Everything in the Universe, including the Universe itself will come to an end at some point. This impermanence is symbolized in a ceremonial farewell to one of the most important deities in the pantheon.
India’s relationship with its festivals can be addictively joyous, even when it involves bidding farewell to the gods. Every year around late August or early September, India celebrates the mythical birth of the elephant-headed god, Ganesha as Ganesh Chaturthi. Among the huge pantheon of Hindu gods, he is the first to receive oblations as the remover of hurdles in one’s path. Prayers, rituals, food, revelry ensue as homes and communities welcome him on the earth in various shapes, sizes and forms. The ten-day celebrations culminate in a symbolic farewell by immersing his idols in the nearest body of water on the day of Ganesh Visarjan. Even this is done with great fervor and enthusiasm. This time, kamalan Pathfinders were in Agra over a weekend and happened to catch the locals rapturously taking out a procession to immerse large and small images of Ganesha. The symbolism, the ritual and the pomp obviously have a story behind it, like everything else in India. These stories, having been handed down orally have survived ages.
Legend has it that Mother Earth or Bhu Devi couldn’t bear the brilliance and the corpus of Ganesha’s weight and he alleviated her plight saying he would depart following the festivities on the tenth day. As incredible as the legend may be, there is a deeper meaning to the entire process. The ancient Hindu tenet of transience and impermanence plays into the entire ritual of Ganesh Visarjan.
The philosophy that even an invocation of God into a manifested form is transient and must depart once the purpose is served. Everything in the Universe, including the Universe itself will come to an end at some point. This impermanence is symbolized in a ceremonial farewell to one of the most important deities in the pantheon.
As we drove through the crammed streets of Agra, we ran into processions with enthusiastic dancers and exuberant sloganeers, drenched in a pall of colors reveling in the name of Ganesha. The size of the entourage depended on the size of the image of Ganesha, the larger the idol, the larger its procession. Ganesh Chaturthi and Visarjan are most popularly celebrated in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and the southern states where the festivities are publicly held on enormous scales. The phenomenon of public Ganesh rituals is a fairly recent one in northern India and the celebrations are milder. So, it was a pleasant surprise to run into such a Ganesh Visarjan procession in Agra, one of the less likely places to find one.
Regardless of region, language and cultural changes festivals are just another occasion for India to celebrate. Indians never baulk from showing their spirit of merrymaking even amidst a solemn religious occasion and Ganesh Visarjan happens to be one such event. Our objective behind going to Agra was to explore the lesser known, largely unseen areas and aspects of the city. We couldn’t have imagined a better start than a celebratory gesture such as this. Also, who better to welcome us than the remover of obstacles on our path, Ganesha!