Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Festivals – Ganapati Pooja

Hinduism is a way of life. Consequently we celebrate everything associated with life - birth of Gods, victory and marriage of Gods, death of demons, new year, new months, full moons, new moons, harvests, birthdays, initiations, marriages, deaths and anniversaries - you name the event, and it is a reason for celebration, music, dance, processions, exotic food and the rest. If you have the time, inclination and money you can go the whole way.

Generation earlier used to conduct religious festivals with a lot of passion, zeal and fan fare. The intensity and fervor of these festivals have been diluted over a period of time. Even in my generation and my social circle, the desire to conduct festivals at home has been on the wane. Today, fewer people offer traditional prayers on a daily basis and in all likelihood there will be further dilution with the generation next.

Why has this change come about?

In a competitive society people are extremely busy with work and find very little time for anything else. Free time has become extremely precious and utilized in a very careful and prioritized manner. In addition people work and live all over the country. They marry people from different communities and faith. They end up practicing a mixture of different cultures, traditions, values and forms of worship. People are more exposed to science and technology which makes them ask questions, seek answers and proofs. They are unlikely to accept anyting at face value. Performing rituals without knowing its significance does not attract the youth.

Unfortunately our system of worship has remained the same over the years. The priest narrates the shlokas mostly in Sanskrit which is not understood by the majority. We sit quietly and follow his orders without the slightest clue as to what he is saying. We need to seriously redo the whole process wherein all the worshippers understand the reason and significance behind each action.

Religion and festivals is a product of social requirements of the day. The social environment dictates the level, nature and variety of worship in almost all the religions. Society is constantly evolving and dynamic - what was in fashion a generation earlier may not be of any significance today. In the years gone by festivals were forms of social expression. They provided an opportunity to express their member ship to a particular community, meet up with kith and kin and bond. It gave a sense of satisfaction and inner pleasure to observe festivals.

Over a period of time things have changed. The variety of festivals my parents observed was many. Gowri, Ganapati, Lakshmi, Dusshera, Balipadmi, Vijayadashmi, Ramnavami, Navratri, Gokalashtmi, Deepavali, Shivratri, Ugadi, Guru Purnima, just to name a few. Due to Various reasons we observe only two festivals - Ganapati and Satyanarayana Pooja. What my children will observe is very hard to say. Am I perturbed by this decline as we perceive it? The answer is an emphatic NO. My children will be dictated by the need of the hour and adjust accordingly, so will my grandchildren.

By all means do change – in your own way try and lead a life which has a place for culture, customs, traditions and a method to acknowledge the existence of the Creator.
On the contrary, the festivals have moved from the private to the public domain in a very big way. Politics and big money has made its way into religious festivals and totally changed its color and complexion. Commercialization has become an integral part of these functions. Festivals such as Ganapati, Navratri and Krishna Jayanti are celebrated in an extremely lavish and extravagant style. Stakes for ‘Dahi Handi’ competition during Krishna Jayanti have always been high in Mumbai, a city that perfectly embodies India’s religious fervor, but the grand prize money apparently announced this year was Rs 60 lakh, three times the price in 2009. If reports are to be believed, there are 10,000 Ganesha mandals in Mumbai alone. Lalbaugcha Raja's mandal cash collection exceeded Rs 5 Cr in 2009.

Ganapati is the most popular and loved god in the Hindu pantheon. God they say is omnipresent and Lord Ganapati has literally entered all facets of our lives. Any function, event or venture that we undertake today starts by invoking the blessings of Ganesha. He is everywhere in the pooja room, drawing room, car and the work place. He is extremely popular with the children.

I do not know where to begin or what to write on Ganapati festival. All that needs to be said has been said and there is very little left for us late starters. So I will keep it personal and write what it means to me. We have worshiped Ganapati ever since I can remember. My maternal grandfather, Shankar Rao Joshi was an artist and sculptor and used to make Ganapati from clay and paint it with attractive colours. Ajoba made Ganapati for us and his brother. He would let me stand at a distance and allow me to watch his dexterous fingers play with clay and give it shape and life.

