O My Lord Ganesha, I Miss You

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It’s been 38 years since HE has been making HIS divine presence felt in my house. The house gets transformed into a temple for the seven days when HE sits smiling on his throne, laden with jewellery, mouse in tow, surrounded by modaks and all the goodies that come along with the festivities. I can’t remember childhood days without having HIM over. It was a ritual in my maternal grandfather’s home to bring Ganesh’s idol during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival to celebrate HIM and HIS grandeur; a ritual which my lovely mom chose to continue when she got married. And since that time there has been no looking back, as HE arrives home every Ganesh Chaturthi and makes life for those seven days such a pleasurable experience.

Ganesha comes home! Why & how - a dip into history of #India and #Tilak #Ganeshotsav… Click To Tweet

8484645512_6c093c3cf7_kGanesh Chaturthi or Vinayak Chaturthi is a major Hindu festival celebrated especially in Maharashtra, in the honour of Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (the fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date normally falls between August and September. The festival usually lasts for 10 days (sometimes there can be an additional day or two), where thousands of small and gigantic idols of Lord Ganesh are worshipped for 10 days and immersed  in huge processions of worshippers shouting ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’; on the day ending on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the waxing moon period). In modern times, the festivities involve bringing clay / mud images of Ganesh in public pandals (temporary shrines), which are worshipped for ten days. At the end of the festival the idols are immersed in a body of water, such as a lake. Many Hindus also bring Ganesh idol in their homes and continue with the festivities for 1, 5, 7 or 10 days as per their devotion. With time, the festival has now gained popularity all over India, with celebrations in south India and Gujarat being no less spectacular than those of Maharashtra. Outside India, it is celebrated widely in Terai region of Nepal and by the Hindu diaspora in the United States, Canada, Mauritius and other places.

Ganesh Chaturthi being celebrated in Kerala
Ganesh Chaturthi being celebrated in Kerala

While Ganesh Chaturthi was celebrated as a major event since the days of the Maratha King Shivaji (1630–1680), it was the year 1893 that brought a major change in the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi. Not many people are aware that it was Lokmanya Tilak, an Indian nationalist, social reformer and freedom fighter who reformed the annual Ganesh festival, from being a private celebration into a grand public event. Till 1893, Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations were a private affair, not done on a public scale. People used to celebrate it in a traditional manner. It was Lokmanya Tilak who popularised Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival, after visualising its cultural importance. The reason for this was to enhance the sense of belongingness as well as togetherness amongst the citizens. It was also done with an aim to build new grassroots unity between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins. The festival acquired a more organised form all over India during the Swaraj movement, when Lord Ganesh was chosen as a rallying point for protest against the British rule, because of his wide appeal as ‘the God for Everyman’. One of Tilak’s strongest movements to evoke nationalism, through religious passions, was the organisation of Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra, which inspired feelings of Hindu unity in the state. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first person to install large public images of Ganesha in pavilions and he was the one who established the practice of submerging all the public images on the tenth day of the festival. Ganesh Chaturthi soon started seeing community participation and involvement, in the form of cultural events. It also served as a meeting point for common people of all castes and communities, at a time when social and political gatherings were forbidden by the British Rule.

The legend about Lord Ganesh’s birth is that Parvati, the consort of Shiva, created Ganesh out of the sweat and dirt off her body while having a bath and breathed life into the figure. She then set him the task of guarding her door while she bathed. Shiva, who had gone out, returned and as Ganesh didn’t know him, he didn’t allow him to enter. After the combat between Ganesh and the Shiva Ganas (Lord Shiva’s soldiers), finally the angry Lord Shiva severed the head of the child. Seeing this, Goddess Parvati was enraged and Lord Shiva then promised that her son would be alive again. The other Gods searched for the head of a dead person facing north but they found only the head of an elephant. They brought the head of the elephant and Lord Shiva fixed it on the child’s body and brought him back to life. Lord Shiva also declared that from that day the boy would be called Ganesh (The Isha of Ganas: Lord of Ganas).

Back at home, the preparations for Ganesh Chaturthi would start over a month in advance. One has to select and book the idol as you may not necessarily get one of your liking the day the festival starts. Huge temporary shops are set up by the sculptors where some idols are ready and some are work in progress. You can choose the idol and let it remain in the shop until the day arrives. If done months in advance, one can also give a design to the sculptor who will then make the idol to order at a special price. The choosing of the idol is a big ritual on its own and so much fun as well. Arrangements are then made to create a special place in the house where HE can spend the seven days joyfully. But the real fun begins on the day HE is supposed to arrive.

In the good old days, we used to bring HIM home with a lot of hullabaloo, music, dhols etc. Over the years, the whole process has become more simplistic, subdued and more spiritual, I guess. The kids have grown up and with that the mind-set has changed. So, on the special day when He is supposed to arrive home, the special puja ki thali is arranged, along with a bag that dad, my uncle, my brothers and some friends take along with them. It has a coconut, a scarf to put on Ganeshji’s head, garland, flowers, vermilion and incense sticks. Ofcourse, not to forget, my father’s conch! Dad is one of those rare people, who blow the conch during prayers. All prayers and religious ceremonies in my household are incomplete without him blowing the conch and inviting the Gods home.

