By the time this post gets published we will be having our own Ganapati adorning the designated place in his own adopted house for the next few days. The houses will be full of activities – preparing special meals with all Ganapati’s favourite dishes including the most important Ukadiche modak, twice a day puja and arti followed by Prasad, entertaining visitors and finally bidding farewell to our most beloved guest with moist eyes. Everything so predictable and yet so endearing!
Like every Maharashtrian, I feel a special bonding with the festival. Not bringing the deity to our own house did not dampen our spirits as small children. We simply went to neighbours’ houses and participated with enthusiasm in decorating the makhar (temporary puja house, mostly made out of thermacol or flowers), picking durvas, reciting artis and generally helping in every which way possible. When I got married I became involved in all the rituals first hand from making modaks to looking after the arrangements for the puja. Being the new daughter in law in the family at that point of time, the help was expected in the kitchen. Among all the other delicacies making modaks under the vigilant eyes of the elderly ladies of the house was the ultimate acid test.
Making perfect modaks is an art. Their many folds are expected to be just so…delicately crimped and filled with the exact amount of jaggery and coconut filling. The thick modaks with just four folds pinched around its surface are highly looked down upon. The shape is very important…..many petals are brought together and firmly joined together on the top. Second most important dish cooked during this period is the Rishichi bhaji. It is made on the second day of Ganapati festival called as Rishi Panchami. This particular combination of various seasonal vegetables is cooked together without anything made out of any animal’s efforts(that’s why no grains but only roots and wild veggies found in the woods) including salt. Yes, you get exclusive Rishi’s salt. Apart from modak and the above mentioned bhaji there are many other delicacies that change with the caste and region. Many houses that host not just Ganapati, but Gauri, his mother, have a different kind of feast. Gauri who comes to visit her son on the third of the festival prefers the spread of either mutton, chicken and vade or some sweets especially puranpolis along with some traditional mixed vegetables over the satvik ( without onions and garlick) food preferred by her son.
How I always envied the people who have Ganapatis for five days or seven days or ten days! They got to keep Bappa for a longer time, but then I wonder if we feel so much vacuum in our house after ganapati’s two days stay, how much emptiness these people must be feeling on the day of visarjan. Ganapati’s existence changes everything in the house. The mixed smell of flowers, camphor, burning lamp, incense, the daily Prasad, puja, visitors and after his immersion everything becomes same routine, mundane. Final part of this Utsav is accompanying the deity to the beach, lake or a river with the fanfare.
For years we used to take Ganapati for Visarjan to Dadar Chowpatty in Mumbai. I always loved the charged atmosphere at the beach and not to forget the ritual of eating bhajjis near Udyan Ganesh in Shivaji Park. While standing there I could neutrally observe the movements of the people –The ones that would be accompanying the deity would be joyous, jubilant, dancing on the rhythm of Ganapati Bappa Morya…Pudhchya varshi lavkar ya… , spreading gulal in moderate quantity (large quantity being reserved for the tenth of Ganapati that is Anant Chaturdashi), generally moving at a slower pace as if to stretch the last few minutes with dear Ganapati. On the other hand those who are returning from Ganapati immersion look matter of fact, quiet, fast paced, without any fuss they get into their vehicles and move towards home. The visarjan of the huge Kings of pandals takes place with the utmost pomp and glory. The large decorated trucks are preceded and followed by many smaller trucks carrying paraphernalia such as sound systems, lightings while the band, dancers, devotees walk all the way with their lord. The volunteers and police try their best to keep the discipline and many generous organisers make the water, first aid and food available for the devotees.
On the day of Anant Chaturdashi we used to take our places on the balcony of a relative who happened to have a house overlooking one of the busiest junctions of Mumbai. We would love to watch magnificent idols thronged by thousands of devotees dancing on the rhythm of Nasik dhol and banjo forgetting the world around them. This sight used to make my heart heavy with some unknown feeling. My children used to wait for the next Ganesh idol to come along the way with equally grand procession perhaps this time some jugglery and lezim thrown in. The bigger the better. I always marveled at the absolute faith and devotion and wondered whether I would ever be able to do this.
However, I liked being part of all this because of my shifting out of India, for the last few years I missed all these things sorely. Now that I have shifted back to India for past couple of years, I enthusiastically sat in front of the television to watch The Ganesh Visarjan being telecasted live from different immersion points in the city, but unfortunately that previous feeling is replaced by cynicism. That could be the aftereffect of taking a ferry off The Gateway of India and hearing some of the revolting comments made by the people in my company about the yellowish brownish water lapping on the sides of the boat. The idea of lowering our beloved Ganesha in this water was not at all appealing.
Without being a preacher or spoiling everyone’s mood I would like people to think over with a cool head (I know that is too much to ask)and think do we really need these kind of massive idols to prove our degree of devotion or is it a display of the Mandal’s wealth to outscore other such Sarvajanik Ganapatis? Mumbai’s population has increased manifold and so has the number of pandals that have mushroomed in every nook and corner and each one competing with the other in terms of decoration size of the idol and number of celebrities visiting it. We have come a long way from the original idea of Lokamanya Tilak’s public celebration of Ganesh festival. By doing immersion of thousands of Ganapatis in the already polluted waters of Arabian sea we are making it unbearable for its habitat if it still exists in the vicinity of the coast.
Last few years the trend of eco- friendly Ganeshas made of shadu ( a kind of clay) has taken its roots in a certain segment of the society which has gained momentum this year. I hope this movement reaches far and wide and by next year many more pandals opt for them. Same applies to the Ganesh idols brought to our houses. I hope most are sticking to the idols made of clay and opting for the artificial water bodies created by the municipality for the same purpose. This is one admirable programme initiated by the then Mayor of Mumbai Shubha Raul. She, in fact, opened the gates of the Mayor’s bunglow for the people to utilize the ponds specifically dug in its garden for the purpose. I have actually seen her urging people to spread the idea of having more and more such ponds in their areas so as to control the pollution of the sea. It is not every day you come across such environmental conscious politicians. My respect for the lady grew immensely there and then.
Last few years I have also seen a trend among the educated class of that of bringing a very small idol made of shadu and immmersing it in water kept in a specially made pot till it dissolves completely and then using that water in the garden. I applaud these people. They are the real devotees of God Ganesha who is a God of wisdom, intellect, rational thinking and above all a presiding deity of all sciences and arts. What can be a more appropriate gesture than thinking independently and weighing our decisions not just by the emotional standards but by applying logical scales too.
Now though the number is low, I am sure it is going to increase every passing year and soon we will have a festival befitting to this God of enlightenment. A clean, green and of course grand festival without noise and environmental pollution. I am sure that day is not far away if all us instead of getting stuck in age old and hence outdated rituals look forward and say yes to new traditions just the way we accepted new dressing , eating and living style. I am sure Ganapati Bappa himself will take this task on his able shoulders and will give right sense to all his devotees. Till then, GANAPTI BAPPA MORAYA AANI PUDHACHYA VARSHI LAVAKAR YA!!