Like Durga Puja is to Bengalis and Raavan Dahan is to North Indians; similarly, Ganapati festival is to Maharashtrians. As September comes, every Maharashtrian starts preparing for the festival. It is celebrated by families, communities, societies, and in public places as well. Although celebrated across Maharashtra, Pune and Mumbai record the grandest celebrations of this festival. The life-like spectacular story models, decorations, Dhol-Tasha, immersion ceremony (Visarjan) everything makes for an enthusiastic environment all through those ten days.
Everyone welcomes Lord Ganesha like he is one of their own; like a respectable family member. For those seven to ten days, every household welcomes this deity by preparing sweets (especially modak), decorating the house, and offering majestic puja every morning and evening. Some families even organize Aarti competition like who recites the most ancient, unknown aarti, or how many aartis can one recite.
There are some households that welcome Lord Ganesha’s sisters, Jeshtha Gauri and Kanishtha Gauri. Every little thing about the festival is celebrated like a fun activity and creativity. Be it bringing in the deity, installing the deity at home or in public, offering everyday Puja and bidding farewell to him afterward. Some families bid him farewell in just one day, some after five days, some along with his beloved sisters Gauri which is after seven days, while some after ten days.
Many ancestral homes follow this tradition of Gauri Pujan where the sisters of Lord Ganesha come to celebrate their homecoming. Like Ganapati, Gauri Pujan is also a pompous celebration by itself.
The two sisters of Ganapati Bappa, Jeshtha Gauri and Kanishtha Gauri are welcomed by imprinting kumkum and haldi footsteps and chanting, “Mahalakshmi Aali, sonyachya paulanni aali.” Along with the Jeshtha Gauri, accompanies her toddler son as well. While some families install toddler son, some families install both son and daughter. Once settled, the Gauri sisters are then decorated by draping new sarees, garlands, jewellery etc. They are then offered a big feast consisting of 18 items; one of which is the sweet beetle-leaves which is considered as a prasaad or naivedya for that day. Apart from the big feast, The Gauri sisters are offered different snack delicacies like Shev, Chakli, Chivda, Anarse etc. (Snacks that most Indians prepare for Diwali).
Some suggest a story that, ’Ganapati has two homes- One in Kailas, which is his parents’ place and the other one which is his devotees’ place. The story suggests, once there was a fight between father and son, that led Lord Ganapati to leave. After leaving, he came and resided in his devotee’s home. But, after a few days, both the parents and Lord Ganesha started missing each other. In order to make amends, Lord Shiva, Father of Lord Ganesha and Gauri, requested Gauri to go and bring back their son. So, the Gauris set to bring back Lord Ganesha. While they were at his devotees place, Lord Ganesha, Jeshtha Gauri and Kanishtha Gauri were so overwhelmed that they promised to return every year to accept the devotees’ services. And from then on, every year Lord Ganesha returns to his beloved devotees to accept their services to him.’
Most commonly Ganapati Bappa resides in his devotees’ home for five days. They offer their prayers, conduct their religious duties and after bidding him farewell, visit the different pandals to watch the uniqueness and majesty it depicts. Of all the cities of Maharashtra, the cultural city Pune is most famous for the decoration and life-like shows. Apart from the Ganesha exhibits, Pune is famous for the farewell procession as well, which is known as Visarjan. The main attraction of the Visarjan is the traditional art forms and the Dhol Tasha Pathak which has a record-breaking time of 32 hours. In Mumbai, it goes beyond 36 hours.
The festival was first publicly initiated by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, to unite all the cultures and castes during his rule. As the kingship receded, the festival found its place in selective homes (Brahmin families). However, during the British Raj, Lokmanya Tilak resumed this tradition with the same purpose as Shivaji Maharaj. As the festival became public, the spirit of devotion and piousness resonated all through the world. Although it might be a festival, both the leaders Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Lokmanya Tilak knew that festivals are the only instances which can unite the masses. Therefore, it was one of the successful strategic moves that these patriotic leaders acted upon to create a better society.
Today, although we are not repressed by some foreign rulers, there are some lingering societal problems like gender inequality, illiteracy, domestic violence, adultery etc. that need to be addressed. Public Ganapati pandals try to address such problems through their skits, spectacular exhibitions and majestic arrangements. In regard to this objective, the Ganapati festival has become a good way to invoke social awareness. While we enjoy the spirits of this festival, we should also empower each other by being a responsible citizen to make a better society, just like every pandal tries to spread this message.
-Written by Snigdha Keskar