By Aruna Joshi
Hosting Ganapati for six days is a heady experience of devotion, celebration and creative joy.
Ganapati Bappa Moraya! Three words but what a wealth of devotion, love and dedication they evoke in my heart! Although all the country loves the lord, we Maharashtrians cannot help claiming him for our own. After all, no other part of the country receives the Lord with as much ceremony as we do. No other part of the country stops in its tracks for 10 whole days to host Him.
In those 10 days, music spills out from every street corner, the rich percussion of drums sound out all through the night and the sonorous sounds of aratis with the ubiquitous Sukha karta, dukha harta, varta vignachi (Bestower of joy, and remover of sorrow and obstacles…) brings a catch to the throat of the most stoic believer.
It is in the houses where the Lord resides these 10 days that Ganapati fervour is at its height. There really is no capturing the experience of playing host to Divinity, for it charges the house with an auspiciousness and joy as families prepare prasad, refresh their rusty skills in music and art, make rangolis and welcome family members. It is a great carnival of sound, sight and spirit.
Although our family has been celebrating this festival for the last 40 years, it was only in 2005 that we decided to reinvent our approach. We wanted this festival to reflect our convictions, and draw out our creative skills. Above all, we wanted to break out of the crust of ritualistic practices and experience its spiritual essence.
Welcoming the Lord
Our preparations for welcoming our favourite Lord starts with decorating the space where the idol is going to reside. The dining area in our house which is almost 8’x10’ is completely transformed for this purpose. Tremendously inspired by the rich and varied cultural heritage of our country, every year we base the theme on the culture of any one state. In 2005, Ganapati sat inside a Gujarati hut in a Kutch village. The next year found him in the sublime environs of the holy cave of Amarnath. The third year, he was proudly seated in a royal sheesh mahal placed inside a courtyard of a Rajasthan fort. In the fourth year we explored the Madhubani art of Mithila, Bihar, by placing Ganapati Bappa on a verandah outside a hut where he blessed the whole village. Last year, it was the décor of one of the Ashtavinayakas, the eight famous Ganapati temples in Maharashtra, where Bappa appeared to be residing inside the cave of Lenyadri. From the last year, we also started the eco-friendly practice of making our own idol from clay. In keeping with the theme, even the prasad is based on the cuisine of that specific state.
This year the theme was the lush green farms of Punjab. We started with bringing home the clay to make the idol. This task requires at least 40 days of preparation as the clay takes a minimum of 15-20 days to completely dry.
With a silent prayer to the Lord we took the plunge into the holy act of idol creation. On a cross (the reference to Christianity filled our hearts with joy) we constructed a basic shape with coir and wire. We then amplified the shape further with coir until a rough image of the deity was visible. This was the cue to slap on the clay. It took us a day to get the basic shape right. Then the idea was to whittle down the clay until the image of the Lord emerged as accurately as possible. Much as we longed for the perfect image, we have learned over time the wisdom of leaving the final outcome in the Lord’s hands while putting in our best efforts.
The mandap decoration started 10 days prior to the start of festival. In the space of 8’x10’ we had decided to grow an actual farm. My husband went to a village about 100 km away from Mumbai, to get paddy saplings and seeds and to learn how to simulate a farm. We decided on paddy because this is paddy season in Punjab. Dutifully, we sowed the seeds in the soil we had placed in the mandap area almost seven days prior to D-day. We watered them thrice a day and inspected them innumerable times every day to catch sight of the fresh green shoots. But not one did we see!
After the fourth day of waiting and watching, I ran out of patience. Only three days were left for Ganapati’s arrival and the soil was barren. I frantically threw in a few mustard seeds as well, known to be a rapid grower. On the fifth day, however, my agony was resolved in the most complete manner. The whole area was green with tiny sprouts of both paddy and mustard.
In the next three days the paddy grew to be almost 6” long. By then we had learnt an important lesson…patience. Nature has its pace and rhythm, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot hasten it. Could our environmental problems be a consequence of our collective lack of patience?
Finally our farm was ready. It had a mini water tank, irrigation canal, a machan, and a scare crow. We pasted a picture of a gurudwara, fields, tractors and a bicycle in the background. The final outcome of the décor was outstanding, thanks to the collective effort of my entire team (I am a practising architect and my whole team of workers participate in the preparations).
In the meantime, the idol was getting ready. Once we were satisfied with the basic shape, the bigger challenge was the painting and bringing life in the idol. We painted the idol with water-based colours and adorned it with jewellery made out of chana dal and almonds (sticking to our eco-friendly theme for the festival). And finally once we painted the eyes, the clay idol sprang to life, as if reminding us that eyes are indeed windows to the soul.
We keep Ganapathi for six days. During these six days a minimum of 200 to 250 visitors flock to our place. In keeping with the Punjabi theme, Guruvani and Shabad-kirtan played in the background and we decided to tailor our prasad to go with the theme. I make it a point to cook the food myself as far as possible. It gives me immense satisfaction and pleasure to serve Bappa’s devotees.
Although our family in Mumbai is small, comprising of me, my husband and my in-laws, I never miss the grandeur of a large joint family (which I used to live in during my childhood) because we have a big extended family and many friends here. My contractor, workers and our close friends participate in this festival as if it is their own home. Even my neighbours pitch in enthusiastically.
One of my neighbours painted a marvellous alpana-rangoli in front of our door extending it till the main lobby. Another made chole for prasad. Bappa’s jovial presence seemed to infuse the atmosphere with bonhomie and celebration.
All the days (especially the weekend) were full of activity especially during morning and evening aartis. We could actually feel our house getting filled with strong positive vibrations, due to the loud chanting of mantras, burning of camphor, and the melodious sound of bells.
Miracles seemed to hover in the air, and as far as I am concerned, one actually alighted in my home. On Sunday, expecting many guests, I prepared what I thought was a more than adequate quantity of chole-tikki as prasad. To my dismay, I realised that I might be falling short. I silently prayed to Ganapati Bappa to save me from embarrassment. Miraculously, not only did the last guest of the day get to savour the prasad, but there was actually some left over for the next day. Lesson learnt? There is abundance in the universe, if we keep our faith and trust.
Among the more special memories of that wonderfully joyous and fulfilling time, was our musical evening on the third night. My husband sings very well. He and our friends kept the spirit soaring with devotional songs that continued from after dinner to well past midnight. (Of course it is part of the delicious lunacy of the festival that it didn’t stop me from getting up early in the morning to prepare more prasad for the day ahead. How did I have the energy? I can only claim I was borne along by the joy and enthusiasm of the event.)
One of the evenings was kept for my team of workers who gathered to sing bhajans in their local languages. This was followed by dinner. My husband and I got a lot of satisfaction from serving each one personally. The joy in their faces was a precious reward.
All too soon, the last day was upon us. With heavy hearts and a lump in our throats we bade our divine guest farewell, but not before we extracted a promise to grace us with His presence the next year.
How like the drama of human life is this festival, for it teaches us that anyone who is born has to go back one day. We take lives after lives, coming to this earth, living our life and leaving one day. But can we make each day a celebration? Can we live every moment fully, and at the same time, step aside and let each pass into the next? Obviously, the Lord can show us the way.
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