Gowri and Ganapati pooja meant two days of holidays. As the elders were busy with the preparation, we got endless opportunities to be out and playing. My mother would have started the preparations well in advance. My father would pitch in to make the mantapa and decoration. After my Ajoba passed away, we used to buy the Ganapati from Gandhi Bazaar and carry it in a plate sprinkled with rice. Ganapati would be installed the previous night with lot of care and attention. Ganapati pooja has always been a very big socio - religious event and people put in a lot of effort to ensure their show is successful.
Click on photographs to view bigger image

The festival lunch is similar to any other, but for the ‘Kadabu’ (Steamed pastry with assorted sweet filling) which is made especially for Ganapati. In the evening I would set out with my friends to visit various houses keeping Ganapati. We were required to worship 108 Ganapatis.We would go to each house in the colony and ask whether they were keeping Ganapati. We would then offer prayers and eagerly wait to receive the tasty ‘Prasda’. We were also instructed not to see the moon that night. As anyone seeing the moon would be wrongly accused of theft. Ganapati would stay with us for three days and finally immersed in a well. The immersion ceremony would be followed by eating large helpings of delicious Usali (A nutritious dish prepared with sprouted pulses and grated coconut) and Awalakki Masaru Anna (Beaten rice with Curd)’. AMA is extremely tasty. Somehow we get to eat it only during Ganapati pooja.

Whilst in the navy I was not very regular in keeping Ganapati at home due to the nature of work. Since retirement in 1995, we have always observed the festival and invited kith and kin to join us in the celebration. Responsibilities have been clearly demarcated – I am in charge for bringing home the Eco Ganapati, provisions, pooja materials, fruits, flowers etc. LOH task is to decorate the mantapa and prepare lunch. As it is difficult to obtain the services of a priest on that day, we have always conducted the pooja helped by narration on a cassette or CD.The same evening we do the visarjane and immerse the god in a bucket of water. The next morning, the clay is put into the pot containing Tulsi (Basil) plant and scattered amongst other pots.

As usual my son Vivek, daughter in law Shubra and our grandchild Samara came for the pooja. It was extremely heartening to hear my ‘not yet 3 year old’ GD sing “Jai Ganesha, Jai Ganesha deva”. My daughter Akhila along with son in law Anirban and our grandsons Ayaan, Agastya and Aarin who are in Mumbai went to their cousin Resh and Arvind's house to celebrate the festival.

In Shubras words “Chumbak was born out of love for India and the love of travel. Along the way, Chumbak became a lot more than just fridge magnets! Chumbak became a way to take back a piece of India ... in the form of fridge magnets, key chains, t shirts, bags, pens, books and various other stuff….. And then I met Alicia Souza. The most awesome illustrator and my partner….. The rest they say is history…..

Vivacious Alicia Souza joined us in the Ganapati pooja celebrations. Affectionately called ‘Ali pronounced Alley’ has specially designed an exquisite fridge magnet for Ganesha Chaturthi. She wanted to be a part of the pooja to gain better insight of the deity she had just designed. She presented us this lovely fridge magnet which has totally captured the beauty and universal appeal of Lord Ganesha. Bravo Zulu - Alicia, Shubra and Vivek.

Visit http://www.chumbak.in/ for more details.

To all readers of my blog I wish “May Lord Ganesha bring you good luck, health and prosperity!


  1. Thanks Allie for the brilliant caricature of "Samundarbaba" - who is - Poseidon,Neptune and Varuna - all rolled into one.It fits the bill perfectly.Aye Aye Sir.

  2. I love the new blog header!
    Its perfect :)
    The Ganpati Pooja pics are fantastic - Samara looks so adorable - and I can imagine her sweetly and diligently singing 'Jai Ganesha' :)

  3. It reminds me of days when all of you were of the same age.Remember you as the court guru singing an english song in the Tennali Drama.

  4. haha! :D
    I can never forget the summers we spent with all of you - they were the best!