Ganesh Festival, Mumbai, September 2015

Before moving here, I'd been told that Mumbai goes crazy for festivals. We'd been here for a month before the first one hit: Ganesh Chaturthi, which is a 10-day fiesta featuring Ganesh, the elephant god.

It's a Hindi festival, and much of the action surround clay (*) statues that are put in people's houses or on the street, to be dumped dumped into the ocean at some point during the week. The `immersions' happen roughly on days 2, 3, 5, 7, and 10. And they're usually accompanied by a large procession, perhaps with hundreds of statues, and thousands of people dancing, playing drums and synthesizers, and handing out bananas and coconuts. This is reapeated in hundreds of places all over Mumbai, night after night. The final procession sees the largest and most well-known Ganeshes be tossed into the ocean... something over a million people come down to watch this at Mumbai's largest beach.

While many of the smaller statues start in people's houses, the large ones are kept on the street in special tents that -- in our neighborhood in Khar -- are on nearly every block. If you visit the tents, you can chat with the people who have made that Ganesh (usually a family, or block, or building, or company), and usually you'll end up with a banana and some indian sweets ('modak'), although I also got a pomegranate and chikoo fruit.

We've only been here a month. But walking toward the immersion one night was the first time that India really hit me. It is so surreal and amazing to be outside at midnight, in the hot, humid, dark monsoon rain, walking and dancing (**) with thousands of happy Indians who are pulling life-sized plaster elephant statues on wheels, and I'm watching them play trumpets and what look like old grammophones, and they're thowing marigolds and rice, AND NO ONE IS DRUNK, or at least not very many, and the women are in fancy saaris dancing, and it's still midnight, and they're headed to the ocean. What kind of crazy world is this? So amazing and I'm loving it.

(*) Plaster of Paris, which most of them are made of, is apparently not water-soluble, so the statues just end up in a big pile below the sea. Many in Mumbai are now made of papier mache, which is somewhat more environmentally friendly. In either case, there are some large beach cleanups at the major sites.

(**) Well, I was taking photos. But everyone dancing insisted I join them, and a lot of them really have the Bollywood moves down.