavishly decorated and installed in every locality; in the sacred corners of each Indian home, in temple and inside huge ‘Pandals’ (canopies) which are set up to house the idol in public spaces around the city. As many as 6,000 idols of Ganesh can be found in the city of Mumbai alone.
For the euphoric opening ceremony of the festival, people congregate to watch the idol being placed on an elevated pavilion. A special ritual is performed whereby a priest invokes life into the idol by chanting mantras, whilst worshippers chant hymns and ancient scriptures to the beat of drums and dancing. The ceremony is followed by the Ganesh idol being cleaned with the ‘Panchamrit’; five nectars of milk, honey, curd, butter and jiggery. For the next ten days the whole city comes to worship the Lord Ganesh idol with whole hearted devotion.
The final day of the festival is also of paramount important. Known as the ‘Visarjan’, the day involves the farewell ceremony of the God. The idols (known as Murtis) are carried by worshippers to the shore of Mumbai Chowpatty Beach, along with a huge following of dancers, musicians, priests, and onlookers. Coconuts, flowers, sweets and burning camphor cubes are offered to the idol, before it is carried into the sea and then immersed great reverence- in this act it is believed that the god returns to his heavenly abode. Throughout the affair, the chant ‘Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya’ can be heard, meaning ‘O Father Ganesh! Come again early next year’.
Witnessing and being caught up in the festival is without doubt an experience that will never be forgotten, and the most incredible way to gain a true insight into the rich and unique culture of this awe-inspiring country.