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   Hindus have some of the picturesque festivals... (December 9, 1991)

Hindus have some of the picturesque festivals in the world and Ganapati must be the best among these.

The very concept is so artistic. A god with an elephant's head and a man's body, riding a mouse. Walt Disney could not have done it better. And unknown artists spending weeks designing, sculpting and painting these images made out of the mud and clay gathered from holy riverbanks. The larger images are done on the spot, behind tarpaulin screens, since they would be difficult to shift when they are ready.

Most of the Gananpatis are installed in labour areas, in dark, damp courtyards and passages between millworkers' tenements. Though it is a misnomer to call them mill-workers, because there are none left after Dr. Datta Samant's totally ill-advised and badly-planned strike, which still has not officially ended.

And it is to these areas of Lalbaug, Chinchpokli and Parel that I have been, more times than I can remember, first to see the preparation of the image, than disco lights, and finally, to the Chowpatty bridge, which is the best spot to see the immersion ceremonies, as the Ganapatis, large and small, some of the large ones as tall as the buildings around, are brought in noisy processions to be put to sea. In a way, it makes sense: gods, like human beings, are mortal, and after their fixed time on earth have to pass away.

In passing, I would like to mention that I know of some sophisticated people who look down on this festival of the elephant god. They are the same people who go into esctasies over the chasing of some poor bull through the narrow lanes of small towns in Italy and Spain.

I also like Dassera, which I grew up thinking was the birth day of all animals… and probably is. The state elephants of Mysore are decorated for the occasion and the Victoria horses in Bombay have (or had) garland of marigold round their heads. The festival, unfortunately, is restricted to Mysore.

Holi, fortunarely, is restricted to the north. I do not much care for this festival. It is too boisterous and too messy. But I am not objecting: each one to his taste. Onam, Baisakhi are regional festivals, as also the one in Gujrat, where they fly kites. But Divali is a more national festival, the festival of lights, the start of the Hindu year. Not only should it be celebrated in all parts of the country, but also by all communities. That would be secularism through religion.

 
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