Dunk the One with the Elephant Head

You rarely find the Fijian Hindi looking back. They are a forward looking bunch and have grown firm roots in the lush green of these tropical islands in spite of the fact that their forbearers have been lured here on a more than dubious promise of economic bounty. Just like their cohorts the ever busy Mynah birds, they suffer from being accused of belonging to an invasive species, but have managed to adapt sucessfully to the new environment they were transported to quite certainly against many of their wills. So well have they adapted that today they dominate many aspect of Fijian society at large by a very far stretch. The majority of commercial activities are controlled by their sorts and if it weren’t for some hasty interference by the powerful amongst the indigenous Fijian over the last couple decades, they would be making up way more than half of Fijis present population by today.
When it comes to celebrating the rituals of daily life and the rites of the passing seasons they have a preference for the fancy and the colorful. The subtext to their religious festivities is always intrinsic, subtle and highly complex. They refer to their many books to get refuge from the chances life is used to throw at us. After all it was the numerous sacred texts of their ancestors that have laid the foundation for all the other modern world religions who use the written word to foment their shady authorities. From the Upanishads to the Kamasutra, traditional Hinduism has given food for thought to scores of brain-heavy scholars throughout the centuries and has lead many a dedicated layman astray who found his belief twisting and contorting in different fields of gravity after indulging in the sultry sweetness and spicy scents of the stories of Krishna, Lord Shiva, Ganesha and their numerous cohorts.
On the fourth day of the first waxing moon of the late Austral winter, while we Westerners define the sun as sailing through the constellation of Virgo, devote Hindi celebrate the annual rebirth one of their deity with the charming name of Ganesha. An elephant head sits on this jolly guy’s shoulders. He mostly happens to like sitting in the classic lotus pose with legs crossed and knees pressed to the floor. This nicely highlights his trademark protruding pot belly. At least four arms perform a plethora of chores around him and give him an always busy appearance. I’m not very certain of my talent in reading elephant faces, but he always looks radiantly happy to me and is adored fervently by the faithful as the remover of obstacles but also as the god of beginnings, which might have something to do with the fact that it took me almost a month to complete this report. But just today, after a long strain of effort from my part, Sir Ganesha has kindly decided to remove those persistent obstacles that have barred its completion so far.
We missed the departure of the procession from the temple that clings to the steep hillside in the upper parts of Savusavu town. It is recognizable from afar by the red and white streamers that always fly in the wind blowing across the ridges from two high and slender bamboo poles, and by the sharply pointed red and white rooftop that crowns its main and always brightly whitewashed building. But we can hear it before we can see it. ‘Ganpati bappa morya!’ the crowds are shouting in Hindustani when they come around the bend of the winding road, ‘He will come again! He WILL come again!’ The ubiquitous white pickup truck with blaring loudspeaker system leads them all in their frenzy and behind it in the peoples midst rides the idol that has been the subject of their adoration for a full ten days now. Almost entirely buried under a mass of colorful leis and protected by a light purple umbrella adorned with swastikas from the gentle drizzle that slowly falls out of a leaden sky, the child-sized deity sits pale and immobile on a stretcher, which itself strides a four-wheeled pushcart. Our Hindi friends soon drag us into the flow of brightly colored saris and tar-black haired heads, and since the vibrant colors of the dresses don’t seem to be feast enough, colored pigment powder is soon smeared on our faces to make us blend into the crowd.
CameraCameraThe pundit, young and stern-faced, leads the chanting and also directs the procession through the afternoon traffic that wants to flow through the business district unabated at its usual speed. Horns hunk in reverence and more colored powder is smeared on the faces of anybody daring to stand and stare. Most Hindi businesses, which means almost all the businesses in town, have closed early for the day of festivities, but their doors reopen as we pass and offerings are brought out and deposited around the idol, which seems to reveal a fleeting urge to sniff at the food items with its white and gaily curved trunk. Incense and burning camphor is carried into the stores to renew its reservoir of prosperity for yet another year under the sun. More chanting is incited by the ever-busy pundit and of course there also must be the adolescent wannabe pundit, who with a raunchy voice offers his more mindless-sounding version of the no longer so meditative verses from the sidelines. But the spirits are high and his attention-seeking manors are not only tolerated but rewarded with roaring laughter.
CameraCameraSoon the procession leaves town and starts down the road along Savusavu Bay towards the luxurious resorts away from the hustle and bustle of common life. The pace accelerates slightly and there’s a hint of anxiety on the alabaster-white elephant face. It seems to sense that the oxygen for this year’s reincarnation is about to run out away from him.
CameraCameraAbout two miles past the concrete wharf the flock comes to a sudden halt on the side of the street. A row of temporary food stalls has been set up for the occasion, built hastily with bamboo and corrugated tin roof sheets. There’s a last chance for the faithful to approach the idol and make efforts to nudge their existence a wee bit closer to wishful thinking, which they do with frowned foreheads and silent recitations. Now the statue is offloaded from the cart, and in midst of a concentrating mass of color clad bodies it is carried down the embankment and onto a barge awaiting for the purpose. The barge fills to the rim with the faithful and looks precariously overloaded. But the chanting intensifies slightly and all physical obstacles are instantly overcome. Accompanied by two outboard motor powered skiffs the barge casts off from the earthly shores and retreats out into the bay for maybe a quarter of a mile, far enough to be in deep waters, but still close enough for the events to be seen from land by the crowd.

CameraCameraFrom there the idol is put into the sea amongst some daredevil swimmers who have jumped into the waters to be as close as possible to the action. They are now floating amongst debris of marigold leis and the statue of the remover of obstacles is gone. It is already starting its slow process of disintegration on the bottom of the sea, where the form imprinted by us humans is effaced and matter returns to what we so poetically like to call its ‘natural’ state. Every year though new sculptured idols are manufactured in the distant homeland, somewhere in the subcontinent of India by dedicated craftsmen. They are then shipped from there to the Fiji Islands and to many other Hindi communities in exile around the globe, where they will again be adored and worshipped for ten days before being ceremoniously returned to the depths of the waters that surround all life on Earth.ganeshintosea
CameraCameraSlowly the scent of incense now levitates away and disperses into the thin air that lingers above. After sharing some tasty food under the corrugated roofs the crowd itself starts to disperse. On the way back into town skinny and bespectacled Mr. Moon from the electronics repair shop in the back alley behind the Maravu Meat Shop and the refrigeration service place comments on the favorable weather of the day: ‘Just a little drizzle, enough to bless the community and cleanse us of our sins. But not enough to wash us all away. A very good omen indeed!’

Camera

Advertisements

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Dunk the One with the Elephant Head”

  1. Beatriz H. Restrepo Says:

    Excellent Beat !! Beautiful pictures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: