Ganesh Utsav is the 10-day long Hindu festival starting from Ganesh Chaturthi. It is celebrated with pomp and grandeur throughout the nation. The first place that comes to mind during this festival is Mumbai. But Pune is not far behind, this being the probable birthplace of the festival. The legacy passed on from generations till date. From Kasba Ganapati Mandal to Tambdi Jogeshwari Ganapati to Dagduseth Halwai trust to the Tulsi Baug Ganapati, many such big names are linked to the celebration in Pune.
I am from the land of Durga Pujas (Kolkata), now settled in the land of Ganapati (Pune). Read about Durga Puja. Two different festivals, both celebrated with equal grandiosity and fervour in their respective regions. I have seen the richness, the gravity, the intense and passionate feeling of the Bengalis during Durga Puja. I witness the same here for Ganesh Chaturthi. I enjoy every moment of this fanfare mingled in piousness for a festival other than Durga Puja.
Months before the D-day, the preparations begin. The white dressed drummers line up every corner of the streets or the grounds with their instruments to practice the coordinated beat to be played during the festival. The structure of the large Pandals is laid. The roadside stalls are set up selling tiny to large sized Ganapati idols. The air gets soaked in the smell of festivities. People from all sphere gear up to welcome their favourite lord – ‘Ganesha’.
The ten-day long festival starts on ‘Chaturthi’ of the Hindu calendar month of ‘Bhadrapada’ and ends on ‘Ananta Chaturdashi’. As per the belief, Goddess Parvati created a human figure from the dirt of her body and gave him life. He was asked to guard the door while she bathed. Lord Shiva returning from a long period of meditation was confronted by child Ganesha at the entrance. In his fit of rage Lord Shiva severed his head. Later he discovered that he was Parvati’s son. He then instructed his attendants to bring the head of the first living creature that they encounter. An elephant was the first living creature they found. And thus the elephant’s head was placed on Ganesha’s body to bring back his life.
The elephant headed God (as known to the people outside India) proved his gallantry in guarding his mother’s door. So the Lord is seen guarding entrances of most Hindu homes and temples all across India. Every auspicious occasion starts with the worship of Lord Ganesha. Another mythological story that comes to light holds the reason behind this.
There was an argument between the siblings -Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya (sons of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva). To end the argument Lord Shiva gave them a task. He asked then to circle the world three times. The one who comes first would be declared the winner. Kartikeya with his vehicle Peacock immediately flew off to encircle the world. While Ganesh with his big fat belly and slow moving vehicle Rat, thought a different way out. To him, his parents were very dear and synonymous to the world. He quickly took three rounds around his parents (the world to him) to become the winner. For this reason, Lord Shiva bestowed upon Ganesh the blessing to be worshipped prior to the commencement of any new venture.
Ganapati, the Vighnaharta (remover of all obstacles) thus comes to the earth every year for these ten days to bless the world with prosperity, knowledge and wisdom and take away all obstacles in their life. The Chaturthi day sees the coming of the idols in their respective Pandals and houses. Followed by ‘Prana Pratishtha’ (urging the lord to reside within the idol) and ‘Shodashopachara’ ritual (sixteen step process) the Ganapati festival begins.
During this phase of celebration, the God is offered with a variety of foods. Starting from fruits to a wide range of sweets – Modak (considered to be the most favourite of the Lord, is a dumpling made of coconut, jaggery, dry fruits, rice or wheat flour), Laddus, Karanji, Puran Poli, etc. In the household Pujas, these food items are made to be offered to the lord while for the public celebrations the sweet shops offer a wide variety of Modaks for sale.
The public celebrations generally last for ten days. Domestic celebration varies as per their family ritual and lasts for 1, 1 1⁄2, 3, 5, 7 or 11 days. Some household and few temples also follow the ritual of Gauri festival during this phase. It is believed the Goddess Parvati (also called Gauri) comes to earth to take his son along to return to Kailash Dham.
There is no evidence of the origin of this festival. The history of the celebration in Pune dates back to the era of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the Peshwas. Lord Ganesh was the family God of the Peshwas. After the fall of the Peshwas, it was limited to some family celebration. Much later the Sarvajanik (public) festival was introduced and encouraged by Bhausaheb Laxman Javale and Lokmanya Tilak. From then onwards the celebration has gained more eminence.
Pandals of various size with intricate decoration and lighting, housing different gorgeous idols of Ganapati becomes the cynosure of the city. Crowds from every area gather to witness the year’s attraction. I am generally scared of crowded places and to some extent I am ochlophobia. I dared the crowd to go pandal hopping to feel the vibe of the ceremony in Pune. I visited my neighbouring Pandals which were comparatively less crowded. But the ones that are famous gave me a tough time. By some means, I managed to get a glimpse of those Idols but with no chance of photography. So I am left with the photos of the idols that were relatively less crowded.
Every morning starts with the melodious tune of bhajans and the sweet aroma of the incense. The musical recitation of hymns from the nearby Vinayak temple is heard with occasional ding-a-ling of the temple bell. The day proceeds with various rituals of worship. The evening holds the glorious aarti and the prasad distribution. The drummers accompany the mangal aarti showcasing their month long practise. Various cultural activities are organised beside other social welfare works.
Ganeshotsav in Pune is more of traditional values and sacred rites than the lavishness of Pandals and the size of the idols. Some festivities dates back to the age of Jijabai, the mother of Shivaji Maharaj. From ‘Padya puja’ (worshiping the feet of Lord Ganesha) to the visarjan, all the rituals are followed as per the heritage. The days pass soon and the final day of visarjan arrives. The Vighnaharta takes a plunge in the waterbody to travel to his heavenly abode carrying away all our obstacles. “Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya” (O father Ganesha, come again early next year).