This evening leaving work on my way home, I called India, to wish everyone there. It is Ganesh Chaturti- Birth of Lord Ganesh, Vignaharta ( One who takes your troubles away). Mom was telling me all about her preparations for the day. As I ended the call walking towards my apartment, I was reminiscing old memories. I vividly remember my childhood days in Bombay/Mumbai ( still think of it as Bombay) . In Maharshtra state this festival is celebrated with a lot of fanfare. Buildings usually have a common idol. My apartment complex also had one such common idol, when I was growing up. The boys in the apartment usually would go door to door collecting money. No one refused to pay. Whatever they could afford to give. The day before you could see them all on the common ground setting a "pandal" which is a temporary tent like structure with decorations and, a "mantap" a place for the Lord Ganesha's idol . All religions helped. I remember some muslim and christian boys helping with decoration and stuff. Religion was not a barrier, people came together to take part in the festivities. The morning of the first day there would be a small group of boys getting ready to bring the idol. Idols were beautiful, made by local sculptors from clay. The idol was to be set up in the tent, amidst all the offerings and decorations. First Aarti of the day or the worshiping would be around noon. I would attend that prior to the one at my place. Mom would make prasaad or offering made with beaten rice , coconut and jaggery and 5 different variety of fruits. Some of my neighbors, I remember, would keep sugar cane as decorations. Modak, of course, Lord Ganesh's favorite, is a triangular shaped dessert that can be made in different ways. Lord Ganesha is a foodie and we grew up hearing stories of how much food he liked to eat as a child.
Festivals always are exciting. One starts the day with ablutions and getting dressed in good and maybe new clothes. Lunch would be served on banana leaf with special vegetarian delicacy that was prepared at home. On festivals vegetarian food was always on the menu. Banana leaf somehow enhanced the taste of the food. With a full stomach it was time for siesta, later at sundown evening prayers would be offered. Everyone would gather around the tent and diyas or lamps were lit and, prayers were offered, with bells chiming. Everyone sung even though lyrics weren't exactly a strong suit of most and murphy's law was people closest to the mike were usually off key, but there was certain energy in the prayer songs that compensated for all of it. There would be all kinds of activities and competitions that brought people together. I would go with either family or friends to see 9 such idols that evening. Everything religious is always in odd numbers 3,5,7, 9,11. It is considered auspicious. Each idol had different forms was different with decorations (Ganesha or Ganapati is the most versatile of all Gods, depicted in different ways). Each group would have its own theme and size of the idol usually depended on the budget. Some would also bring idol home for a day and a half to 3 days. I would also go to their place on invitation. So, a very busy day of socializing for people, devout or not. It went on for 3-5 days and then visarjan , which means submerging of the idol in a water body, bidding farewell with a hope that next year would be just as good. Chanting " Ganapati Bappa morya, pudcha varshi lavkar ya" ( Ganapati , next year come soon. Roughly translated ). Larger idols were kept on till 11 days for worshiping.
It was so much more than just celebrating the festival, it was an occasion to participate as a community. When there was no social media for people to complain about every little thing and freedom of speech and expression widely abused. Not everything was about the noise and being politically correct. It was about unity in diversity, about setting all your differences aside to come together to celebrate. I am sure that was the goal when sarvajanik or public celebration of Ganesh chaturti was organized by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj which lost its public status during British rule and was revived by freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak. Apparently it dates back to Dynasties, ruling from 271 BC to 1190 AD . We have such rich heritage and culture and dating back centuries. I am proud to be a part of such ancient and rich culture. l hope everyone is having fun with all the festivities. HAPPY GANESH CHATURTI to all !
P.S.: sketch was drawn few months ago :)