Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ganpati Bappa Moriya!

During Ganesh Chaturthi, Bombay becomes a huge festival land, with ten days of lights and decorations in every nook and corner of the city. Well, almost.

What used to be real fun in my childhood days was when we used to get together on day 1 when the idol is 'brought in' and day 10 especially, which is the day of immersion, to see in awe idols of different kinds of shapes and height pass by the street where we lived.

The idols were led by a huge procession of people dancing in rhythm to the beats played pompously by their respective music band groups especially hired for the occasion. Different areas in the city competed against each other and still do as to who had the tallest idol and what kind of decorations were conceived and displayed.

There were and still are unwritten agreements as to whose idol will have the right to leave first or last for the immersion, etc. There are easily millions of people who come out to the streets on day 10, the immersion day, in order to view the huge idols that are brought to the sea to be immersed. The offices close early on that day, and the city comes virtually to a stand still for several hours due to traffic of all kinds - people, idols in processions and vehicles, with the police having a nightmare of a time trying to keep things in order. For people who are not from Bombay, I have included this link I found on YouTube, just so that people can comprehend what I just wrote regarding the significance of day 10 (this is just when this famous idol is being brought out for the immersion journey).

During the celebrations when people gather to get a glimpse of the God, lines can be so long that they have to wait easily for 7-8 hours to get their blessings.

In my childhood days, there used be a lot of apartment buildings that celebrated the festival with great aplomb. My apartment building used to do it as well and we celebrated it for all of the 10 days. There would be daily poojas, and at least one daily event - a performance by the talented women who lived in the building, or calling in the magician etc.; fantastic sweets and other savories were cooked everyday as offering to the God; and when night set in one could walk around the neighborhood and catch a select choice of movies being shown on the streets, by tying a screen in the middle of the street and people sitting on the sidewalks, on the street itself on either side of the screen, and from their apartments to watch the movie. Gone are those days now.

On specific days my friends, families included used to go around the city to see the most famous idols. In order to get in by avoiding the queue, we had to make 'special' arrangements with 'known' people :-), with whose help we would be whisked away through the rear side of a building and come out right next to the idol displayed.

I really miss the celebrations back home for the fun we had, the social aspect of it, how it made Bombay livelier than it always is for 10 days, and the festive atmosphere. Not to forget the food and the late night movies. I still try and visit India during Ganesh Chaturthi time whenever feasible.

Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrations here in the US: We decided to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi this year at home, keeping the idol for 1 day. We had our friends living close by come over for pooja. We did aarti and sang a few bhajans.

This was followed by a potluck feast. The dishes that were prepared included modak (rice dough steamed with coconut and jaggery mix - Ganesha's favorite sweet), Karanji (made with fried all purpose flour puffs stuffed with coconut, sugar, semolina and ghee), srikhand, tamarind rice, potatoes, black eyed peas usal, and usli (made with green beans and pulses). I will post the recipe for some of these dishes on my other blog,

After lunch, we had a few activities for the kids (four of them, including my daughter). We read to them Ganesha stories so that they could become familiar with the God and the celebration, and the symbolism of Ganesha. Then we had all of them sit down and make a puppet of an elephant. Finally the mommies got together with the kids and helped them make their own Ganeshas with play doh, which was very cool. I have taken pictures of the same.

The kids had a lot of fun and so did we. A great day spent with friends and family, and on a festival so near and dear to all of us. Here are pictures from the event.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ganesh Chaturthi - a few thoughts

I had asked my dad to pen a few words on this occasion. Here's what he sent.

Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival celebrating the birthday of Lord Ganesha which is conducted in a unique manner. There is a rare blend of domestic celebration and public festivity.

The idol of Lord Ganesha is brought home every year on the day of Chaturthi, worshiped and taken for immersion on certain auspicious days between the 2nd and 10th day. This is done to the accompaniment of singing, dancing, and other expressions of joy.

Alongside this, there are the Sarvajanik (public) Ganpatis - the giant sized idols that are installed all over the city. The devotees queue up for hours together to have a darshan (beholding of the deity) of the Lord. The immersion of these idols is a grand affair, with thousands of people thronging the streets, dancing and singing.

Why is Ganpati so popular and why is there a joyous celebration every year? It may appear to be a paradox for many people that the idol which is so joyously worshiped is immersed into the sea after a few days.

