At ten thirty pm, I’m curled up on my couch, alone for a few hours. I’m working on some recent photographs, my computer overheating from the task. In the distance, I can hear the tempo of elaborate drumming. I ignore it for the time being. The celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi is still in full swing, and every day the gaiety of the festival seeps into my apartment. Firecrackers go off at any time of day, their explosive booms causing my heart to skip a beat. After nightfall, multicolor fireworks burst above apartment complexes and company buildings miles away. A few days ago, well into the night, I watched a group of 15 men and boys celebrating courtyards over. The quick drum beat music quickening to a climax over and over. Full of energy, they danced wildly, bodies outlined by a tungsten lit shack housing a Ganesh idol. Yesterday, while visiting Hosa road’s market, the street reflected the ongoing celebration. Amongst the fruit and vegetable vendors, a large corrugated metal structure covered in plastic loomed. What it contained wasn’t a mystery to me, I touched the plastic outside cover as we drove by on the bike and twisted around to see a dizzying display of colors inside. Ganesh in all his splendor, drawing Hindus from every angle. On the opposite side of the street, where alleyways between the small business shops lead to apartment villages, clusters of women were gathered around on the pavement, crafting deeply colorful rangolis (freehand design of sacred shapes using natural sand-like ingredients). Children squatted around the finished designs, laughing and playing. Above them, thin strings of blue, orange and green lights zigzag across the alleyway’s gap between apartments. In the fading cloud diffused light, I stood watching them, cursing myself for not having brought my camera for fear of rain.
Back in the present, I’m analyzing a photograph I took on Ganesh Chaturthi during my visit to the temple, a close up of a bronze color metal entryway, Ganesh’s image imprinted alongside another God. As I play with the sepia tint, the drumming gets louder, harder to ignore. The bass resonates through my windows and walls, the rhythm filling me with an irresistible urge to move my body in tandem. I toss my computer aside and run to the southwest facing windows of my bedroom pull back the curtains, and slam open the window. I’m struck by the cool night wind, tainted with the fresh scent of rain, and further excited by the sharp increase of the drums echoing across the distance, and reverberating around the walls of my room as if it were a cave. The subtle glittering lights from the hundreds of apartments outside provides the room’s only illumination as I search in my closet for my camera and zoom lens.
Camera assembled by feel, I pad across the icy marble floor and climb onto my bamboo chair propped against the wall. I start video taping the scene before me, my camera unable to perceive the light that my eyes still see; the image grainy from pushing the ISO. Although I could only dream of catching the constellation of Bangalore lights outside my wind at night, what I really want to document are the beat of drums. Ten stories below, on the small road running parallel to my apartment, and disguised by the deep shadows of the buildings, I make out a tractor slowly pulling a flat trailer with a ten-foot high Ganesh idol. A group of performers surround the idol, entranced by the rhythm of their music. I make out the sound of South India’s classic bronze cymbals known as elathalam. They complement the sharp and impossibly fast beat of tasha drums. Several people make a shrill whistle common to popular Punjabi songs. The most overwhelming sound is a deep base drum, its eerie thum thum… thum thum….thum thum… beat booming through the house and my body, reminding me of the alien heartbeat of a monster. As Ganesh is escorted down the road, random spectators dance in celebration. The tractor comes to a halt under the orange light of a street lamp, and passersby stop their motorcycles to observe and pray.
Two days later, the celebration is repeated at 11:30 pm, this time the escort includes several idols of Ganesh, with a larger crowd of drummers. A small goods truck carries an idol backdropped with a flat display comprised of small neon lights. It reminds me of a large light bright display, the bulbs illuminating buildings with unnatural florescence in passing. As they reach the intersection of the dirt road with Hosur main, a series of firecrackers are set off, and the beat of drums quiet for only a few minutes, before another three displays roll through. Each night’s celebration, I spend it half hanging out the window from my vantage point, shooting the scene and attempting to keep the heavy camera body balanced and still. I am utterly enthralled by the display, moved, and energized by the archaic sounds of exotic drums. When both groups meet at the intersection, they meld into one giant and bedazzling herd of noise. As they head back to their village their images slip into the night, though windows closed and wrapped in my blanket, I can still hear them playing into the distance
Check out this video, it is a closer look at a similar drumming celebration: