O Ganesh

An inescapable irony marks the sudden rise of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in towns and cities across India. In 1890’s Maharashtra, Bal Gangadhar Tilak had identified Ganesh as ‘God for Everyone’. In the aftermath of Hindu-Muslim riots, Tilak urged people of new India to bring this private adoration of Ganesh to the public fore. Perhaps the chimeric playfulness of Ganesh’s body is an excellent metaphor for India’s syncretic culture. The elephant head offers the human body two sensorial gifts - a geography of memory, and an uncanny ability to hear deep sounds (from the past even). Plus, who doesn’t have an appetite for ladoos. No other mythic figure is more (un)naturally disposed towards an inter-faith dialogue than Ganesh is. But today, Ganesh Chaturthi springs up across India’s moral landscape, across the new urban markets of ‘pop-religion’ (ones which had not even heard of the festival up until very recently), not in an effort to extend the dialogue, but to aggressively reclaim the mythic figure in step with the virulent majoritarian impulse. Beware - Ganesh is an excellent listener; if he can listen to Vyasa’s voice and write down the epic Mahabharata without ‘pause and hesitation’, it is almost certain that he is writing his next epic tragedy listening keenly to the voices of our times today. <detail from a Hussain painting>