Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Happy Birthday, Ganesh!

Roadside Curiosities
Yesterday when coming home from school, I noticed some colorful paper decorations and other curious items being sold along the road. Dropping off my school bag and collecting my camera, I proceeded to go to a busier corner in my neighborhood to check what it was all about. Spotting my camera, one buyer explained that people were preparing for Ganesh’s birthday - Ganesha Chaturth, the day that the god Ganesh came to earth. An easily recognizable god because of his elephant head, Ganesh is known as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. This Hindu woman was buying a clay figure of Ganesh (with red plastic eyes) to take home for the celebration. Other vendors around her were selling garlands of various flowers, hanging strands of woven palm fronds, fruits, and the colorful “umbrellas” I had seen. These umbrellas would then be placed along the backside of the clay figure. The temple right next to the vendors was also being decorated with the hanging palm fronds. Various sizes of colorful Ganesh figures were also for sale.

Photo Opportunity
After taking some photos (including several photos of kids also selling items), I returned back to my apartment at the same time as my Indian neighbor. She explained that on the 11th day, the statues would be taken to the river (or sea) and immersed, representing the cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature. When asking about the umbrellas, she explained that it was a substitute for Ganesh’s favorite place of shade – the banyan tree.

Legend of Ganesh
Last night I watched on cable TV an animated quick story of Ganesh. According to legend, Shiva (Hindu god of resolution) was away at war. His wife Pavarti was left at home by herself. Wanting to take a bath and have someone guard the door, she fashioned Ganesha out of sandalwood (that she used for her bath) and brought him to life. Following her orders to guard the door and not let anyone in, Ganesh obeyed even when Shiva returned. Not knowing who the boy was, Shiva decapitated him. Seeing Pavarti’s rage, Shiva gave the order to his helpers to bring back the head of the first living being with its head facing north –which was an elephant. Shiva then placed the head onto Ganesh’s body and brought him back to life – an act very pleasing to Pavarti.

Treats for Ganesha Chaturth
This evening (many people had off today, including local schools) my neighbor came by to give me some foods she prepared for the special day. My favorites were the modakas, a sweet dish made from chana dal (chickpeas), rice flour and jaggery (brown sugar). Her version of this steamed delectable was formed into a pinched semi-circle, while others choose to form it into a ball. A yummy treat I’d happily trade for a few chocolate chip cookies!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Bibi said...

I'm trying to catch up with your blog, and of course am enjoying photos and text!

Unknown said...

I have to admit that I am a lousy blog reader in that I totally lurk and never write comments! I see that bibi has been here too; this and a yankee in belgrade are my 2 morning "look ats" even though I don't leave comments!

The Ganesh holiday can be pretty crazy here in Mumbai, and I'm glad to see that Chennai is celebrating too. I'm glad that you're photodocumenting all these adventures: I'm sure it is quite an adventure for the folks back in WI to read!