With these words, hundreds of thousands of devotees across India would have welcomed the very loved elephant-head God, Lord Ganesh into their homes for his annual visit.
The festival, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between August and September. The festival usually lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi.
While the festival is celebrated all over the country and across the Indian diaspora, today’s post will mostly focus on the way it is celebrated in my home state of Maharashtra and is full of nostalgia….
Earlier, homes in Maharashtra used to celebrate Ganesh Chaturti like others in India, by worshipping him in their homes. But all this changed in a large scale when the legendary freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak, who impressed by the first Sarvajanik (Public) Ganesh idols installed by Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari Ganpati, Bhudwar Peth, in Pune, praised it in his revolutionary newspaper Kesari and started using the concept of Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav to disseminate the concept of freedom from the British to the people of Mumbai. The concept then took up and has not looked back since then. Till around 20 odd years, it was mainly restricted to Maharashtra, but these days, you can find Sarvajanik Ganesh Pandals all over the country.
Weeks before the festival, Ganesh Mandals (groups) would have decided on the theme of their Mandal and would have ordered the idol based on the theme. Then they would collect donations from the neighbourhood and using this would buy the decorations for their mandal. The mandals also vie with each other to put up the biggest statue and the best pandal and the duration of the idol’s visit would have cultural activities like singing and theater performances, orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, and charity for the poor.
The idols, both communal and the ones at home are worshiped in every morning and evening until the departure. The worship involves various offerings to the idol including flowers and durva. Each durva bunch has 21 shoots and the shoots have either three or five strands. Other offerings like modak also have to number 21 in Ganesh worship. The daily worship ceremonies ends with the worshipers singing the Aarti in honor of Ganesh, other Gods and saints. The Ganesh aarti sung in Maharashtra was composed by the 17th century, saint Samarth Ramdas.As per the tradition of their respective families, the domestic celebrations come to an end after 1, 3, 5, 7 or 11 days when the statue is taken in a procession to a large body of water such a lake, river or the sea for immersion. Due to environmental concerns, a number of families now avoid the large water bodies and instead let the clay statue disintegrate in a bucket or tub of water at home. After a few days the clay is used in the home garden. In some cities, a public eco-friendly process is used for immersion.
Some of the Ganesh idols in Mumbai are iconic, among them being Lalbagcha Raja and Mumbaicha Raja, which are usually one of the biggest idols in the city and GSB Seva Mandal’s idol where the idol is said to be made of gold and some of the ornaments are said to be made of diamonds!
What’s a festival without sweets and the neividhyam (offering) for Ganesh Chaturti is Modak or Kozhakottai as its called in Tamil. This is Lord Ganesh’s favourite sweet and different families have their own recipe to make this delicious sweet!
Writing this post is making me very nostalgic to be in Mumbai. In all the years that I’ve been away, I’ve never been able to get back for this festival. This is my favourite festival as Lord Ganesh is my ishtadev (favourite God) and I can remember how we went to major roads to see the Ganpati idols making their way to the pandals or go pandal-hopping the day of the festival and across the 10 days to see the major Ganpati idols or even standing for hours on Anant Chaturdashi day to see the idols being taken for immersion…
I’m going to leave you with the Aarti I love for Ganpati which is sung by the nightingale of India, Lata Mangeshkar. This song never fails to soothe my soul….
Ganpati Bappa Morya, Mangal Murthi Morya