The God of India

Poorna Kulkarni
Saturday, 31 August 2019

Ganesh festival starts from Monday. Not just Maharashtrians, but people from other parts of the country too celebrate it with reverence and following rituals and traditions that are unique to their region. Poorna Kulkarni finds out what makes this utsav a pluralistic one.

The most-awaited months in the Hindu almanac are Shravan and Bhadrapad. The latter ushers in the 10-day festival of their most revered deity — Ganesh. In Maharashtra, the celebrations acquire epic proportions, bringing together flocks of people, belonging to different castes, creed and religions even. It typefies the public celebrations that were initiated in the early 19th century Maharashtra, to emphasise the social and political unity of Indians living under the British rule. 

The festival, which celebrates the many skills of Ganesh — as a warrior, orator, dancer, musician and so on — has also taken roots in various regions of the country. From making clay idols at home in Tamil Nadu to doing ‘kalash’ puja in West Bengal to worshipping books and pen in Odisha, the celebrations have their own flavour.

Here we speak with people of different regions to know how they celebrate the arrival of the most loved deity and the various practices and traditions associated with it. 

At home in West
Jigyasa Lakum, a media professional, speaks about the Gujarati rituals and traditions. The Mumbai resident says, “We have a tradition of Akhanda Deepa that means we light an oil lamp and keep adding oil to it at regular intervals so that the flame doesn’t die out. Like Maharashtrians we too offer modaks for naivedya.” 

Richa Pandya, a PR professional from Rajkot, says that the trend of pandals is picking up in her city. “The eyes of the Ganpati idols that are brought to pandal before or on the first day are covered with a fabric. The fabric is removed after the puja is performed by the priest. After the sthapana, people gather and sing aarti, and chant mantras. Durva and hibiscus flowers are offered to the idol. Aartis are sung twice a day,” informs Pandya. 

Shruti Kothari, a media professional from Jaipur, says, “There are two famous temples, Moti Dungri Ganeshji in Jaipur and Aakde ke Ganesh ji in Amer, that are thronged by the devotees. Mud idols are installed in pandals for 11 days. This is so because there are very few flowing water bodies in Rajasthan, and so pollution becomes a big issue on the day of the visarjan. But the mud idols can settle underwater without causing pollution.” 

In Goa, Dr Aditya Barve, the traditions and rituals are similar to what we have here. The only exception is that in the decorations they include Matoli, which is placed above the Ganesh idol. “Matoli is an exhibition of seasonal diversity that includes fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs available. We also have ghumat, a music instrument and keeping to its taal, we sing our aartis. For naivedya, besides modak, we have a sweet called Managane, a kheer made out of chana dal, sabudana, jaggery and coconut milk,” says Dr Barve. 

The Ayurveda practitioner also says that in Goa, the Sarvajanik Ganesh pandals are erected for 21 days. “The idols are made from the shells of coconut, sea shells and skin of betel nuts. The state government gives grants to the clay idol makers,” he adds. 

Up north 
Prachi Bhatia, a student from Delhi, says that they celebrate Ganesh festival just like they celebrate Navratri, with bhajans and mantra jaap. The bhog mostly consists of laddoos and barfi, which are said to be Ganapati’s favourites. “We use flowers for decoration and do not burst crackers or use colours,” she says.  

Shubham Verma, a social science researcher and writer from Vidhisha, Madhya Pradesh, says that the festivities in his state are quite similar to those in Maharashtra, considering that many Maharashtrian reside in MP. 

“The Ganesh festival is celebrated in both jhanki also known as pandals, and at homes. After the Murti Snaan with Panchamrut and water, we put on janeyu (sacred thread) and offer durva and marigold flowers to Ganapati. As prasad, we offer him coconut, ladoos, karanjis and halwa,” says Varma.  

“On immersion day, the civic body installs kunds near the water bodies, where the idols are deposited. The broken parts of the idol are reused for idol making,” he adds. 

Further up in north, Sarhad, a city-based social organisation, will be part of the Ganesh festivities in Lal Chowk, Hanuman Mandir at Srinagar. Sanjay Nahar, founder of Sarhad, says, “A few Marathi families from Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur, are settled in Srinagar since 50 years, working as goldsmiths. Earlier, they would celebrate Ganesh Utsav for 10 days in their homes. For 18 years now, they have been setting up a pandal near Hanuman Mandir, where they keep the Ganesh idol and worship it. The Muslim community supports the festivities. In our Puranas, Kashmir is associated with goddess Parvati, so this festival is important for Kashmiri Pandits, who worship Lord Shiva. We’ll send the Ganesh idol to them this year and be a part of their celebrations.”

Move to East
Whether it’s West Bengal, Bihar or Odisha, the rituals and traditions in the eastern region are similar. The idol is brought home or to the pandal, followed by the pratishtha (pratishsthapana) and puja by the priest and the bhog (prasad) offered is laddoos. In Odisha, the festival is also celebrated in educational institutes. 

Suparna Bose, a teacher from Bhubaneswar, says, “The pandals are put up across the city and in many educational institutes for seven days. Alongwith Ganesh, idols of Karthikeya, Lakshmi and Saraswati are also installed. The big pandals also have mela, sometimes with orchestra. Also, people in Odisha ensure that their children are initiated into learning, education, after worshipping Lord Ganesh. The children do the puja of the slate and chalk, after which they write ‘Om’ on it. In West Bengal, there is a similar ritual called Saraswati Puja.” 

