Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Faith and fragrance

Warm rain poured out of a dark sky on a typically humid evening in Hyderabad, India. But along the Hussainsagar lake it was a cacophony of noise and light, a carnival atmosphere as the climax of the boisterous Hindu Ganesh festival was in full swing.

People had been arriving all day for the traditional ending which involves immersing carefully prepared Ganesh idols in the murky waters of the lake. A series of cranes lined the lakeside, lowering each Ganesh on a platform into the water to be received by holy men.

Trucks and vehicles of all shapes and sizes, decorated with flowers and flags and stacked with families and Ganesh idols began arriving early in the day and continued throughout the evening as people poured into the city to experience the religious fervour.

Ganesh is one of the best-known and most popularly worshipped deities in Hinduism and, although known by many other attributes, Ganesh's elephant head makes for easy and familiar identification.

The Ganesh festival for 2011 - an occasion on which Lord Ganesh, the son of Shiva and Parvati, is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees - has just ended.

It is the birthday of Lord Ganesha and is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period), typically between 20 August and 15 September.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s own and unexpected eye-witness experience of the Ganesh festival came during a stay several years ago in Hyderabad for a business conference and exhibition, which was hijacked for the day as police closed roads and access across the city.

As it happened the city's Marriott hotel was just across the road from the Hussainsagar lake so, being ‘confined to quarters’ for a day and night was not such a bad option, as the thick of the action was just a ‘stroll’ across the road and offered a great opportunity for photography.

The Ganesh festival is completed only with the immersion of the idols but civic bodies in many Indian cities are becoming increasingly concerned with the ecological issues surrounding the festival and the environmental impact on the bodies of water that are a focus of the ceremony.

This year an estimated 1,300 tonnes of rubbish has already been lifted from the main spots around the Hussainsagar lake as more than 100 vehicles and 2,500 municipal staff were pressed into service during a massive clean-up operation.

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