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Friday, Oct. 27, 2006 - 1:20 a.m.

The people threw the gods into the sea during the night, but when morning came, the gods had returned. They did not return seated royally on their altars, nor standing, nor carried on the blistered brown shoulders of worshippers. They re-appeared on the beach at first light, sunken in the sand as if by the power of their own fallen magic. There is a pink elephant, representing Lord Ganesha, on its back with its trunk broken off. The massive blue visage of Krishna is cast at the sky with a still fierceness, but half its face has been lost to the sea. Peacock statues lie marooned on their sides. Broken cement torsos are scattered across the beach. Waves slide up the sand and retreat, lathering these broken gods with swirling saltwater.

Through the twisted haze of firecracker smoke, disembodied lips part and close with the utterance of chants. The evening before, the procession had meandered its way through the narrow, black streets of Bombay, with devotees beating tin drums, blaring Hindi music from loudspeakers, carrying the cement statues of gods from the temples and the homes of believers to the sea. The falling of their dirt-caked feet on the uneven tar of the streets is a steady, hushed percussion, an auditory trance keeping time for the procession. It is the last day of Ganeshotsav and across India, idols are being immersed in lakes, rivers, seas. The gods are departing and will return within the year. And as the procession lengthens, evening slowly surrenders to night.

The electric gods garlanded with flowers, wires and Christmas lights seem to float in the blackness across the beach. The cold lightless water surrounds the ankles of worshippers, who bear the weight of the idols on their shoulders. In unison, they release the first of many Lord Ganeshas into the black water. The drumbeats are interminable and sustain the night. The morning light that arrives on the Indian coast will reveal the broken statues and their paint-chipped skins. The light will reveal the grey, cement bodies, and the flawed nakedness of gods. But for now, the drums continue to beat, the night folds in on itself, and the footprints of two thousand worshippers cannot be seen on the darkened sand.


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