Understanding Form & Formlessness – Looking beyond Ganesha Festival

It’s been a few decades, since I have been to Hussain Sagar (Tank Bund) of Hyderabad witness wildly popular Lord Ganesh idol immersion annual event in Hyderabad on the final day of immersion. Earlier I used to go around all mandaps around to witness Ganesha Idols in various sizes, shapes and colors. Once I realized the impact of pollution of this immersion, I have stopped visiting these mandaps around the town. My visits now are limited to neighborhood community mandaps, which have begun using eco friendly idols made of clay and vegetable colors.

There are positive side effects of Lord Ganesh festivals celebrated in the community. It brings entire community together irrespective of age, sex, caste, and social status. I actually get to see all of my neighbors in the community during this 5-day or 9-day celebration.   I rarely see all of them before/after this event, so this is a great excuse. I see youth/kids taking leadership role to own or co-owning the entire process of conducting 9-day event. It also gives kids in the neighborhood to express and display their talent to the neighborhood as part of evening programs, from traditional to Bollywood inspired vents.   I use to enjoy these events for one more reason, as it was giving me an opportunity to experience diverse cuisine as part of nightly potluck dinner events.

I remember that for over 4 decades, Mom/Dad/Bro and I going to Market Street in Secunderabad watch the idol being prepared out of clay on the street LIVE using a mold, on demand (resembles in Dell’s assemble on order business model).   We would keep gently keep the soft clay idol on the lotus leaf (covered with rice grains) placed on the steel plate, and safely carry it all the way home. This year, Radhika decided not to get the idol immersed in water bodies outside home. We took it our back yard, placed the idol in bucket, watched it dissolved after few hours, and poured the liquid soil in our back yard plantation

I have learned deeper meaning of this celebration only in the last decade, as part of my visits to spiritual discourses and more. What exactly does the immersion of Lord Ganesha idols symbolizes?   If you ask this question, 7 of 10 folks in neighborhood may get it wrong.

Let me simply reproduce what’s mentioned in Arun Raghuwanshi’s blog here. Every year clay statues of Lord Ganesha are immersed into the water bodies or in sea. Gradually the clay dissolves into water. Ganesh’s image disappears. This ritual is designed by our ancestors to draw attention to the ‘ephemeral nature of life and worldly things’. Showing that nothing in this mortal world lasts forever. It celebrates the fact of life of Creation (Idol construction), Perpetuation (9 to 21 days celebrations) and finally Immersion (Destruction) in water bodies, with fun and fair, as celebration pointing to the fact and showing that death is imperative / essential for creation of new. That’s why people say – Ganapati bappa moriya, agle varas too jaldee Aa!

Why idol worship at all? Can’t we do away with out the idol worship with simple knowledge and enlightenment? It is not possible for many, to comprehend the concept for praying something, which is formless. They need a ‘form’ to pray to, to seek blessings, to seek solace, to cry for help, and more. This is the major reason for widely prevalent idol worship across the country.

I have been told that, over 15,000 idols of Lord Ganesh in different sizes would be immersed in various water bodies here today on the last day of Ganesh Chaturthi festival.  Hussain Sagar obvious is the largest water body where immersion happens. Traffic is blocked for entire city, and offices are typically shutdown, as it is impractical for those who depended on public transportation to make it to the office. Immersion process now spread across several days, which was earlier limited to 9th day, which used to cause long queue & bottleneck near the lake. 60-ft tall idol installed in Khairatabad locality is believed to be the tallest in the city, and one of the last idols to go through the immersion process.

This holiday weekend, Revanth, Aniketh, and I took the train ride to Hussain Sagar and captured action on our Go Pro. Here is the footage with awesome sound track by AR Rahman


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