It all started off with me spotting Lord Ganesha in a dragonboat, sitting pretty on the dashboard of the Uber I got into on a September morning in 2018. That’s a rather unusual Ganesha you have, I mentioned to the cab driver.
That was all it needed to get the driver talking. Appasaheb, that was his name, liked unusual designs and was very particular about what he surrounded himself with. Like the Ganesha in the dragonboat he had picked up from a shop in central Mumbai — he knew it would be perfect to adorn his cab dashboard. The conversation flowed and when I arrived at my destination, I was surprised to find that 40 minutes had elapsed.
A few days later, I was in a cab again and the first thing I noticed was the Ganesha on the dashboard, this time with a mini parasol. Like with Appasaheb, I got chatting with Sanjay, the cab driver. Thereafter, it became a habit to look at the dashboard as soon as I got into a cab and chat with the cab driver about the God placed there.
Little did I realise about the significance of that conversation with Appasaheb. What began as a series of fun capture about the Gods on cab dashboards soon turned to random shares on Instagram Stories. But over weeks and then months, these shares turned into an entire series with its own hashtag called #DashboardGod and conversations which I did not share.
To initiate a conversation, all I had to say was, “Where did you get the <insert name of the #DashboardGod> from?” The answers were surprisingly varied — gift, from a pilgrimage site, from mother/father/wife, and so on. What was not surprising was that the maximum number of #DashboardGods was that of Ganesha, Mumbai’s favourite God. Richly adorned or plain, decked with fresh flowers or plastic flowers, with an umbrella cover or not, turbanned or without a head cover, Ganesha reigned supreme on the dashboard.
Which is not really surprising as Ganesha is the remover of obstacles. And traffic jams are obstacles, right? 😉
Presenting a selection of the dashboard Ganeshas. You will notice that no two dashboard Ganeshas are alike; for that matter no two #DashboardGods are the same. Do click on the first picture — it is the one that started it all — and then use the arrow keys to see details of the others. Do come back to see the other #DashboardGods.
I didn’t argue with him for I don’t drive a car, but I did the next best thing — I gave him a poor rating and explained why I did it. (Yes, I’m mean that way)
I found the idea of two #DashboardGods most interesting. The reason given by the cab drivers was that this was done to keep all members of the family happy. And besides, too many Gods never hurt anyone, right? Presenting a selection of the multiple #DashboardGods. Do click on the first picture and then swipe to see details of the others in this lot. There are more #DashboardGods to see, so do come back to read the rest of the post.Samarth Ramdas Swami (Shivaji’s spiritual Guru), Swami Samarth of Akkalkot (considered by believers to be an incaarnation of Lord Dattatreya), Gajanan Maharaj (considered by followers to be an incarnation of Lord Dattatreya), Swaminarayan (also known as Sahajanand Swami and considered by followers as a manifestation of God), and Sahib Bandagi.
Sahib Bandagi was the only ‘God’ I was not aware of. The cab driver enlightened me — this is a spiritual organisation led by Sant Satguru Madhu Paramhans Sahibji who is called Sahibji by his disciples as he is the founder of this organisation. When I mentioned my ignorance about this organisation to the driver, this was his response:
“I’m glad that this is not a mass movement with people flocking and running for darshan and favours like it is with Sai Baba. Lesser the number of people knowing about Sahib Bandagi, the better. Only then can true believers persist and flourish.”
Do click on the first picture and then swipe to see details of the others in this lot.
Do click on the first picture and then swipe to see details of the others in this lot. We are not done with the #DashboardGods, so do come back to read the rest of the post.
I don’t believe in idol worship, but when I saw this crystal Buddha there were strong vibrations emanating from it and I had to get it. This is the only idol I have and this is the only one I will ever have. I don’t need anything else or anybody else. The Buddha guides me in my thoughts and action. My driving, my interaction with you. See the light shining through it. Can there be anything purer than this?
The second cab driver had picked up his Buddha #DashboardGod during Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations in Mumbai a couple of years back. But he wanted to get one from Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur for, according to him, the best and most genuine Buddhas were to be found only at that place. He was saving up to go there and was hopeful of making it to Deekshabhoomi before the end of 2019.
I had only one instance of a Sikh cab driver and he personified everything that is cliched about people from Punjab. He was jovial, had a great sense of humour, played some foot tapping music, and his infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on to me even though I was at my grumpy best on a Monday morning. When I asked him about his #DashboardGod he said he had nothing to do with it. He personally didn’t believe in God or any form of the divine. It was his mother who insisted that the DashboardGod be placed in his car.
And you know what mothers are like, right? If I hadn’t agreed, she would have spanked me. Oh yes she would have. You don’t know my mother. I may not believe in God, but I believe in my mother.
Initially, the conversations with the cab drivers were only about the #DashboardGods. But slowly, the conversations expanded to other topics — dreams, hopes, aspirations for the future, family, Mumbai, their native places. And faith. With the exception of a few, most were happy to talk about their faith or lack of.
One of the questions I always asked was why did they need the #DashboardGods. The question stumped most of them for they had not thought about it at all. Then answers like “it is the practice” to “how can there be no God in the car” to “my family wants it for my protection” to “I want it for my protection” would slowly tumble out. One driver said that he didn’t need the #DashboardGod for his protection; rather he needed it for the protection of other drivers who may or may not have a #DashboardGod of their own ! Some drivers said that the #DashboardGods were not just their protectors, but also their constant companions and support on long and lonely rides.
Faith comes in many forms and the DashboardGods are just one of its many manifestations. It is a visual culture of everyday life in a city like Mumbai where interactions are many, but lasting connections are few. And in a city where most of the cab drivers are far away from their families, it is the #DashboardGods that are a constant in their lives.
- All the #DashboardGods featured here, with one exception are from Uber rides between September 2018 and April 2019 in Mumbai.
- All photographs were taken only after the driver gave permission to do so. Since the vehicles were on the move, most of the photographs are not clear.
- Over a 100 #DashboardGods were photographed, though only a fraction has been shared here.