Mumbai’s elephantine festival
Indian Hindu devotees whisper their wishes into the ear of elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha during Ganeshotsav. (AFP/Getty Images)
There’s good reason to be in Mumbai this month: Ganeshotsav is the energetic 10-day celebration of the birth of the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, Ganesha.
Starting 9 September, makeshift sidewalk studios crafting beautiful clay idols will spring up along nearly every city street. Pandals (marquees), erected by mandals (community groups) to house the statues, are the epicentre of the energy that will pervade the streets in the days to come. No other city in India celebrates Ganeshotsav like Mumbai does, and people travel from all over the country to take part.
The most prestigious place to see the idols is the Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal in central Mumbai, where the big draw is the Lalbaugcha Raja (King of Lalbaugh), a Ganesha statue that is said to fulfil wishes. More than 20 million people are expected to visit this year, and the waiting time can extend up to 20 hours depending on the proximity you want a darshan (see the idol) from.
Older than its famous neighbour, the Lalbaug Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal was founded by textile mill workers in 1928 and their Ganesha statue, the Mumbaicha Raja (King of Mumbai), includes a lavish backdrop inspired by famous landmarks across the country. Although queues are much shorter, it will still be busy throughout the festival.
The Sarvajanik Shree Ganeshotsav Mandal in the Khetwadi neighbourhood holds the title for India’s tallest Ganesha idol, a 12m-high idol that was exhibited in 2000. Their Khetwadi Ganraj (Lord Ganesha of Khetwadi) is the “king of bling”, decked in gold jewellery and sometimes even diamonds.
For a traditional experience with live classical music, the GSB Seva Mandal in the suburb of Matunga is highly recommended. Founded in 1954 by the Gowd Saraswat Brahmin community from Karnataka, this mandal is set apart from the others by the fact that the idol is adorned in more than 60kg of gold.
The competition for best, biggest and most spectacular installation is fierce, with some mandals even using the opportunity to comment on the country’s social and current affairs; this year’s themes are expected to cover such topical issues as corruption, abuse of women and the falling rupee.
On 18 September, the final day of the festival, the idols are carried along the city streets to be immersed in the Arabian Sea. Processions of millions of people follow the floats, entertained by energetic dance troupes dancing to blaring Bollywood music. The best beaches to experience the crescendo-level revelry is at Juhu beach in North Mumbai or Chowpatty Beach in South Mumbai.
Sharon Fernandes is the Mumbai Localite for BBC Travel