Culture and festivals in Mumbai are so diverse, primarily for the fact that this major Indian city has attracted people, cultures and religions from different parts of India through the centuries. There is a delightful diversity of cultures, lifestyles, foods, philosophies and festivities that have co-existed in the city for a number of centuries. Mumbai has been the country’s center of trade for a number of decades. Today, it is still the hub of trade and commerce, as well as religious festivities. It is the largest, richest and most important city in South Asia.
The Mumbai culture embraces a number of South Asian traditions as well as Western cultures since India was under British control for some time. Locals celebrate both Eastern and Western festivals including the Diwali, Holi, Eid, Navrati, Duvati, Moharram, Good Friday, and Christmas. The annual Bandra Fair puts together Eastern and Western beliefs since this festival gathers people from all faiths to commemorate the Nativity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This takes place on September 8. Meanwhile, a modern non-religious festival is the Kala Ghoda, which is a global art exhibit in the areas of music, dance, film and theater.
Another important festival that involves lively music and dancing is the popular Elephanta Festival, which happens in February on Elephanta Islands, a major tourist attraction in Mumbai. People from across the country come specifically to hear classical Indian music and watch traditional dancing.
These are just among the best festivals in Mumbai but clearly the most important is Ganesh Chaturthi, which involves the worship of Ganesha. Ganesha is a superior Hindu deity that is worshipped as the god of wisdom, good fortune, success, and prosperity. Celebrated annually between August 19 and September 15, the ten to 12-day festivities begin with the installation of several statues of lord Ganesh in colorful and highly decorated shrines called ‘pandals‘. These are structures put up by local worshippers using donation money. The pandals are decorated with flowers, lights, garlands, and other colorful items depending on the current year’s festival theme.
Dressed with red or white shawls, priests arrive and perform a ritual to symbolically invoke life into the statues by chanting mantras. The ritual involves the offering of coconut, blades of grass, and red flowers, as the statues are anointed with red-paste material. While this is happening, worshippers chant Vedic hymns from the Upanishad and Rig Veda.
On the 11th day, the statues are taken to the streets and are followed by a lively procession of dancing and singing devotees, filled with fanfare and merrymaking. The statues are then taken to the river or sea to be immersed. This act symbolizes the beginning of lord Ganesh’s journey to his home in Kailash. As the Hindu deity takes off, the crowd of devotees shouts, “Ganapati Bappa Morya, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya” (Oh, lord Ganesha, come again early next year) or “Ganesh Maha Raj ki, Jai” (Lord Ganesha, victory is yours) in other parts of the country. The ritual ends with a final offering of camphor, coconuts and flowers. As proof that Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most important culture and festivals in Mumbai, it is observed all over the country and by Hindu devotees elsewhere in the world.