Rochana Sengupta, who is working as a project scientist, says that they celebrate Ganesh festival for one and a half day. “We also do puja of the kalash, which is decorated with mango leaves and coconut. To Ganesh, we offer modak made out of khoya kheer and in the prasad we offer Puri, Aloo sabji, Payesh (kheer in Bengali), fruits and some Bengali mishti like Sandesh and Roshogulla.” 

In Bihar, people do a simple puja. Says Rachana Singh, an entrepreneur, “I get the clay and shape my idol out of it. After the puja and sthapana, I do the abhishek with milk and offer durva mala. I also offer Panchamrut and fruits as prasad. On visarjan, I immerse the idol in a small vessel that contains water of river Ganga. After the idol is completely dissolved, I use the water for plants.” 

Down South
Five states — Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Seemandhra and Telangana — comprise the southern region of India. 

Karnataka shares its borders with Maharashtra and so there are similarities in how the people of the two states worship Ganapati. The only visible difference is the naivedya offered to the Lord of Wisdom. Sudha Kittur, a bank official, says, “We too make steamed modak (Ukadiche Modak in Maharashtra) and recite Mantra Pushpam (Mantra Pushpanjali) for 11 times. But our naivedya is different from what is offered there. We offer Puri, Modak, Potato and Beans Subji, Kosambari (salad made with pulses). On the day of Ashtami, we offer Sakkare Holige, Hoorna Holige (Puran Poli), Besan Laddu, Broken Wheat Kheer, Lemon Rice and Curd Rice.” 

“In temples, the prasad is served in cutlery that is borrowed from the residents living in the neighbourhood. Some social groups collect steel plates, spoons and bowls, on which stickers are pasted to identify the owners. After the festivities, the cutlery is returned to respective owners. This is practised to avoid using plastic and causing pollution,” adds Madhu Kittur, a software professional. 

In Tamil Nadu, the Ganesh idols installed in home are made of clay and importantly are made by family members. They are also not painted the way idols sculpted for commercial sale, are. Shobhana Kalyan, a yoga teacher who is residing in Bengaluru, but is originally from Chennai, says, “After sculpting the idol, we offer durva and a mala of Erukkam flowers which grows in wild. We also offer an umbrella depending upon the size of the idol. People start their new ventures as Lord Ganesh is known as ‘Remover of Obstacles’.”  

Another Chennai resident, Thulasi Sudhakaran, performs the puja for the clay idol of Pillayar (Ganapati in Tamil) and gives it to the local temples, who take care of the immersion. The Masters student says that in every area, the temples make Pillayar idols with different materials like fruits, flowers, leaves and laddoos depending on their financial capacity. “That is one thing people here always look forward to. We offer Kozhukkatta (steamed modak in Tamil), a variety of fruits, millets, milk, puffed rice, Sakkarai Pongal and Payasam as naivedyam,” she adds. 

Aishwaraya Kalro, a social entrepreneur, says, “Our naivedyam includes a variety of ladoos, rice items and sugarcane.”

Surya Tej Borra, a software manager, says that Ganesh Chaturthi is an integral part of Hyderabad’s life with more than 40,000 pandals put up. “At home, people decorate the clay statue with a wooden shade called Palavelli. We perform the Vinayaka Vratham, a traditional puja, where we offer durva, bhringaraj, datura, ber, tulsi, apamarga, sindoor, tej and kadali. We also listen to the story of the birth and rise of Ganesh as the leader of the Ganas,” he says.

“One of my most distinct memories of Ganesh Chaturthi is that books and pens are kept in the pujaghar which are believed to have been blessed by Ganesh for our  success. For naivedya, we offer Kudumulu or Undrallu (steamed balls/ dumplings), made from rice, rava and chana dal along with steamed modak. We also have delicacies like Pulihora (tamarind rice), Poornam Boorelu (fried fritters with sweet stuffing), Medu Vada and Bobbatlu (a form of Puran Poli),” he adds. 

Chaitanya Devarakonda, film editor, who has adapted eco-friendly practices, says that they get their clay idols and have seen a few people making idol from the soil in the paddy fields and then worshipping it. “On the day of Nimajjanam, we immerse the idol in flowing water, so that it goes back to the fields, from where it came,” he says. 

Talking about rice, which is a common ingredient in the prasad that is offered to the lord, Devarakonda says that’s because it comes from the first paddy crop of monsoon harvested in South and West parts of India. 

Kerala is known as ‘God’s own Country’ for a reason and that is why the celebrations are much more simpler and less polluting. Deepa Soman, an archeology graduate from Trivandrum, says that Ganesh Utsav is mostly celebrated in all temples where Ganapati is the main deity. She says, “On Vinayaka Chaturthi, pujas are conducted in Pazhavangadi Ganapathi temple. People offer archana in the temples after which the priest gives them coconuts. One week prior to the festival, pandals are installed in the city. In the pandals, coconuts, modaks and fruits are given as prasadam by the organising committee.”
 

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