Pillayar chaturthi (or Ganpati as its popularly known in Maharashtra) to me was never a fussy festival. My childhood ritual was that my sister and I would go to the market with my Thatha (grandfather) with a pagala (plank) on the morning of Pillayar chaturthi and buy a clay pullayar with fake red eyes, which always looked angry to me, along with arugampul, erukampu and some random wild flowers garland. A small puja and a good lunch followed. A week later, the pullayar would be immersed in our well in the backyard. That's it! No big buzz or celebration.
And then I moved to Bombay!
Ganpati is really a huge thing here. When I told people here that I was going to bring a Ganpati home, I was told that it was a huge responsibility. I didn't understand why. Then I figured that when Maharashtrians brought Ganpati home, someone was awake and attending to Lord for the entire duration that he was at their house! There were big pujas and aartis everyday. Huge pandals with even huger Ganpatis were the most common thing. Just when I thought they had celebrated Ganpati bapa to the maximum, I saw my first Visarjan here.
I was surprised to see everyone out on the streets. And I mean EVERYONE. Old women, little children, teenage boys. Some dancing to random devotional songs and some other Munni Badnaam. But what I was most struck by was that they were there. The kind of kinship and bonding that happened during this one long procession is unrivaled.
Of course, there's the littering and the pollution. But I'm still awestruck by the entire celebration to notice all of that!