This is best time of the year in India. It starts with the commencement of monsoons in July, which breathes new life into everything that has been dehydrated with the scorching summer heat, followed by the festivities. It starts with the holy month called "Shravan" which leads into "Bhadrapada" when we celebrate Lord Ganesh; the God of new beginnings. Although a Hindu festival, everyone, and I mean everyone in India, celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi. The festival brings together all communities, religions and castes, mainly in Western India. The purpose of this festival was to bring together different communities pre independence. Mumbai and Pune are the place to be if you want to experience the grand celebrations that go along with the festival. Charities, societies, families, individuals, everybody spends lavishly on decorating their homes, buying the best Ganesha idols, traditionally made with clay, but available in all kinds of materials ranging from marble to gold to diamond studded. Beautiful tents are raised and idols as tall as 30 ft are installed prior to the main day or Chaturthi.
Fresh Red flowers are offered to the God, along with sweets made with jaggery, coconut, dry fruits and fresh fresh fruits. The ceremony of welcoming Lord Ganesha into your home is very grand. Evening before the big day, oldest member of the house, carries the idol in his hands and kids sing songs and prayers as they walk alongside the idol. Women of the household awaits at the door with a few religious offerings and that is how we welcome Lord Ganesha into our life for 2, 5 or 10 days, which is the maximum number of days that he can stay with you. The next day i.e. on the birthday, a minister recites "mantras" and "vedas" before the idol is placed on the altar. As kids these two days used to be the most exciting days as we would celebrate the festival only for 2 days and not go the entire 10 day span. The night before all cousins, aunts and uncles would gather together at our family home where our Nana (Grandfather) used to live. After the evening ceremony of welcoming the lord, we would have a quick dinner and then the fun began.
Each kid would be assigned a task to help with the decorations. Mum and aunts would then get busy in the kitchen preparing different sweets, under the supervision of Aaji (Grandmom). We kids would then sneak off to the lower level of the house and rehearse for our performance the next evening. The custom was, we would have the main celebrations at our family home where other aunts and uncles would visit and seek blessings from the Lord. So to entertain all the guests the four of us, my brother & two cousins would put a skit together, followed by dance performances, singing and some comedy acts. Yes we were that versatile :).
The festivities would carry on for two days and on the second day everyone would be sad as we said goodbye to Lord Ganesh. Following a grand procession, the clay idols are immersed in water with everyone chanting mantras and prayers to thank Ganesha for visiting us and telling him to come back soon the next year with more good fortune and happiness. Even though the celebrations lasted only for two days at our house, the festival is celebrated for 10 days across the country.
So after the immersions ceremony, we would drive around the whole city visiting some of the most famous idols at Lalbaugh, Matunga Market, Dadar, Girgaum, Siddhivinayak etc amongst many others. Stopping for photographs, ice creams and kulfi. Next few days, holidays permitting, we would visit other relatives who were celebrating the festival for 10 days and just revel in the festivities eating modaks (sweet coconut momos), khirapat and other delicacies.
So in my next few posts I will share with you some easy to make sweets that can be prepared in advance and will help all of you who are no longer in India, but want to celebrate the festival with as much pomp and grandeur as you did as a kid and pass on the traditions to your kids.
Hope my simple recipes help you in making the most of this wonderful festival.
Let Ganesha take away all your problems, bless you with joy and give you lots of success in any new path you embark upon.
"Ganapati bappa morya...mangalmurti morya...pudhchya barshi lavkar ya" ( O Lord Ganesha may you rise and shine and please come back soon next year)
Disclaimer: Some of the images in this post have been downloaded from the internet.