We’ve been patiently waiting for a weather window for our nearly 500-mile passage to Vanuatu, the next country on this year’s itinerary, but this area of the South Pacific continues to throw us sporty winds and big seas, conditions we like to avoid if we can. We spent quality time with friends in Musket Cove, then Denarau, another touristy area, and managed to get all our ducks in a row for the coming months. But Denarau Marina had no berths or moorings available and the anchorage is rolly and uncomfortable for half of each day. We said another sad goodbye to Bruce and Di of Toucan and motored in flat calm back to Saweni Bay for a few more days to wait for the waves outside to settle before heading out to sea.
We no sooner had the anchor down than Jack said he could hear chanting and drumming on the beach, and what’s more, we could see a couple of buses that didn’t look like city buses. We dropped the dinghy in the water, grabbed the camera and putted in to investigate. As we got closer we could see it was a Hindu celebration of some kind and I slipped out of the dinghy and waded to shore while Jack stayed onboard.
I found this group of young men and asked the one with the earphone what the occasion was. He told about how the Indian population arrived in the 19th century mostly as indentured servants and were separated from their culture, but that now they are bringing many of their most treasured Hindu rituals to Fiji. Today was Ganesh Chaturthi, when they offer their prayers to Ganesh, the god of knowledge, that every new activity will be completed without obstacles. I asked if it would be ok for us to take photos and visit the various groups who continued to arrive at the beach by bus and he said we were welcome.
I reported this back to Jack who was by now fending off an onslaught of boys who wanted to climb into the dinghy and go for a ride. These were obviously kids from inland not used to being at the seaside. Jack and I towed the dinghy down the beach out of the way and secured it, then returned to the increasingly crowded celebration.
We were witnessing groups from many temples arriving together at the beach and setting up temporary shrines with clay statues of Ganesh, then praying and dancing around the shrine. As with most Hindu rituals, there was incense and offerings of plates of food and flowers. We could tell that some groups were well off, with huge and elaborate statues and shrines and expensive clothing. Others were more modestly dressed with smaller Ganeshes. But all were equally devout and full of joy. Some of the groups played music or chanted and before long we were in the midst of a cacophony of drumming and wailing horns and singing.
Part of the celebration involves brightly colored paint powders and Jack and I were daubed by a joyful passerby.
As each group finished their prayers the statue of Ganesh was loaded on a boat and as many people as possible climbed aboard for the ride out in the bay while the rest watched and sang from the beach.
Out on the water there was more chanting and singing, then Ganesh was tossed overboard where the plaster will dissolve and the prayers he holds will be released and travel to the sea and be answered. After the statue the people tossed in more offerings of flowers.
We watched at least a dozen groups come to the beach, perform their worship and immerse their Ganesh, first from the shore, then from the deck of Escape Velocity, until finally by sundown the cove was quiet again and only the flowers remained to show that something remarkable had happened, and that we were lucky enough to be there to experience it.