MUMBAI, India – Every year Raju Laljibhai Dipikar goes out with his wife and three daughters and chooses an elaborate statue of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god so dear to devout Hindus.
For two days the god "lives" with the family in their tiny apartment in Mumbai, his presence bringing them joy. And in return for the love the family showers on him he takes away all their problems, Dipikar says.
So it is for tens of millions of other families across western and southern India when they mark the birthday of Ganesha.
Beautiful idols of the god are purchased and brought home, where they are worshipped. After a few days — every family has its own tradition — the idols, made from plaster of Paris or clay, are carried to a large body of water and ceremonially immersed.
Nowhere is the festival celebrated with more fervor than in Mumbai. For 10 days every year the pace of India's bustling business capital slows to welcome the god, known as the one who blesses new beginnings and removes obstacles.
Apart from the small idols installed in people's homes, massive statues are set up in temporary structures.
Flowers and coconuts and incense are offered to the god as is his favorite sweet treat — dumplings called "modaks," made of a crude sugar and coconut.
The last day of the 10-day celebration is the biggest day, with massive crowds singing and dancing as they carry their idols through the streets, to immerse them in the water, an act that symbolizes sending the god back to his mythical home in the snow-capped mountains taking all the worries and problems of his worshippers with him.