16-Sep-2007

Ganpati Bappa Less-ia

The fact that Ganesh pandals have sprung up here and there in Chennai is good evidence of a singular lack of imagination. As a primarily Maharastrian custom, it is not too popular here. Nevertheless the State units of the more ‘nationalistic’ political parties labour on every year in the hope of generating mass hysteria and cutting through to the vote base of the Dravidian parties. As most of their other laughable ideas, this has also not worked too well so far.

One of the Ganesha pandals I managed to pass by this year was an example of why these State units should seriously consider dropping the idea. The pandal owner had neatly come up with various avatars of Ganesha depending on what had caught his fancy. I noticed a ‘nut’ Ganesh, a ‘grass’ Ganesh, a fruity Ganesh, a coconut Ganesh and turmeric Ganesh. In case you are reaching out for your Penguin book of Hindu mythology, let me assure you that all these are definitely not sanctioned avatars of the elephant god. Clearly an overactive imagination had been at work. The only problem was that the level of competence had clearly not matched the level of enthusiasm. The turmeric Ganesha was alright, merely looking like he was suffering from an advanced case of Hepatitis B. The nuts and fruits Ganeshas were also reasonably fine. The grass Ganesha looked like a mutant child of a union between Ganesh and an Ent from Lord of the Rings. What really took the cake was the coconut Ganesha. The statue was embossed on all sides with empty coconut shells all covered in a fine layer of mud. The effect was of watching Ganesh suffering from some unspeakable disease, no doubt contracted by being promiscuous with the Apsaras. Just looking at it made me want to shut my eyes and sing songs to calm myself down.

I am not the one to quibble about Ganesh being given new forms. Infact, assimilation of new ideas is probably the cornerstone of a religion’s survival. As a child I had heartily applauded when I saw Ma Durga riding a dinosaur in a pandal in Kolkatha (Jurassic Park had just been released that year). However I do protest against my aesthetic senses being offended like this.

The irony was that despite the stark ugliness of the whole range of Ganeshas, devotees were still passing by them in a steady line, touching the feet of the statues. Boy, religion sure sells!

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