Gauri Ganapati- The festival of Maharashtra

Temple - Gauri Ganapati Article ImageLike 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

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Art of Living through Yoga

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Ahead of World Yoga Day, which is on 21st June, lets try to understand the basic idea of Yoga. The more common practise that we know of yoga, has driven the whole world towards it, like some mystical form of the Holy Grail. Yet, Yoga is not limited to exercise alone. This 5,000 year old wellness pursuit is the art of living that ignites positivity in everyone.

Yoga is a beautiful forum to explore, practise and experience the universe through oneself. Ashtanga Yoga, has been misinterpreted as eight ‘limbs’ in yoga. However, Anga in Sanskrit it means sections or levels. Thus, ashtanga actually  translates to  eight levels of yoga. It demands a complete control of the mind, body and soul, once you start evolving through it. It includes mastering the control of your inner self, your body and creates a positive attitude through yourself. Many know Yoga as a self-healing process and  it helps in curing different ailments of the body. It allows you to recognize your true potential and  spiritually awakens your soul. Of course, this is  all true. However, in order to achieve this exalted state, entirely, it should be practised in a systematic manner.

The Eight Stages of Ashtanga Yoga

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YAMA: Yama means moral observance that helps one to attain harmony with the universe. Yama is a result of five liberal principles that when practised regularly, will direct you towards being in harmony with the universe. When one masters these principles, unknowingly, you attain the next level of Ashtanga Yoga.

NIYAMA: Niyama allows you to  attain  harmony with your body through another five principles of moral observance. In a way, it intends to purify the inner elements of the body. When we speak about the body, it does not mean the physical form but, the identity of an individual in the universe.

Yama and Niyama are two fundamental facets of Ashtanga Yoga that work in unison to emancipate oneself. Therefore, when you start practising Yama, in a way, you start practicing Niyama as well. The 10 principles of moral observance to be in harmony with universe and yourself are an initiation towards bringing a positive shift in your life.

Link for 10 Principles of Yama and Niyama:

ASANA: If you Google Ashtanga Yoga,  the images thrown up, show people in  impossible poses, flexing and toning their bodies. Asanas are, in fact, a mirror to learn about yourself. But, Asana is just a stage amongst the other eight stages that comprise  Ashtanga Yoga. When you start practising Asanas, you learn unknown things about the body and about yourself as a whole.

Unfortunately, when one commences  learning yoga, the first thing you learn are the limitations of your body that can deflate  your ego. It forces one to have  feelings of inadequacy and mental intolerance. However, it is at this time when you have to be consistent and self motivated. As you move through these three stages onto the next, you will have taken the  first step towards  better living. When you practise Asanas, you learn a lot about your body. You are more aware of your body and you gradually start focusing on your existence.

PRANA: Prana here means the awareness of pranic energy. It is the art of regulating your breath, learning how to use breath to your benefit. Breathing is something that we do naturally. However, we have never learnt a systematic form of breathing. When you learn how to regulate your breath, your body starts responding in a completely different manner. It washes out the impurities, accepts only what is best for the body and processes it accordingly.

PRATYAHARA: The ultimate control of the five senses of the body means Pratyahara. The fundamental objective of this stage in Ashtanga Yoga, is to stop abusing the body – physically, emotionally or mentally. Getting addicted to food, toxic substances, ill thoughts, self-doubt are some ways how we abuse ourselves.

Pratyahara teaches us to end these addictions and take control of ourselves. Remember, when our elder folk used to preach – ‘your body does not control you’? In a way, sometimes,  too much dependability on our physical being has led us to abuse it dangerously. When one practises Pratyahara, this dependability is reduced and we attain the next stage of Yogic livelihood.

DHARANA: Once you have mastered all these stages, Dharana teaches you to control your mind. The above stages teach you to attain satisfaction one by one, gradually streamlining us towards one single point which is The Mind. It helps us in our focus, keeps our undivided attention on things that matter, and takes control of our restless behaviour, which reflects in our lifestyle as well.

DHYANA: ‘Maun’ which is eternal silence, is something that you learn to master in Dhyana. Just as different poses of the asanas comprise  ‘Asana as a stage’, Maun is that facet which comprises Dhyana. When you consistently practise Dharana, you gradually  reach towards Dhyana. Dhyana or meditation helps us to achieve silence in our mind.

