Sunday morning here in Bombay, and so Jennifer and I went for a walk.
Our plan was to walk about 4kms to a mosque called Haji Ali, which is on a rock about half a kilometre from shore. You get to it by walking out along a raised concrete pathway, which is usually full of vendors selling souvenirs, or beggars showing off their deformities.
When we set off it was hot and sweltering – luckily though we’d taken rain jackets because soon it began raining globs of water the size of golfballs. In between rain spells I stopped and took photos – details which took my eye.
We walked beside a long high wall, which had a canopy over it, and really interesting lights, which looked quite strange against the stripes of the canopy. I took a photo, and immediately a security guard jumped out of nowhere and told me I wasn’t allowed to take photos.
I explained that I was just taking a shot of the lamp – and he told me in no uncertain terms that I had to move on, and photos were not allowed.
he didn’t look the type to argue with – and anyhow I got my shot. But as I walked further on I passed a sign which read: US EMBASSY
Huh… you think they could spring for better goddamn lighting.
When the rain started again we ducked into a small sheltered area off the road, and suddenly found ourselves in a wonderland. It was like we’d walked into a hidden theme park.
The scrappy street outside had transmogrified into a cavern with walls of what looked to be carved stone elephants, with lantern lights which shifted colours constantly. We walked down a long tunnel towards a distant ethereal glow.
As we rounded a corner we were suddenly confronted with the largest elephant we’d ever seen – in fact it was an elephant god on a raised pedestal, bathed in a surreal light. The elephant was adorned with garlands, and several one thousand rupee notes were jammed into folds in its limbs and clothing.
What we had actually stumbled upon was a huge statue of the Hindu god Ganesha, which was being prepared for a massive celebration tomorrow. It’s called Ganpati, or Ganesh Chaturthi. Some simply call it the Immersion Day.
I’ve witnessed it before – several years ago – and it’s extraordinary.
It occurs all over India, but most commonly in the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital. It involves the construction of plaster-of-Paris statues of the elephant god, which are housed in elaborately decorated pavilions. These pavilions can be down side alleys, out the front of shops, on in amongst tower blocks.
For ten days prior to the immersion day, people come to the Ganesha and perform ritualistic ceremonies, leave offerings, and pray. Then on the day of the immersion, they will take the statue down to the water and immerse it – allowing the god to sink into the sea, or lake, or river.
The statues are sometimes carried on the shoulders of men, accompanied by bands of youths banging drums and blowing horns. Sometimes the bigger Ganeshas are taken on the backs of trucks, again surrounded by a huge cacophony of banging drums and cymbals and horns.
In Bombay the action all comes to a spectacular climax at a beach called Chowpaty. Tomorrow there will be literally millions of people crowded there, to both watch the spectacle and to take part. Some of the statues will measure twenty metres high. They’ll be taken down to the shore and then pushed out into sea, where they will slowly sink.
Jennifer and I will be there, and I’ll post pictures afterwards.
We spent about half an hour in the pavilion, watching worshippers and in complete awe of the statue itself, so beautifully made. We then ventured outside, where it was still raining on and off – but decided to keep walking anyway.
We finally came to a large and very famous juice stall called the Haji Ali Juice Centre. There I ordered a freshly squeezed pineapple and pomegranate juice. It cost 150Rp, which is about US$2.50.
By the way, I never worry about getting stomach bugs in India. perhaps because I’ve been here so often now, my system is immune – but within reason I have no problem eating street food, or drinking juice from stands like this one. Mind you, if a place is dirty I avoid it – just like I would in Australia or the US.
We then made our way to the entrance to the mosque, but it was closed. The water was too high, because of storms, and seawater was crashing over the pathway. Not only that but water was flooding the lower levels of the mosque.
I persuaded a guard to take me part the way out, and here are some photos. The storm waters had abated somewhat by the time I took these shots.
We then headed back to the hotel, because I had an interview lined up with my billionaire friend, Bimal. He spoke passionately and fluently about how he uses intuition in his business decision making, and talked at length about astral bodies and astrological cosmic rays. It was a fascinating interview.
Then back again to the hotel, to download the footage, log it all, and prepare for tomorrow, which is going to be a massive day. We have an interview with the Director of the Yoga Institute in the morning, and in the evening the climax of Ganpati, and the immersion ceremony.
Today was fascinating – tomorrow promises to be amazing.