'The Making of God': India's Ganesh Chathurti festival
Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who Hindus believe can remove all obstacles and bring good fortune, is celebrated in the annual 11-day Ganesh Chathurti, at the beginning of September.
Having been involved in the festival since childhood, 37-year-old Mumbai photographer Rajeev Rai captures the four-month preparation in villages outside Mumbai, such as Pen and Kalayan, which are dedicated to making Lord Ganesha idols in various poses, colors and ornamental designs.
Sizes vary, anything from a few centimeters to more than seven meters tall, depending on customer requirements.
"We had a Ganesha coming to our home as children and we would get involved in decorating the temple at home and visiting places where artists worked," says Rai.
"So I went back to these villages where we used to book Ganesha idols. The artists knew me so were comfortable with me photographing them at work."
Trendy Ganesh idolsThousands of Ganesha statues are transported through the streets of Mumbai during the festival and placed in decorated temporary tents for devotees to participate in prayers and take blessings.
On the last day of the festival, a huge street procession involving singing and dancing is held with all the Ganeshas taken to the sea to be immersed.
And the following year the cycle is repeated with a brand new Ganesh.
"Devotees keep demanding fresher, newer designs with each passing year," says Rai. “This year I have seen many Ganeshas in cricket form as India won the 2011 cricket for example."
"I’ve also seen Ganesha in Lord Krishna forms holding a flute, or in a dancing pose like Shiva. These different creations are to send the message to devotees that god is in all forms," he says.
Initially a physics student, Rai spent two years in New Delhi studying textile design and then switched again to professional photography.
His exhibition, "The Making of God" -- which will be held at the National Centre for Performing Arts for the duration of the festival -- is a series of pictures on the process of crafting hundreds of Ganesh idols.
Rai documents the sculpting, chiseling, painting and delivery of the idols, illuminating a backdrop to the Ganesha festival that's often lost in the spectacular visual of the main parades.
Tip from a photographer: Avoid the beaches on the last day of immersion as crowds are difficult to control. Unless pandemonium is your thing. In which case, the best views of the Ganesha Chathurti festival are from the famous Lalbaug Chalala which displays a 25-foot Ganesha idol in central Mumbai.
September 2-10, noon-8 p.m.
National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), opposite Oberoi Hotel, Yogakshema, Nariman Point; +91 (0)22 2283 3838.