Ganapati is my favorite festival – after all I’m a Marathi mulgi. :) I get very nostalgic around this time reminiscing about all the Ganapati’s from my childhood - the excitement of seeing Ganesh idols in the market, the hustle bustle, the festivities, the food, the music, the programs organized by Ganesh mandals, the processions bringing Ganapati home and then the extremely emotional visarjan or immersion processions on Anant Chaturdashi.
Weeks before Ganesh Chaturthi, the grounds next to our home would buzz with the idol makers who would work in a frenzy to add final touches to the thousands of Ganesh idols neatly lined on wooden benches. Some artists would focus on huge idols, some at least 10 feet tall. On our way home we would gaze in awe at the idols coming to life. With his cherubic features, kind eyes and a tiny mouse for company, Ganesh for us, is the most adorable of Gods. Ganapati is the God of knowledge and learning and so our pencil boxes, study-table, books, etc would have tiny Ganapati pictures pasted all over them. We would start counting days to Ganesh Chaturthi eve when we’d choose “our” Ganapati and bring him home.
Decoration for Ganapati was a favorite, much-awaited activity. I use to traumatize K2 and K3 as I considered myself really creative. The poor little girls in their excitement ignored my bullying and worked hard with colored papers, glitter, glue and what not. Most of our decorations used to be hand-made, except for those mandatory lights and paper-chain garlands. Honestly our work used to sloppy at best but the pride and happiness we experienced to have “readied” the place for our beloved Ganapati was priceless.
On Ganesh Chaturthi eve, we would accompany dad to bring home our Ganapati. After much care, discussion and deliberation, mostly based on the color of the pitamber and the overall “cuteness” of the idol, we used to select one small sized Ganapati. With much love and tenderness, just like one fusses over a baby, we would carry the idol home, all wrapped up in a cloth so that nobody saw him before his sthapana the next day.
Ganesh Chaturthi day, a school holiday, would begin bright and early. Mom would get busy in the kitchen preparing the usual festival food so that the prasadache taat (offering for the Gods) would be ready in time. We would spend an insane amount of time doing rangoli in the courtyard – again yours truly bossing over helpless K2 and K3. :( Then mom and dad would be called to mandatorily admire our art, which they faithfully did.
After a quick bath we would dash out to pick “durva”, the fine grass like herb which happens to be Ganapati’s favorite. Durva grows along the road side, in open grounds, etc. It’s also sold around Ganesh Chaturthi. It needs to be picked, cleaned thoroughly and tied in tiny bunches of 5, 11, 21, 51 and/or 101 stalks. Then we used to pick flowers from our garden. Red jaswand, rose, kanher, aboli and parijat – they are all Ganapati’s favorite flowers. Dad would also buy roses and lotus flowers. With this done, we three girls would be done with our work for the day! Phew! :)
Then would begin the long wait for the pooja and prasad. Usually at around noon, our Ganapti would be ready to be “installed” and we would sing five to seven aartis with gusto, accompanied with taal and ghanta. The whole atmosphere would turn magical once Ganapati took his place in our devghar. Adorned with flowers, garlands, durva over his head, colorful lights twinkling, he appeared to smile at us. We would yell “Ganapati Bappa Moraya” at the top of our voice. We imagined that Ganapati was very happy looking at our decoration and the 21 sweet modaks mom would have placed before him. Mom always fried modaks made out of wheat flour. Of course the prasadache taat would have our favorite foods as well.
The 10-11 day festival would thus begin. Every morning we would scout for durva and flowers, do Ganapati’s arati in the mornings and evenings as well, visit our friends’ to take blessings from their Ganapatis, go out to sarvajanik Ganapati mandals to admire the Ganesh idols and the different themes of decoration, participate in various competitions organized by our colony’s Ganesh mandal. To add to the merriment and feasting, Gauri or “Laksmya – pair of Laxmis” would visit in between for three days. Though we didn’t have the practice of erecting Gauri idols in our place my mom would invite our girl friends for lunch. The highlight would be a creamy rice kheer. At my grandparents’ place, Gauri idols are erected and there’s serious work that goes in the decoration. My youngest mama who is very enthusiastic when it comes to Ganapati/Gauri decoration, even has a bamboo structure in place which can be erected easily that works as a mandap or canopy. All he has to do is drape silk sarees over it. This frees up his time to add more detail in the decoration – different lights, crystals, etc.
As days zoomed towards Anant Chaturdashi or the last day of the festival, again a school holiday, our hearts would grow heavy at the thought of saying goodbye to our Ganapati. We felt very protective towards this baby faced diety – so much so that we hoped people would stop immersing Ganapati idols on the visarjan day. With tearful eyes we would sing the last arati in the evening which we would do as late in the evening as possible just so that the Ganapati stayed a bit longer. With a little “khau” of coconut, peanuts, poppy seeds and jaggery for his journey, we would follow our dad to immerse our Ganesh in the nearby well. Chanting “Ganapati bappa moraya, pudhchya varshi lavkar ya” we pleaded with him to visit us soon next year. The house felt empty in the evening and nothing would lift our spirits. We felt such sadness while we chanted in chorus “Ganapati gele gavala, chain padena amhala.”
Ironically, A’s family doesn’t celebrate Ganapati festival for some weird reason. I was overcome with sadness when his mom told me this after our wedding. :( Not fair, right? I haven’t made peace with it yet.
Anyways. As I count my blessings this Ganesh Chaturthi, I wish you readers all the happiness, peace and prosperity. I leave you with the following pics, all the decorations are handmade, lovingly and painstakingly.
Ganapati at K3’s in Virginia (2012)
Gauri/Laksmya at my grandparents’ in Hyd (2011)