Drowned Gods: A Holy Holiday Leaves A Huge Mess : The Picture Show After a religious festival, photographer Sanjay Kewlani finds an unsettling scene: broken remains of deities littering the shores of Mumbai.
NPR logo Drowned Gods: A Holy Holiday Leaves A Huge Mess

Drowned Gods: A Holy Holiday Leaves A Huge Mess

The Ganpati festival takes place at the end of each summer, particularly in Mumbai. Traditionally, clay statues of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of beginnings and remover of obstacles, are placed in homes and worshiped for the duration of the 10-day festival. At the end, the statues are immersed in water (such as a river) and left to float away.

At its origins, the idea behind the festival was to invoke Hindu symbolism to foster a sense of nationalism in India's struggle for independence from Britain.

"Over the years the festival has become bigger, noisier and more commercial," photographer Sanjay Kewlani writes in an email. Originally from Mumbai, Kewlani returned in September in time for the festival. "There is corporate sponsorship, competitions to see which idols are the biggest or most decorated — and one can pay a fee to skip queues to view the idols. The Ganpati festival is big business now."

Thwarted by crowds and heavy rain during the festival itself, Kewlani decided to focus on the aftermath. "The road was like a river of cups and plates," he laments, comparing it to the 2005 flood that killed more than 5,000 people in Mumbai. "One of the main causes was attributed to plastic clogging the drains."

At a beach in central Mumbai, Kewlani came across an even more unsettling sight: Broken remains of deities littering the shores.

"These are idols of a god that was worshiped so fervently just a few hours ago," he writes. "Beautifully formed with eyes painted to look lifelike, they were lying on the beach with a blank death stare, while urchins picked through the debris. It makes one think about whether treating the city and the gods in this manner is worth the celebrations."