I was fortunate to visit India in a period where I could see three holidays take place. With the celebration of India Independence Day, Eid, and Ganesh Chaturthi, I was lucky to see the different public celebrations that occurred for each event including a parade on Independence and a quick visit to the largest Ganesh idol in Hyderabad. My favorite holiday was the 11 days of celebration for Ganesh Chaturthi. This is a Hindu festival that celebrates the god Ganesha, known as the lord of good fortune, wealth, and remover of obstacles. The festival occurs every year to celebrate the birthday of Ganesha. On the last day of the festival, people submerge clay Ganesh idols as a symbol of Ganesha returning to Mount Kailash to his parents Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva.
On my last night in the country, my friend Girisha from my hostel took me on a motorbike ride through the streets of India around midnight when most festivities started for the Ganesh immersion. While driving around our area, I was amazed at the number of people still out enjoy each other’s company over a cup of ice cream or a late night drive-in burger. We even took a quick stop to check out a local ice cream shop ourselves. On every street we turned, there were families riding in cars and men enjoying some late night dosas from a street vendor.
During the 11 days of Ganesh Chaturthi, each night was filled with energy as different people came into the city to immerse their idol in the local lake. After sunset, the traffic on roads dissipated as office employees settled in their own homes after a long day of work and another group of people took over the street. For miles and miles, the beating of drums and shouts rang throughout the streets as members from different neighborhoods loaded their Ganesh idol onto a truck and prepared for the trek to immerse the idol. Determined to see these processions myself, I convinced my friend to take us towards the highway that connected with Necklace Road (the way to the lake for immersing the idol) where we saw over 5 different groups of people celebrating Ganesh and making their way towards the lake. It was amazing to see the different styles of dance that each group used and the tradition carried on throughout generations as men of all ages participated in the dance. Some groups had a coordinated style of dance, rehearsing over and over again until everyone was in sync with each other and the beat. Others used a freestyle method, people shouting in joy and dancing in any way they could but still moving in the same direction towards the lake.
In a way, the structure for the Ganesh idol immersion mirrors the structure of everyday life here in India. Despite the perceived chaos of traffic and the number of people present, there is an order – an unspoken process of getting things done and learned only through experience, observation, and preserved through tradition. That one of the things I learned in my time here was to fully embrace “going with the flow” and that has helped me achieve an unforgettable experience and along the way meeting incredible people.