Every city has its big event. Sydney does a huge New Years Eve, Brisbane had just held Riverfire, New York does a Thanksgiving parade (I think). Imagine the biggest of these events, covering a whole city that we shall call Mumbai, a city with a population that is greater than the whole of Australia.
Every parade I have ever participated in has been pretty tightly marshalled, there is a starting point, a specific ending point and a limited number of floats. So imagine a fun alternative where instead every community group, business association, church or organisation that wants to decides they will build a float and it will be on display for 10 days in a street that is convenient to them. Blocking entire streets is OK, blocking multiple lanes of major roads is just fine, I am not sure whether getting permission is required or is optional.
On a certain day each of these floats is then transported through the streets to one of a number of destinations where they are dumped into the ocean. The float that has been on display is really just the core of each individual procession. The transportation component is a logistical feat that may involve a combination of one or more of: a mobile generator truck, a flat bed semi trailer with a crowd of people and the main part of your float, more people following it (mostly women) throwing rice at the truck, random onlookers wandering up to do puja, more random onlookers taking photos and trying to not get in the way, a truck with a HUGE sound system blaring music, a minimum of 10 drummers, people dancing and other assorted vehicles. Some groups have all of the above.
The music ranges from traditional Indian music to Gangnam Style doof to someone playing a Casio keyboard using the corniest sounding preset. All of it accompanied by the drummers, all of it loud!!!
Did I mention that you will find one of these floats about every 200 metres or so along every road in the city? Sorry, my oversight.
Every group will have their own style, some will be quite modest (I didn’t say quiet) and traditional, others will be modern and louder and more brash. Some of them delight in performance by their drummers, others seem to have an endless supply of lethal fireworks…truly lethal. In Australia fireworks for the public were banned about 30 years ago, the stuff these people were setting off was never ever legal in Australia and was genuinely scary.
In this video, a guy had placed a box in the middle of a really busy intersection, it contained by my count 250 skyrockets that went off at about 1 every second for about 5 minutes. It actually didn’t cause any traffic problems, but that is only because traffic was already paralysed.
This one started off cool, a big idol, some coloured smoke, note teh size of the sound system and my timing was perfect as I moved around for a different angle.
Sorry, distracted. So this parade of thousands of colourful noisy floats that you are imagining has started at random times from thousands of locations and they are all converging on a handful of destinations. Add to it millions of people out on the streets to join in the fun. Subtract from it any semblance of traffic control by the police. Add to it vehicles not in the parade seeming not noticing the parade or the millions of people and continuing to drive at top speed. Subtract any effective crowd control – some groups hold a rope up alongside their float, that’s about as good as it gets.
It is the first time have seen a God caused gridlock as all these floats tried to merge onto the main road to the beach.
Are you starting to get the idea of what the end of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival is like? It was extraordinary in the extreme. I set out at about 1100hrs and lasted until about 2230hrs when like most events, it started getting just too crowded and crazy for me.
I could rave about this for days, there can’t be many events like this in the world, much less that happen every year. I heard of Ganesh Chaturthi somewhere along the research way and it is the only reason I came to Mumbai, I am so glad I did. And if you or anyone you know is heading here, this is a must.
As an addendum, here is my list of very real ways you could die at the end of Ganesh Chaturthi:
- Drown during immersion
- Crushed by one of the vehicles
- Blown to bits by some of the
- Run down by a motorist seemingly oblivious to millions of people and thousands of floats on the streets
- Dance yourself to death