Monday, September 04, 2006

Ganapati Puja

‘Its that time of the year again’…Ganapati Puja is here and the entire atmosphere is charged with an air of excitement. A precious guest has come to visit our neighborhood.
A week prior to August 27th I see the preparations begin in the corner of our street. A simple arrangement of 12 strong bamboo sticks tied and supported together are first assembled together. This is followed by a strong waterproofing sheet so as to provide protection to our Guest from the errant rains. And then yes the various banners of the sponsors draping the roof of the ‘pandal’are displayed. The days preceding the actual Ganesh Puja are one of sheer activity. Day after day, bit by bit the scene unfolds much like a drama with its many scenes and props. The first stage involves sourcing a sponsor for the ‘pandal’ and collecting donations from the neighborhood residents. Then the posters appear heralding the organizers name- bold, prominent and colorful. Every year the festival moves with the changing times-more color, more lights, and a bigger idol, sophisticated music systems with speakers strategically placed and everything looks hip and modern.

When the idol arrives amidst much fanfare in a gaily decorated truck, life comes to a halt. There are crowds waiting with bated breath for the precious guest. I stand out on my 7th floor balcony with the children and watch the procession being led with joy and fervor. It takes an interminable time to have him settled into his new but temporary home but every moment is worth watching. The cries of “Ganapati Bappa Moraya”, the bursting of firecrackers and men, women and children dancing with great abandon-every moment lingers on as Lord Ganesh or the ‘Elephant headed’ God enters his new abode.

I am not a Maharashtrian by birth nor am I a deeply religious person by nature but something changes in me during this festive period. Not that I bring the idol home; nor do I become overtly religious overnight. But the change takes place. Imperceptible but yet I am aware. Perhaps it is the string of pretty blue and white fairy lights that light up our street every night and transform it completely. Or the sound of spiritual music that awakens me every morning and lulls me to sleep each night. Not entirely devotional as my husband argues, they do tend to be interspersed with plenty of catchy Hindi numbers to please the Lord’s little worshippers-the children. The fragrance of fresh flowers, the whiff of the incense sticks and the chanting of the mantras only enhance the energies. The rendering of the Sathyanarayan Katha and the ‘aarti’ every evening is enough to make me stop my chores and sit still and just be. The positive energies are so high that it actually motivates a laidback mother of two to make fresh ‘prasad’ (offerings) to the idol every evening. It varies from ‘modaks’ to halwa and fresh/dry fruits.
As I enter the pandal the 1st evening of His arrival, a riot of color greets me from the colored dhurries placed around to the beautiful vibrant colors of the idol. The fragrance of the jasmine and the burning ‘diya’ mingles smoothly with the aroma of the earth and the ground. There is activity but there is serenity as well. Something instantly calms within.

My earliest memory of Ganesh Puja in Bombay was in 1993, when I visited an elderly neighbour.This 65 year old gentle Maharashtrian lady would take wet clay and fashion it into a symbolic Ganapati form with its trunk while chanting spiritual mantras. At the end of 10 days she would immerse it into a body of water. It is believed that as we immerse the deity who has been our guest, we shed our negative energies in the process too. Today of course one places an order for the Plaster of Paris idol months in advance, makes a beautiful house of thermocol and buy all the fancy trappings that go along with it.

The 10 days seem like one long festive holiday. Children playing hopscotch, relaxed men folk keeping watch over the ‘pandals’ distributing ‘prasad’ to the worshippers. Open air cinema shows are held on weekend nights, only the latest ones will do for them. Volleyball and family games are organized for the Krida Mandal dwellers and those who wish to participate. The residents of the various buildings that flank the ‘pandal’ get to watch from their readymade balcony- theatres.There are many of course who complain about the noise and then the police swing into action to enforce the noise deadlines.

Everyone talks about how the festival has lost its spiritual feel and has become more commercialized, cultural and noisy rather than devotional. Competition for the best pandals will go on forever, comparisons as to the largest Ganesh idol will continue and discussions on how much the ‘Lalbaugcha Raja’ earned and how many visited Him(no puja is complete without a visit to the Lalbaug Ganesh idol) will never cease. That is a part of the festival that it has become over the years.Popular,competitive and gaudy but the feeling of devotion and sheer love one feels for the dear Elephant God underlies each and every pandal that one can ever visit or glimpse.

His farewell on the 11th day is as grand and magnificent as his entry. Preparations begin the previous night (10th day) when the Sathyanarayan Katha is read and all of us receive the delicious Prasad in a sweet box.
As he is led out from his temporary home for his final immersion into the sea, there is a sense of sadness that intermingles with the hectic activity in progress. He leaves our street by afternoon and His final immersion takes place by late night amidst sprinkling of ‘gulal’, firecrackers and cries of ‘Ganapati Baba Morya! Pudcha Varshi Laukarya’!.

The next morning when I wake up, I feel the silence that hangs in the air like a blanket. I tell myself that time does fly and life has to go on…
And now I look forward to his arrival next year.