HYDERABAD, India – As I bicycled to yoga last week, the usually quiet 5:45 a.m. crowd was blasting music and drowning out the call to prayer from a nearby mosque.
When I asked what was going on, I was told the Ganesha festival.
Everyone here knows about the Ganesha festival. It’s like Christmas as far as I can tell.
People flock to pick out a Ganesha statue for their home and decorate it like a Christmas tree. This includes neon, elephant-headed statues everywhere with people singing prayers all day and night.
Glowing lights line the streets in form of OMs, or swastikas. Every few blocks in the evening and in the morning there are people drumming and throwing fuchsia powders.
Scratch that. It’s different from Christmas – it’s Christmas with dance parties.
The festival is a once-a-year celebration of Ganesha, the elephant god in Hinduism. Ganesha is among the most beloved gods in Hinduism. The festival is huge.
So, I decided to look around.
Every year, when the festival is well underway, people take their decorated Ganesha statues and immerse them in water. It’s supposed to keep the life in the statue.
Hyderabad has a huge lake at the center of the city, so hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Ganeshas are immersed in the lake every year.
Environmentally speaking, a lot of people here are upset. I wandered around during the immersion times, seeing statues of all sizes thrown into the water. The statues range from two inches to 40 feet in height. As I saw the Ganeshas proceed to the water,
huge throngs and music erased the sinking feeling that I once again had no idea what
It was a party. All that festival jazz and there’s a rivalry to top it off. It was easy to miss the rivalry at first – the bright colors and crashing sounds of the festival overpowered the quiet of the Muslim community.
Hyderabad has the largest Muslim population in India. There’s a split between Hindu and Muslim.
The Ganesha festival coincides directly with the beginning of Ramadan, the month long fast in Islam when Muslims refuse food during the day but eat before a certain time in the morning and after a certain time at night. Ramadan also requires prayers at certain times of the day.
In an area where tensions in recent history have been high between Hindus and Muslims, a not-so-subtle rivalry exists. Since I’m not directly involved, I like to live in ignorance and think this is the sort of friendly competition that inspired the Puck Furdue T-shirts.
The rivalry works like this: When the Muslims are supposed to be praying, some Hindus often play loud Ganesha music and dance with loud drumming.
And at night, Muslims gather to eat mutton in front of the largely vegetarian Hindu community.
When I found this out, everything made sense. We’re all just rubbing on each other’s nerves.
Instead of crazed shoppers yelling not to say ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Merry Christmas’, there are dance parties drowning out the 5 a.m. call to prayer.