To foreigners who have lived in India, the “incredible” tagline in the country’s current marketing campaign is truly fitting. Everything about the country – its history, architecture, culture, cuisine, population and noise – is “incredible,” if not genuinely overwhelming.
Perhaps more than anything, the country’s religious festivals operate on a scale unknown in the rest of the world. Every August/September (or, more exact, the Hindu month of Bhadrapada) is the 10-day festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, and this celebration of the god Ganesha is no exception. While the festival is celebrated throughout the sub-continent, to many it takes on its most incredible aspects in India’s west and south, particularly in Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai.
While much more complex in reality, the festival progresses something like this: months before the festival, sculptures of Ganesha are made and sold by local craftsman. Needless to say, these can be small enough for windowsills and large enough to be placed in a town’s public square. At the beginning of the festival, families display their Ganesha models in their homes, and pandals with flowers, lights and Ganesha representations activate public spaces.
After displaying the Ganesha for a certain number of days, the representations are then brought to a body of water for immersion. In Mumbai, there is no more obvious area to experience Ganesh Chaturthi than the beach on Marine Drive, with seemingly the whole city coming to the sea for a look. The aftermath is equally impressive.
As a photographer, color in this instance seems almost too easy, too obvious (as with all Indian experiences); black-and-white images tend to emphasize the contextual chaos, as well as the similarities of the celebrating population as opposed to their differences, economic or otherwise.
In the words of Swami Sivananda:
“The significance of riding on a mouse is the complete conquest over egoism.”
Wishing everyone happiness as big as Ganehsa’s appetite, life as long as his trunk, trouble as small as his mouse, and moments as sweet as his laddus.
– Aaron C. Greenman
Aaron C. Greenman has been a photographer for over 25 years and has lived and worked on four continents. He has previously been profiled on The Leica Camera Blog for his work in Japan, Thailand, India, East Africa, Israel, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia, and Western Europe. More of his portfolio images can be viewed on his website, and he has several books available for the iPad (here and here). Custom prints of his work are also available for purchase on request.