Friday, September 4, 2009






Yesterday marked my first 10 days in India. It was also the last day of Ganpatti, which is a Hindu festival celebrating their God, Ganesh. Ganesh is one of the most famous Hindu gods, having an elephant head and a human body. This festival, Ganpatti is a ten day long festival celebrating the arrival of Ganesh, who stays for ten days, while this huge festival is thrown. It is (as I understand it) mostly a celebration done in Maharashtra, which is the state I am in, and the main celebrations are in Pune, which is where I stay. During these ten days, there is much drumming and chanting in the streets, and everyone is in a very festive mood. Every day a special woship is done in front of a Ganpatti idol, which just about every family has. This worship is called Pooja, and involves burning incense, ringing bells, chanting, an offering of sweets, fruit and flowers to the God, and at the end we all get a special red powder (I don't know what it is, or what it's called) applied in a dot on our foreheads.

On the final day, everyone takes the idols that have been sitting in their homes for the past ten days, and carry them in a little procession to the nearest large body of water, and the idol is dipped three times into the water, and is then let go to sink to the bottom and float away. However, not all the idols are small family sized idols - there are many many many idols the size of cars, set on elaborate thrones, that whole communities go and worship at, and these all must go into the river (the biggest water in Pune) as well. This is not done simply - huge processions are made, which last all day, as the Ganpatti is put onto a float of sorts, with flowers and fruits and jewels and gold, and then are preceeded by huge bands of drummers, instrumentalists, musicians, dancers, flag carriers, and merry-making people as they march all over the city. The processions start in the morning of the 10th day, and end around noon the next day.

Me and three other exchange student friends all went out to the processionals during the afternoon, accompanied by Gwen's (exchange student from Germany) 2 host cousins and several of their friends. We found a huge procession, with a gigantic idol that is maybe as tall as my house at home (only one story), with 100 drummers, a band, flag dancers, and the usual crowd of merry makers. We joined them in dancing, and had such fun. Indian dancing is very different than Western Dancing. You go and just move your body every which way, normally with one hand in the air. It really doesn't matter how you look or what you do, it's just wild. We were the only light-skinned people to be seen, however, and everyone wanted to dance with us, to hold our hands, to be near us. Everyone was so welcoming, when we left it felt as if we had just made a whole bunch of new friends. In fact, we stuck out so much that a reporter from the Times of India came and asked for some photos of us dancing, and gave us a short interview. The Times of India is a huge national newspaper, I think sort of the Indian equivalent of the New York Times. Also, we went out late at night, and we were filmed and put onto live TV as we danced and had fun.

Speaking of going out later, that's how I spent my night. Out in the streets, in the middle of the procession. To get there, we had to go through some pretty intense crowds, but it was all mostly fine, if a little frightening at times. The worst part came going through a very narrow street, with so many people crushing in on us. Everyone was leering in close, and grabbing at us, trying to hold our hands, grab our arms, just get the chance to touch us, and there were so many cameras pointed our way it was unnerving. We were with Gwen's host cousins and two of their friends at this point, and so we had Hrishi (oldest cousin) at the front, breaking the way through the crowd, with Gwen, Miryam, Hannah and me all following, with our hands on eachothers shoulders so we couldn't lose eachother, and Abishek (I think that was name, almost definitely not the spelling, but he was the younger cousin) bringing up the rear to prevent anyone else from latching on to me. And then their two friends walked sideways next to us, as a breaker from the crowd, to keep anyone from coming at us. All four guys held hands, creating a solid barrier from the crowd, but I still kept my head pointed straight at Hannah's back, to avoid making eye contact with anyone, which can be seen as encouragement.

I saw so many things, that normally you just see on TV and think "Wow, that's crazy", without ever imagining being there or that it could happen to you. I saw people riding camels through the street, oxen painted pink pulling elephant idols the size of a car, accompanied to the beat of a hundred drummers, with people cheering and chanting "Ganpatti bappa!" which translates (I believe) into "Lord Ganesha". The correct response to this is "Mooriya!" which is "hail". And then the whole crowd breaks into chants of Mooriya, and the drums speed up and the flag dancers go faster and everything is swept along in a wild, out of control fervor. Everything has a purpose, but no one knows why or what, it was just what was right, you went where the crowd took you, at the same time you were the crowd taking everyone else. It was the most out of control, amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring, wild, unreal thing I have ever seen. And that's India for you.

2 comments:

  1. rubilee. this sounds amazing. i miss you! holland is good but no crazy dancing in the street (yet). i have however drank like half my body weight in beer. cheers!

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