With the arrival of Ganpati Utsav, there seemed to be an unadulterated happiness in the air. The array of colours, idols and decoration materials had dominated the market all this while. I was over-excited since I was witnessing it all for the first time since I called Pune “home”.
Preparations had started in full swing almost a month back. Every now and then we would find the Festival Committee engaged in furious meetings; or they would be running around from pillar to post, sweating profusely. Late in the nights, their families would be calling them frantically for dinner. They would still be responding with a “coming in five minutes”, as they did two hours earlier.
Our society had planned out a seven days celebration. Excited, I checked the programme chart while my brain quickly started figuring out the work schedule at office. Being a Bengali, Ganesh Chaturthi was just another holiday for me until I came to Maharashtra and experienced what the festival actually is. Guess, after you have stayed in this state for a while, you become a Maratha too. And so it was important for me to get out of work at the earliest and be a part of the pomp, chanting aloud with everyone else, “Ganpati Bappa Morya!”
Many of us don’t know the story behind the chant, “Ganpati Bappa Morya.” It is something that goes back to the 14th century when a famous devotee of Lord Ganesha lived in Chinchwad, Pune. His fondness for the God had reached a level of madness. Pleased, when Lord Ganesha offered him to ask for a special blessing, he said that he would want his name to be forever associated with the God. Ganesha fulfilled his wish. Then on, Ganpati Bappa Morya became the principle chant during Ganesh Utsav.
I had an off on the first day of the festival. No matter which field you are working, the word “holiday” has a tranquillizing effect on you. It gives you a “high”. My husband and I had already started planning for the next day. That evening we had guests coming over for dinner. So we hit the bed really late, expecting to be cushioned by a lazy day ahead.
But early next morning when we were lost in deep sleep, loud sound of crackers jolted us and we sat up with a rude shock. Before the two people, only half conscious about their earthly presence could exchange notes, there was another round of crackers amidst chants of “Sukhakarta Dukhaharta”! Not sure what kind of “Sukhakarta” (provider of happiness) would make such insane sounds to wake up people from deep sleep; neither could I pledge that this kind of hopeless frenzy should be termed “Dukhaharta” (one who relieves from sorrow) by any stretch of imagination. However, if you have to stay in Maharashtra, you can’t combat a Ganesha worshipper with such selfish, irrelevant questions. You have to be overjoyed that the Lord has arrived. With a cup of tea in hand, my husband peeped through the window watching the installation of the idol while I checked in the mirror for dark circles around my eyes.
Panic button struck when our maid did not turn up! (Later she asked whether I was expecting her to work on the Chaturthi day; looking at her unforgiving eyes I muttered an apology instead of reminding that there was no harm in informing a day before.) I got to know the value of a maid only after I got married. The lazy day plan was cruelly cut short. While the entire society smelt of camphor and incense sticks emerging from the pandal, I was cooking and cleaning madly, almost ready to bang my head on the wall.
Sensing the undeserved pressure bestowed upon me all of a sudden, my husband promised to take me out in the evening for pandal hopping.
At the pandal of our society, evening aarti was going on. Flowers, durva and modak had been offered to the idol while devotees chanted songs of Ganpati. The kids eyeing the modaks and waiting for the aarti to get over. We exchanged pleasantries with everyone there and moved out. Every place which hosted a Ganpati idol had almost the same scene. Bright lights, happy faces, excited giggles, theme-based pandals, kids dancing as the speakers played the latest music which even the oldies seemed to be enjoying, beats of dhol-tasha reverberating in the air and something more which can’t really be put to words. Perhaps, that’s the very essence of the festival. Clapping and cheering the enthusiasts dancing with the song “DJ wale babu”, I wondered if given a chance, Ganpati Bappa would also like to join and match some steps.
Most of the big pandals told a story exploring one or the other aspect of Lord Ganesha. I liked the concept of story-telling themes. Many pandals were designed as per a mythological theme. We were particularly mesmerised by a pandal narrating the story of “Jatayu” from The Ramayana. The depiction was so beautiful that we just could not take our eyes off. With some fantastic sculptures in front, we stood there listening to the narration that was playing behind. The birds flying and their chirping, the sound of the flowing water, the fights…. minute details had been worked on methodically with a light and sound effect that effectively matched the beauty of the idols in front.
From next morning I resumed office but the maid’s leave continued. I was expected to assume that she would be headed for the celebrations at her village. So job and household chores went on in full gusto as the “Sukhakarta Dukhaharta” chants ironically kept playing.
After ten days of Ganesh Utsav, the visarjan (emersion) was carried out in a royal procession. We went to Deccan where the roads had been closed for the procession. Amidst hundred thousand visitors, we managed to secure a place which was giving us a close view of the festivities. It was some sight! The idols were being carried ahead as if they were real kings. The procession was led by the five Manache Ganpati – Kasba Ganpati Mandal, Tambadi Jogeshwari Ganpati Mandal, Guruji Talim Mandal, Tulshibaug Mandal and Kesriwada Trust Mandal; they were followed by other important idols from mandals (unions). Every group had dhol-tasha played by children and adults; the crowd spread coloured dust, sang, danced and cheered loudly. It was indeed a spectacular view. A group of volunteers performed to spread the message of peace and health. The procession of Guruji Talim Mandal was led by the daughter of a Muslim member spreading the message of harmony and togetherness. Those accompanying her danced and rejoiced as much as the others did.
”Don’t you feed sad that Ganpati Bappa is leaving?” I asked one of the guys wearing ganjee and ill-fitted jeans, dancing away in euphoria as their procession moved.
He looked at me as if I was speaking Hebrew. “Then what do we do? Stop him and never let him go? Bappa’s happiness lies in the fact that he comes to us for a few days, and then leaves for heaven. If we stop him, he won’t be happy. And if he isn’t happy then how will he spread happiness among others? He can’t give away what he doesn’t have!”
He went back to his celebrations leaving me speechless. Perhaps depth of the song “Sukhakarta Dukhaharta” had finally started sinking in. No wonder we keep chanting “Ganapati Bappa Morya, Pudhchya Varshi Lavkar Ya”!