When our small procession brings HIS idol home, mom does a puja at the door to welcome HIM. We usually get the idol the previous night, so all is settled and there is no rush on the actual day of the festival.  The way the festival has gained popularity, it is becoming more and more difficult to bring HIM in the morning hours due to the mad rush. Once HE is settled on HIS throne at home, all of us spend atleast a couple of hours admiring the idol and how it is different from last year and the talks just go on till the middle of the night.

Rice Modaks for the Ganesha at home
Rice Modaks for Ganesha at home

The next morning, the main puja starts. It is called the ‘sthapna’ (arrival) which means that Lord Ganesh is officially being invited at home for the next seven days and the permission to worship him is seeked. The puja is usually done by a panditji, but in case the panditji is not available, my father does it himself. He is absolutely well versed with all the rituals and is a scholar of the Hindu scriptures. The sthapna puja is a long one and takes two hours atleast. At the end of the puja is the aarti – wherein we sing bhajans praising Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesh.  Before the aarti, all the men in my house blow the conches together (yes, we have a huge collection of conches of all sizes). When they blow the conches, it sounds like music to the ears; loud yet divine. Because of the fan whirling on top, the sounds become spiral and there is a beautiful harmony and melody that gets composed on its own. It makes one feel that one is already in heaven listening to the music of the Gods themselves. It is one of the most precious moments of my life, one that I long for always. The puja ends with the delicious prasad being offered to everyone, and putting the vermilion on the forehead of all the devotees.

This ritual continues for seven days since we have celebrated it for seven days right from the beginning. Life at home is a total riot during the festival because so many relatives, friends and strangers as well come to visit and offer their prayers. Mom makes a lot of goodies – from the traditional rice modak to the daily charnamrut (yogurt with dry fruits), there is something special every day. Lunch and dinner made at home for the seven days is first served to the Lord and only then everyone at home eats. All days are fun but the classic day is the sixth day since we also have a Satyanarayanji ki Katha that day – where a special invite is sent to all and sundry to come home for the prasad. Legend has it that the prasad after the Satyanarayan Katha is very powerful and must be offered to as many people as possible. On that day we have visitors until 2 – 3 a.m. because people come for the visit as per their convenience and after their daily chores are over. With the blessings of the Lord, our house doors are always open for the visitors whether we know them or not.

On the seventh day, the ‘visarjan’ (departure) puja is done in the evening.  It takes a while for us to actually take the idol for the immersion and to get everything ready for the procession. So once the puja is done, five male members touch the idol and move it a bit as a mark of completion of the visarjan puja and that HE is ready to head to the waters. There was a time when we would hire the band and the famous Nashik dhol for the procession. The band guys would be standing outside the house and would start playing while the aarti was in progress. The whole atmosphere would be charged and we would have tears in our eyes because we were going to bid farewell to our favourite Lord. The idol is then picked up by one of my brothers or uncle and taken to the decorated cart waiting for HIM downstairs. I can’t forget that picture – how the band would keep playing, walking ahead of HIM, people dancing with the band and we would walk with the idol behind the band and dancers, and climb down the five floors of my building. What grandeur! All our neighbours would be out of their houses to pay their final obeisance to HIM before HE came back the next year.

Those days we would take HIM on a fruit cart which would be decorated in advance for the procession, with the Nasik band playing as if there were no tomorrow. I still can’t believe we would actually dance on the streets – the so-called famous Ganpati dance as we Mumbaikars love to call it. I get goose pimples even now, just thinking about it. We would walk bare feet behind the cart all the way to the beach. Ofcourse, now things are different. We prefer a quieter procession and take HIM to Girgaum Chowpatty for the immersion. The idol is placed on the sands once we reach and the final aarti is performed on the banks of the Arabian Sea. Once dad blows the conch the final time, the boys pick up the idol and walk towards the sea for bidding the final farewell of the year to the Lord of prosperity and intellect.

These days the government makes huge arrangements for the immersion and one doesn’t need to go all the way into the deep seas. We can hand over the idol to the officials there in mid-seas and they do the final immersion. Ofcourse there’s a lot of excitement there too, as the kids play in the water and we keep looking longingly till we can even see a small speck of the idol that graced our home for seven days. The eye becomes teary on its own as farewells are not the easiest elements in human emotions.

It’s a fun-filled seven days in the house and I am going to miss it for the first time in my life. I hope and pray that HE graces my home for years to come and bestows us with HIS blessings and love.

Those who are not from Mumbai or Maharashtra and have never witnessed Ganesh Chaturthi must visit Mumbai or Pune to see the grandeur and magnificence with which the Lord is celebrated. You cannot miss it in this lifetime. Do pay a visit to the famous ‘Lalbaug ka Raja’ as HE is popularly called in Mumbai. They say anything you ask HIM for gets fulfilled. 🙂

Lal Baug Cha Raja (Courtesy Firoz Shakir)
Lal Baug Cha Raja (Courtesy Firoz Shakir for his permission to use this photo)

Bollywood has left no stone un-turned in popularising the festival. Here’s one of my favourite Bollywood song honouring the Lord.

And here are some pictures of the Lord Ganesh at home over the past few years.
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bappa on wings

bappa3

bappa4

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cherry cheeni

immersion

mom dad during katha

mom dad

on sands

visarjan puja
Featured Image source: Flickr

Other credits: Ganesha Ganesha Chaturthi

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