The lights had turned on. Our camera was ready to capture the action that was beginning to unfold. The much-loved Lord Ganesha had descended into the city to celebrate his birthday.
Who’s the Best of Them All?
During the annual ten-day festivities beginning on Ganesh Chaturthi and ending on Anant Chaturdashi, the city of Pune is enveloped in a vibrant quilt created out of devotion, community participation, and even intense competition. As Ganesh mandals try to outdo each other in their sets and performances, residents traverse the city to catch a glimpse of the mandals’ prowess and the innovative displays.
The thrill and joy of mandal-hopping has caught on to us in a big way. And so it finds a place on our Google calendar agenda for three or four evenings during the Ganesh Chaturthi festivities.
In 2016, we made our customary trip to the bustling areas around Laxmi Road, Kumthekar Road, and Tilak Road. As expected, in the heart of the city, the crowds were large, the air was filled with excitement and anticipation, and the mandals were at their creative best. We updated our typical itinerary to include several mandals in the Karve Road-Paud Road area. And these new entrants on our list put on a grand show.
From well-known mythological stories to popular animated shows, from Shivaji’s thrilling conquests to the empowerment of senior citizens, a gamut of themes was on display.
Simplicity Makes a Mark:
Elegant decor, light colors, and soft music (devotional or light) create the perfect setting to reflect on the significance of the festivities. Several mandals had adopted a simple, low-key approach that focused on the essence of Ganesh Chaturthi and avoided jarring sounds and blinding lights.
Mythology Casts a Spell:
Elephants trumpeted. Drums were beaten. Aromatic delicacies were brought in. Finally, Kumbhakarna stirred from his deep slumber. He rose, his gigantic profile towering above everyone else.
This scene from the Ramayana was among our top picks this time.
History Comes Alive:
At some locations, stories of Shivaji’s bravery and of his skills at outsmarting the enemy were brought to life by talented actors on stage. Our favorite was the enactment of Shivaji’s daring escape from confinement in Agra. While the actors played their part confidently, the well-designed set and beautiful costumes (almost) transported us back in time. Junior identified every character, predicted every dialog, and even explained the scenes to us. Courtesy, Tales of Shivaji, from Amar Chitra Katha.
Social Messages Strike a Chord:
From protecting the unborn girl child to sympathizing with the grievances of the elderly, a range of social issues were brought to the fore at some locations.
Varied Topics, One Festival:
And as we traipsed along from cartoon-themed sets to the replica of the India Gate (made entirely from biscuits!) near Grahak Peth, Tilak Road, one festival had brought us together.
Loud chants of Ganpati Bappa Morya filled the air. A few days later, as the celebrations drew to a close, we waved goodbye to our dear elephant-headed God. Until next year! Pudhchya Varshi Lavkar Ya!