In my past (1940s), Ganesh Chaturthi was celebrated solely because it is Ganpati's birthday. Idols were made out of clay and worshiped and immersed the following day in a well. The idol wasn't kept for a longer period because of the fear that the idol was likely to break, which is considered inauspicious.

During the course of time the festival took also a social hue, and side by side with the domestic worship, the public celebrations also became popular. The size of the idols grew and the idols also required a large place like the sea for immersion.

The various names by which the God is worshiped are a reflection of his closeness to us and importance. Most significantly he has to be worshiped first at any puja (ceremonial worship) or religious function. We start learning the alphabet by invoking his name first. No wonder this festival has won the heart of the people and this God is sent off with the request to return fast the following year.

- Contributed by K. Sivaramakrishnan

My brother had sent me some pictures he had taken in 2007 when he went to see one of the most famous idols' immersion procession. This was a 25 feet baby Ganesha idol installed at Ganesh Galli, Lalbaug, Bombay India. Here are a few pictures for your enjoyment.

Ganesh Galli Lalbaug above

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Penguins on the loose!

That's what we thought we would see, as I promised my daughter Tvisha a few weeks ago that we would go out to see penguins whom she loves, and see a movie on animals called Animalopolis. This is part of the program schedule at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT until labor day September 6, 2009.

The Maritime Aquarium is a nice place to take your kids to. They have exhibits of seals with seal feeding shows 3 times a day, penguins of course, sea horses, frogs, stingrays, sharks, and different kind of fish. They conduct special programs for the summer such as this one with the penguins that we went to.

There is an IMAX theater for those who want to take their kids to watch movies, and also a nice shaded picnic area in case you pack your own lunch. Oh, before I forget, there is also a public cruise.

We enjoyed the animal movie that lasted 40 minutes. After lunch, by the time we got to the penguin show the place was packed. There isn't any good vantage point to see the penguins unless you get there around 12.45 pm for the 1.15 pm show. Now that's long time to stand at one place waiting for the action to begin while your kid is getting more and more impatient. On top of that it was only 'a' penguin that they brought out of the ten they have, which was a bummer!

The whole package does put a dent in your pockets considering all that you get. Total $50 bucks for the movie and aquarium for a family of 3, and extra for the other stuff you may get. Make sure to spend a good part of the day at the aquarium as there is a lot to see and do.

Over all, it was good to be out with the family and see my daughter happy, which is always the bottom line. Here are some pictures that I was able to take.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Six Flags Animal Safari

Two weeks ago on a Saturday, we decided to visit the Six Flags Animal Safari in New Jersey with our friends. We hadn't taken our daughter out much since I started recovering from surgery.

It was a 3 hour drive to get there from Westchester, NY thanks to the heavy traffic. We parked at the rest area which has decent amenities. I would strongly recommend that you take your own food and beverages as the cost is exorbitant inside. For example a small bottle of water cost my friend Nakul $3.30, and a diet coke $3.75.

After lunch, we started off on the safari, not really knowing what to expect. It turned out to be a good experience to watch from inside your car, as the animals roamed around freely, especially the giraffes that were literally walking over the vehicles inspecting the occupants through the sunroofs or the windows; the lazy elephants taking a bath in the hot afternoon; 3 rhinos crossing the street in front of us in a parade; and of course the 'we could care less' lions and tigers. Then there were the other usual suspects - zebras, ostriches (too many of them), deers, kangaroos, bears, baboons by the hundreds, and many other animals whose names I can't even remember.

My daughter Tvisha and her friend Kharan had a great time looking at the animals, fighting amongst themselves at times to find the best spot in the car. Both of them were also really intrigued as to why the baboon's derriere was red in color. I of course took the fifth on answering that one :-).

The whole viewing time is around 1 hour and we were back to the rest area where we had parked previously. The kids Tvisha, Kharan and Sahana all enjoyed a pony ride, while I was ready to get out of there contemplating with submission how bad the drive back was going to be.

To summarize, it was a good outing if you can bear the heat and the I-95 traffic, and the pricing of the event ($20 bucks a person, which with 5-6 people in a car adds up real fast). I am sharing some pictures that I took and here is the link to the Animal Safari. Please bear with the fact that some of the photos were taken with the car windows up, hence may not be that clear.

Looked like an ostrich, but was a Rhea!

Ostirch?? hmmm.....

Ostrich??? almost sure.....

This was really cool!!

Bear necessities.......

My daughter and wife!
My friend's son, Kharan
Sahana and her dad, Nakul