SAMADHI: When you have established Dhyana for a very long time, you reach the stage of Samadhi. As this is the final stage of Ashtanga Yoga, many repudiate from this stage. Mostly, because it is misunderstood as the end of living. However, this is the most pure, unblemished stage of Yog Sadhana. Samadhi leads to control of  life and death. You can choose to live or die when you have mastered all the seven stages in Yog Sadhana.

Many of us attempt to master Ashtanga Yoga and all its stages simultaneously, because of which, we forget the significance of a methodical manner. Ashtanga Yoga is a method that gives a new way of life to those who practice it. So, on this World Yoga Day, lets understand the importance of a Yogic lifestyle whilst also using it as a form of exercise alone.

 

Lakshmi : Patron of Fortune, Affluence and Prosperity

 

The serene existence of magnificent Maha-Lakshmi temple amidst the commotion of a busy traffic signal across Sarasbagh in Pune might strike as rather odd. Built with pristine white marble in Dravidian architectural style, the temple opened to public for worship in 1984 and has since been held of great religious significance in the city. Devotees can instantly feel a sense of calm and peace dawning upon them as they walk through the elaborately carved entrance. Tranquility takes over as their bare feet touch the cold marble beneath. They are mesmerized as they take each step through the line of pillars and walls carved in intricate patterns leading up to the Idols of Sri Mahsaraswati, Sri Maha-Lakshmi  and Sri Mahakali. Pune’s Maha-Lakshmi temple is a site worth visiting.

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Lakshmi is the goddess of affluence and abundance and her pictures adorn shops, business establishments and homes. She is said to be the goddess of 16 forms of worldly wealths including fame, courage, victory etc. Maha-Lakshmi is an incarnation of goddess Lakshmi. While Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, portrayed as standing on a lotus, Maha-Lakshmi’s iconography portrays her riding a lion like Durga.  She is particularly popular in Maharashtra. She is said to be the root of all creations.

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Goddess Lakshmi is often taken to be a “restless” goddess who comes and leaves without warning! Good fortune come and leave without apparent reasons! That is why in order to please Vaibhav Lakshmi (goddess of riches) some people observe a fast on Fridays. It is considered to be an auspicious day to invite Lakshmi home to replenish wealth and fortune.

The person observing the fast has to wake up early in the morning, clean the house, bath and wear clean clothes. Cleaning the house is an essential part of the fasting ritual for Lakshmi is known to abhor untidy homes and lazy people.

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The ritual of puja is performed which begins with the decoration of the puja alter with flowers. There are three ways of performing the puja. Either an idol of Lakshmi, or a four sided oil lamp or a copper kalash filled with rice is placed on the alter. If a lamp is used, it is lit and decorated with vermilion and rice. In case of a kalash, it is filled with rice and decorated with mango leaves and inverted dry coconut. Incense sticks are lighted and a sweet is offered as a prasad. With folded hands the person has to chant Lakshmi mantras or a single mantra is to be chanted 108 times on a Rudraksha mala or Kamal gatta mala.  The puja culminates with an arti and distribution of prasad. If a rice filled kalash is used, after the puja the rice is mixed with the stock of rice in the house. The person who is fasting has to give up food during the day and eat a simple meal at night.

Popular festivals of Diwali and Kojagiri Purima are the two main Hindu festivals when Lakshmi is celebrated and worshipped in all its grandeur.

Her popularity is evident from the fact that the Indian equivalents of English titles Mr. and Mrs. are the prefixes Sri and Srimati, the sacred names of Lakshmi. It signifies that the married men and women have the blessings of goddess Lakshmi to sustain and perpetuate life. If you are seeking affluence in something, the prefix or suffix Lakshmi or Sri is added to it e.g. Shanti Sri (abundance of peace), Rajya Lakshmi (wealth of empire).

Numerous equivalents of Lakshmi are found in other Asian cultures. Kishijoten in Japan, Vasundhara in Tibet and Nepal and Dewi Sri in Indonesia are some of the close analogues of Indian goddess Lakshmi.

Interestingly and ironically, in religions like Buddhism and Jainism which preach and practice worldly renunciation, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is greatly revered and worshipped.