The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is a distinct blend of grandeur, charisma and liveliness that is unmatched
Words: Pooja Kulkarni
It’s that time of the year when we eagerly wait the arrival of our much-loved and revered deity—Lord Ganesha. Ganesh Chaturthi, which falls on September 13th this year, is observed with a lot of enthusiasm and vigour in many parts of India; but when it comes to Maharashtra, the celebrations take on a whole new meaning.
For the people of Maharashtra, Ganeshotsav (as the festival is popularly called in the state), is sacrosanct and routines revolve around everyone’s favourite ‘Ganapati bappa’ during the 10 days of this festival. Attending the daily morning and evening aartis, preparing varieties of prasad to offer the lord, visiting friends’ homes as well as public pandals late at night to watch the elaborate celebrations, participating in public processions, different cultural programmes and more such fun activities held during the festival, becomes a norm for almost every household.
Preparations kick-start months in advance and the first lot to get busy are the clay artists who make Ganesha idols. Despite the presence of local manufacturers in every city, the historic town of Pen in Raigad district still remains the largest creator and exporter of Ganesha idols. The place has gained fame over time for its eco-friendly Ganesha idols, crafted by the artisans using shadu maati or natural clay.
“The art of sculpting Ganesha idols has undergone a massive change over years,” says Anand Devdhar, an artisan from Pen. He adds, “The younger generation of artisans draws inspiration from movies and TV shows to add a contemporary touch to their artworks, but traditional designs like the Peshwa (reclining on a couch), Kamal (lotus), Shankh (conch), Bajirao (with headgear) or the ones that are inspired by images from popular Ganesha temples from all over, are an all-time favourite with the customers.” Idols made from natural clay are priced higher due to the extra making-time required, informs Devdhar. “The cost of an idol depends on the size, material and finishing quality of the idol. It usually varies between Rs 500- Rs 50,000,” he adds.
Next in line to gear up are the dhol-tasha artistes who perform in front of the deity during the arrival and farewell processions apart from special events including Bollywood celebrity home visits. The practice sessions begin almost two months prior to Ganeshotsav and are held at all venues available, including schools and college grounds to empty spaces under flyovers and bridges!
The work of dhol-tasha artistes is important and challenging. Excellence in playing and coordination between the artistes is achieved through daily practice under the guidance of expert trainers as apart from seasoned players, there are volunteers from varied backgrounds. Navin Saple, a dhol player in Mumbai’s Morya Dhol Tasha Pathak says, “Getting an opportunity to play the dhol-tasha during Ganeshotsav is considered lucky and a matter of pride. So we never refuse if anyone wants to participate even if he/she is a novice. This year, we have planned to introduce simple formations like swastika, diamond or lotus so it is easy for beginners to pick up.”
Zeroing down on the perfect idol is not easy. Sharing some tips, Smita Inamdar, 55, a homemaker from Pune says, “Details like the idol’s posture, direction of the face, trunk placement need to be checked as there is a meaning associated with it. Ganesha in a sitting position with the trunk pointing towards the left is considered ideal and auspicious.”
Another important element of the festival are the magnificent, themed decorations that public pandals put up. Right from mythological tales, folklore, historic temples, palaces to subjects with strong social messages such as global warming, corruption, organ donation—the themes depict it all.
“All our hard work seems worth it when thousands of visitors flock our pandal and watch the décor in awe. Every year we create the idol out of paper mache and organic adhesive which makes it eco-friendly, ” informs Anna Thorat, president of Pune’s Akhil Mandai Ganapati Mandal. Domestic decorations are simpler and usually limited to flowers, lighting, ribbons, balloons, etc.
It’s a tradition to bring home the Ganesha idol, covered from head-to-toe in a silk cloth, a night prior to the festival. On next day morning, the Ganesh sthapana (puja) is done after which, Ganesha is offered his favourite flowers like hibiscus, rose, lotus, etc. and modak (a sweet dumpling) as prasad.
The public processions are led by popular and landmark Ganesh mandals of the city and followed by the rest. Accompanying them are artistes playing the dhol-tasha, lezim, blowhorns and conch shells, as well as dancers, flag bearers and lakhs of devotees belonging to all age groups. As the royal-looking, giant-sized Ganeshas seated atop elaborately decorated vehicles pass through the city’s major areas up until they reach homes / pandals, the air is filled with excitement and sounds of the chants of ‘Ganpati bappa morya’.
MODAK AND ITS VARIETIES
People binge on modak, which is believed to be Ganesha’s favourite food, during the festival. Apart from the traditional ukdiche (steamed) and fried modak with coconut filling, there is khoya, chocolate, dark chocolate, pista, mango, groundnut strawberry, dry-fruit, malai and more. Til, semolina, chana dal, shrikhand, paneer, litchi are some of the new entrants in the market this year. Another unique sweet made during the festival is khirapat, which is a dry-mix of desiccated coconut, powdered sugar, cardamom and dry fruit powder.
TOUCH OF GLAM
Celebrities aren’t ones to be left behind when it comes to showcasing their love for bappa. Apart from popular Bollywood actors who invite dhol-tasha groups every year to their homes, directors, singers, music composers, theatre personalities and the likes, take time off from their busy schedules and pay a visit to popular Ganesh mandals to seek blessings from the lord. Many movie directors are also known to kick-start their new projects during ten days of Ganesh festival for auspicious beginnings.
Considering the rush of the countless mandals (in Mumbai alone, approximately 1,50,000 idols are immersed annually), the farewell procession begins at midnight on the tenth day. With changing times, most groups have started opting for eco-friendly methods of immersion, but some still follow the conventional mode of immersing the idols in a riverbed or in the sea.
The grandeur of the farewell procession is a reflection of the one witnessed during the arrival time, but moods are sombre as the thought of sending bappa back home after ten fun-filled, energetic days sets in an empty feeling. As the procession culminates, the pace of the city almost comes to a standstill. Finally, prayers are said and Ganesha is sent home, but not without a promise to come again next year and unfold the same magic.