The Hindu month of Shravan represents the commencement of full-blown celebrations, and the month of August brings in a series of festivals – Raksha Bandhan, Gokulashtami and Pateti (Parsi New Year). But these festivals only serve as precursors to one of the biggest festivals of the year – Ganesh Chaturthi. This is a spectacular festival honoring the birth of the elephant-headed God, who is fondly also known as Ganapati.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in many states like Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, but nothing compares to the grandeur that is witnessed in Maharashtra. Almost every alternate household in this state brings Lord Ganesh home, and this festival is celebrated with great faith & enthusiasm for a period of 10 days. Mumbai, the birthplace of this revered festival, welcomes Lord Ganesha with so much fervor and gusto, that one cannot help but feel overwhelmed by all the excited chaos around.
Local community groups or mandals purchase Ganapati idols of towering heights that ooze magnificence and pomp. On the other hand, households prefer to worship their adored deity in a much simpler manner. Regardless of the scale of the celebration, preparation for these festivities can be a mammoth task, especially for someone who is new to the city, and hence to the festival too. Many expats love the vibrancy of this festival but have no idea how to celebrate it at their own homes.
Here are a few tips from a true-blue Mumbaikar (our intern Ruta) that will help relieve the stress that some people would experience if this is their first year of bringing Lord Ganesh home:
Firstly, let us start with the most integral part of this process- purchasing the idol or murti of Lord Ganesha. I am sure everyone wants their murtis to look outstandingly beautiful and hopefully be eco-friendly as well. Thankfully, you can find all types of idols in Mumbai but where do you buy them? The best idol-makers or murtikaars are found in the Lalbaug-Parel-Dadar belt, along with Girgaum, Vile Parle and Thane. These murtikaars have been making idols over several family generations, hence each one intricately blends in their own trademark design. Ganesha murtis are most commonly made of Plaster of Paris (POP) but due to increased awareness about the environment, the demand for idols made from shadu (natural clay found in the Konkan region of Maharashtra) as well as other bio-degradable materials has been on the rise. The prices for these idols depend upon their production material, size and design. Idols usually cost Rs.1000 onwards, with the eco-friendly ones being a little more expensive than the POP ones. Bargaining is highly recommended.
However, only buying the idol is not enough. You must also make your home look beautiful, so that it is truly welcoming the Lord. A diverse range of decorations are available in the markets today. The main type of decoration bought by households is called makhar. These are sheets of thermocol or cardboard, artistically painted and bedecked with various adornments, which are joined together to make it look like a little home for Lord Ganesha to reside in while he visits us. Many people go for different themes, which can be created using fresh flowers, origami crafts, lanterns and fairy lights. These materials are available in Dadar West, Crawford Market near CST Station and Natraj Market in Malad.
Since Ganesh Chaturthi is all about celebrating the birth of Lord Ganesh, an auspicious time is chosen to perform the pooja. In this pooja, saffron milk and fragrant perfume is poured on the idol and then washed off with water. The idol is then adorned with intricate jewelry, silk clothing and garlands of fresh flowers – especially the Lord’s favourite flower, the hibiscus. Next, laddoos and freshly steamed modaks are offered to the deity as naivedyam. The special part about these modaks is that they are made only during this festival. They have a sweet filling on the inside that consists of freshly grated coconut and jaggery, while the outer soft shell is made from rice flour or wheat flour. These steamed modaks are usually eaten hot with a lot of ghee (clarified butter) poured on top. After the naivedyam, it is time for the Ganapati aarti. This is an age-old custom that goes back centuries. Aartis are hymns sung in praise of the Lord, thanking him for his blessings. Following the pooja is the best part – the one when we finally get to eat all the delicious preparations! There are friends and family around, and it’s a season of good cheer & joy.
These celebrations come to an end on the day of immersion or visarjan. The murti is immersed in water as a temporary farewell to the Lord, to chants of “Ganapati Bappa Morya” and pleading Him to return soon next year. Different households do the visarjan at different points of time in the 10 day period – one and a half days, three days, five days, seven days and ten days. (If you are wondering about the immersion dates and places , stay tuned for our next Ganesh Chaturthi blog post next Friday).
Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival that is enjoyed with utmost zeal by devotees of Lord Ganesha, with all their heart & soul. People wait all year round for these ten days. This beloved Ganeshotsav, a celebration of Lord Ganesha, is an emotion in itself. Hopefully this guide helps you bring home this feeling during Ganesh Chaturthi 2017!