A festival in Chennai: Ganesh Chaturthi

This weekend Chris and I were lucky enough to have two guests here in Chennai. My mom came to visit after wrapping up her several week long tour of India and our friend Rob came to see us for his weekend off during a business trip to India. Exciting stuff!

Chris and I were worried that we would have a tough time finding interesting activities to do with our guests to keep them entertained. Eventually, we decided to go to Marina Beach to see the Ganesh Chaturthi Festival take place. As it was explained to us, for Ganesh Chaturthi, people dump plaster of paris statues of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant-diety, into the ocean for good luck. This event was hugely undersold!

We headed down to Marina Beach, expecting to see a handful of people bringing a few small statues down to the water. Instead, we were met with closed roads, and a seemingly endless Mardi Gras-like procession of enormous, brightly painted Ganesh statues riding in trucks, rickshaws, and ox-pulled carts.

What a sight!

We ditched the car and began to sing, dance, shout, and whistle our way through throngs of people who seemed to be as excited to see us as we were to witness Ganesh Chaturthi. At first, I was worried that it would seem rude to take pictures, but it was quite the opposite. We had trouble making forward progress because so many people wanted to pose for pictures with us or to have their “float” photographed.

When we finally progressed, about 1 km, to the beach, we were first able to see the cranes sticking up high above the crowds of people. Many of these statues were far to large to be carried into the ocean. Instead, they were lifted by crane, swung high above the heads of the reveling onlookers, and deposited at the edge of the ocean.

A special crew of men flagged with orange bandanas would then move these massive plaster of paris statues into the ocean and ensure that they fully dissolved.

This was just day three of the ten day festival. Last night, from inside of our house, we could hear a loud procession of families, Ganesh in tow, enroute to the ocean. I wanted to go see, but unfortunately I was stuck on the phone for work. Major bummer.

I am so appreciative that we had a chance to see this event and I am even more thankful that people were so welcoming towards us. Of the thousands of people there, I did not see any other non-Indians, so we certainly stuck out.

As we headed back to the car, Chris and I had the good fortune of being invited up onto an ox-drawn Ganesh float. I am still waiting on Rob’s pictures of it, as his are the best, but here’s a sneak preview!

As a side note: I sure am glad that Chris knew the proper protocol for us once we were up on the float. The two men up there lit a small flame that gave off incense-like smoke. Chris instructed me to waft some of it towards my face, do a namaste-like hand gesture, then use my right index finger to gather some ash to place on my forehead. I would have looked like a rude idiot up there without him.

I hope that we have a chance to go check out one more day of Ganesh Chaturthi later this week!

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7 comments
  1. Dana said:

    Simply amazing that you get to experience things like this while you live in India!! I love reading about all of your adventures 🙂

    How are the pets handling your absence?

  2. Jena said:

    Wow! That is the coolest thing. So, they just leave those things in the ocean? I wonder how long it takes them to rot? Do they do this every year? at the same spot? Huh, this is fascinating!

    • Brit said:

      Yeah, they are supposed to dissolve, but still, with the paint and all, you have to wonder about the environmental impact…

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