This is my third year at Hyderabad. Somehow I always ended up missing the popular festivals here. Some of it may have to do with my aversion to going to places that are too crowded. This time I did step out on the Day 1 of Ganesha Utsav. What I saw was something I could not have imagined, had I not gone to the old city.
Khairatabad Ganesha Idol
We started by visiting the most famous Pandal of the city in Khairatabad. A huge Ganpati stood tall surrounded by a thick yellow border promoting Idea cellular. I almost felt as if he is the brand ambassador for the company. The laddu he was holding in his hand weighs around 4000 kgs. There was a crane stationed there to put the Laddu in his hand and maybe, hold it there. Since it was raining and it was still afternoon, we could get on top of the building opposite the idol. And admire the upper half of the statue that had four faces of the lord, one on top of the other and two on the side with a Naga hood behind it. This was a strange iconography for me, but there was a far bigger variety waiting ahead.
The size of the idol can be estimated from how it makes the crane look like a toy. If you look at the man standing on the trunk, you would know that the face itself is 7-8 feet tall.
We drove through the Begum Bazar, and this was supposed to be the area we wanted to walk around, but there was no way to stop and park. So we slowly drove through the colorful bazaars selling the idols and all the other accessories to decorate the deity. We managed to park around Purana Pul. From here we walked down a lane towards Dhoolpet and it was an experience.
Idols & Artists
Usual shops have been converted into shops selling the statue for the festival. Artists were still giving finishing touches to their idols. The size of idols varied right from palmtop to a size that needs a crane to lift it. There were many tempos and mini trucks transporting the deity amidst song and dance. Dholak sellers were selling their dholaks but would also play it for small fees for a procession. I asked them where do they get their dholaks from. First, they said Delhi, and when I asked where in Delhi, they said Amroha. When I told them I had got my Dholak from Amroha, they were amused. When I asked the price, there were two numbers quoted. One if I wanted to buy and one if I wanted to write about it. And it had both of us smiling.
All the Ganeshas had the essential elephant head, but it could take any avatar on this street. He could be his father Shiva, he could be the Krishna, he could be Venkateshwara and even flaunt his six-pack abs. I would have wanted the aesthetics to be better but then the enthusiasm and liveliness made up for the lack of it. The sheer numbers and varieties of the statues indicated the scale at which the festival is celebrated.
From here we moved to Shah Ali Banda, closer to Charminar to see the big Laddus that Sweet shops there sell. Our first stop was on the main road that had big conical Motichoor laddus from less than a Kg to 20+ kgs, decorated with silver foil. There were white Modaks as well but in their small usual shapes.
Kalash shaped Laddu
In the Khowa Gali, we spotted these Laddus that were in the shape of a Kalash or a pot – bright yellow colored Laddus covered with silver foil, decorated with green colored leaves and then painted in red with auspicious signs lie Swastika and Om. Babu Singh proudly posed with his laddu and let us peep into his work area where these Laddus were being crafted. Rarely do we go behind, the shops to see how the Mithai is being made? So it was learning to see the Bundi being made in the far corner. Then Pedas being given shape in the palm of the hands. Followed by the food artist who spent an hour decorating each of the big laddus.
He answered our questions with a smile. And shyly asked which newspaper will his picture come in when I said – the Internet – he was confused. Is it bigger or smaller than the newspaper is what he could not place?
What was intended to be a festival pandal walk turned out to be a discovery of his favorite Laddu and we are not complaining!