The Artisans Behind Ganesh Chaturthi
The crackle of drums echoes down Mumbai's streets.Men and women, many preparing for the festivities for weeks ahead of time, dance in the street and crane their necks for a glimpse of colorful Ganesh icons, the elephant-like deity seen riding mobile floats or protected under temporary roadside shrines.
India's monsoon is coming to a close. With the rains receding, the city's famous Ganesh Chaturthi marks the turn of the season. Festivals like these stand out in India, having evolved from their religious roots into cultural affairs. Lines of devotees snake from famous temples as crowds gather to view Ganesha icons, the deity associated with auspicious beginnings, as they’re unveiled around the city. Traffic comes to a standstill and even the city's newsrooms run skeleton staffs because so many are celebrating the holiday.
The festival is incomplete without music and business is brisk for local drum makers this time of year. Vinesh Kore, owner of Swami Vadya Kendra, a tabla outlet that's been open for nearly half a century, says he'll sell 30 to 40 dholkis, a type of double-headed drum popular during Ganesh Chaturthi.
While many shop owners will be closing their shops for the day to be home with family or visiting their favorite Ganesha installations, Kore' s small shop near the Dadar Station will be open for any musicians needing last-minute drum repairs or replacements.
"Anytime they want, people can come here," he said, laughing at the idea of closing during the festival. Any musicians wanting a custom instrument for the start of the festival, however, will be out of luck, as tablas and other drums can take around four days to make.
In one corner of the small shop are a collection of tuning and manufacturing tools: a clippers, a hammer, and stones used to smooth the iron powder tonal circle applied to the goat hide drumbeat. Craftsman Shubash Ghosh crouches next to them, tuning a new tabla.
On the opposite wall, next to a framed image of Ganesha, there's a faded image of Swami Vivekananda casting an auspicious gaze over the store's threshold. The famous Indian philosopher and one of Hinduism's first spiritual ambassadors to the West, pictured playing a pakhawaj drum, was also an accomplished musician. Kore mounted the image in honor of his father, who was a devotee, and to acknowledge the Swami's musical prowess.
It's a simple example of the daily interactions between religion, history, and the divine--in one small shop carved from the malls and marketplaces blanketing one of the world's most populous cities. As colossal Ganesha icons lumber through the streets and musicians fill the air with music, the region’s craft workers will be the unsung heroes, having played important roles in Maharashtra's famous Ganesh Chaturthi.