Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival of the elephant god in Maharashtra, was, and continues to be, one of the grandest of festivals in the country. The 11-day festival stands out as one of the most visually appealing ones, especially in the cities of Mumbai and Pune, where it is celebrated with much pomp and splendour. High-profile Ganpati mandals in Mumbai and Pune such as Lalbagcha Raja, Dagadu Seth Ganpati, respectively, have over the years transformed themselves from small time entities into big budget powerhouses. The unveiling of their Ganpati idols is an event in itself meant to grab eyeballs, as well as revenue in advertising. Every year the festival has been known to get bigger and grander. It rakes in more money than ever thanks to the donations of the thousands of devotees who throng these mandals to seek Ganesha’s blessings.
The festival in Konkan
While the festivities in cities continue to be a highly commercialised affair due to the big budgets involved, not to mention the growing celebrity presence, it is the celebrations in the rural belt, specially the Konkan region of the state, that are considered to be a phenomenal affair. If you haven’t seen the Ganesh festival of Konkan, you haven’t seen anything yet.
For Konkan and the many villages it this coastal belt, Ganesh Chaturthi festival is a religion in itself. For 11 days, this stretch of the Sahayadri belt which is known to start from Mumbai and extend upto Sindhudurg district, gets transformed into an area buzzing with crowds and chants in praise of Lord Ganesh. Devotees plan the festivities months in advance. Even the Indian Railways and Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) are aware of the ‘Ganesh phenomenon’ every year, and roll out extra services of trains and buses to avoid the overcrowding of the regular public transport.
The Ganesh festival in Konkan is serious business. Devotees from all over the world who have homes in the region, religiously trek to their villages with their families in tow, to bring in the elephant god into their homes. While many celebrate the Ganesh homecoming for one and a half-days, there are others who stretch the festivities to three, five, eleven, and even for as long as twenty-one days. Everyday, as long as Ganesh idol is at home, pujas and aartis are performed and unlike Bollywood songs being played loudly in cities, family members sing together all the Ganesh aartis with a lot of feeling and devotion. Special dishes and sweets are made everyday as naivedya or offerings to the God, the steamed modak being the most popular sweet.
Mohan Keluskar, President of Konkan Vikas Aghadi, an organisation which has been working for the development of Konkan for over four decades, points out that there has been an increase in the number of Ganesh idols being brought to Konkan since the past few years.
“The Konkan includes the districts of Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban, Palghar, Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. People living in the Konkan who have migrated to cities or other states for work, generally head to their villages during the Ganesh festival to celebrate the event in their native homes. With the growing population and even growing numbers of houses, there has been a rise in the number of Ganesh idols being worshipped. Today, every family in Konkan has a Ganpati idol in their home. It can be easily said that in Konkan alone there are over 15 lakh Ganesh idols of all shapes and sizes being brought into homes every Ganesh festival,” he says.
Keluskar points out that the Ganesh festival is a good opportunity not only to reconnect with friends and relatives, but also soak in the festive atmosphere. “Seeing the growing crowd every year, the government too brings in extra fleet of trains and buses to ferry in the devotees. Although the public transport system does witness a considerable strain on itself for 11 days, I believe it is worth it as we get to witness the festival at its best in the Konkan itself,” he points out.
Unlike Mumbai and Pune, commercialisation of the Ganesh festival has yet not reached Konkan. Many homes continue to practice the age old rituals of performing the pooja of the Ganesh idol practiced during the olden days. A large number of homes continue to bring in idols made of clay, unlike the idols created in plaster-of-paris which is largely available in the market today. The culture of having the ‘green Ganpati’ continues to be dominant in Konkan, unlike in cities.
Traditional Ganesh sculptors from many villages in Maharashtra make clay idols. These idols are mainly created using mud from the local rivers. The size of the clay idols begins from less than one foot, to a height of a maximum of 2.5 feet.
Post immersion in the waters, the idols go back to their original clay form, and are hence known to be eco-friendly. The village of Pen, for instance, is known to produce the highest number of clay idols every Ganpati season. The idols are transported from Pen to the other parts of the state a day or two before the festival begins, via trucks or trains, or even dropped off to the homes of devotees on prior order.
Renowned Hindu Scholar Ramesh Pratap Singh believes that unlike other regions of the country, Maharashtra and the southern part of India have a large number of devotees from the Ganapatya sect, and that is the reason why we get to see the glory of this festival in all its forms. Followers of this sect worship Lord Ganesh as per the rituals laid down by the Rig Veda.
“Ganesh Upasana has been present since the time of the Rig Veda, and even today many devotees practice the rituals laid down then. These devotees are followers of the Navneet Ganpati Sampradayak, Sanatan Ganpati Sampradayak, and Swarna Sampradayak, which come under this sect. who pray to Ganpati before the start of any auspicious work. A large number of them hail from middle or lower middle class backgrounds.
The Vedic rituals involve 16 steps of worshipping the idol by chanting specific mantras. It begins with invoking the God through Avahan Mudra. This is done by joining together the palms of the hands and folding both the thumbs inside followed by the offering of five flowers,worshipping the idol’s feet, giving the idol a bath, adorning him with vastra (clothes), sprinkling of scented water lighting of incense sticks, dweep (oil lamp), and offering of paan and betel nuts and Prasad. singing aarti and seeking blessings. The immersion of the idol called visarjan is a ritual that takes places on the last day of the festival.
Interestingly, there are other sects within the Ganpataya sect which worship Ganesha in his other forms. For example followers of the Uchchhishta Ganpati (a Tantrik aspect of Lord Ganesh) believe in offering alchohol and non-vegetarian as offerings to the idol which is mainly dark in colour and depicted with Shakti (or a female form) as its consort. Singh points out that many people largely follow the Vedic rituals as they can be performed by anyone with faith in Lord Ganesh. “For them worshipping Lord Ganesh is all that matters. It is irrelevant on how big is the idol is, or how expensive are the decorations. What is relevant is the faith, and that is what makes the Ganesh festival in Konkan a legendary affair,” he sums up.