“Gajamukhane Ganapathiye Ninage Vandane … Nambidavara Balina Kalpatharu Neene…”
“Welcome Oh Lord Ganesh, the one with the elephant face… you are the holy one that grants the wishes of the faithful…”
25th August, 2017 was Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival dedicated to the most human of all Gods. Known by various names, here is a God who exudes a lot of warmth; joy; hope; courage and a lot more. At times he can also be a cool dude when compared to his peers who captivate disciples and followers more out of fear. His exploits of courage, gumption and humor are legendary and there are very few among our generation who have grown up without hearing these tales. He is so very omnipresent that you cannot be faulted for taking his presence for granted. Most new journeys are started after paying respects to Lord Ganesh… buying a new car; a new home; weddings are just a few among them. It is common to gift an idol of Lord Ganesh to a person who is embarking on a new chapter in life. I have seen people invoking Lord Ganesh even in simple tasks as starting to write on a new page in a book! If you don’t believe me… ask Google baba about ‘Pillaiyar Suli’. To me, all of this means that here is a God who gives us hope in this world of umpteen uncertainties.
Like any other year, this year as well the festival day at home started early. I woke up at 6 AM [this is the only holiday on which I wake up so early!] and started to the neighborhood market after completing my daily ablutions. I had to get home a clay idol of Lord Ganesh and hence this visit to the market. During my childhood, I used to accompany my father and grandfather to the market for the same purpose. Back then my grandfather used to carefully select the idol [made of clay; not colored; devoid of any fancy features] and allow my father to carry it home. I was always told that I did not have the strength to carry the idol home since it demanded walking barefoot for about half a kilometer and carrying the idol that weighed about 5 KG. Following this routine for many years only increased the joy manifold, when in my teens; I was given the responsibility. It was not easy the first time, but I managed to get the idol home without letting anyone down, including the lord himself [hopefully]. This milestone was something which I could not brag about with my friends, but something which I felt very happy about deep inside.
And I have been doing this every year thereafter.
Now it is just my father and I who make the customary trip since my grandfather is not alive anymore. This is one day where his memories come rushing back. During my childhood, my grandfather had once told me that it always rains on Ganesh Chaturthi. We all know that some incidents and some conversations in life remain with us forever. This prophecy from my grandfather is something which I will remember forever. I have observed every single Ganesh Chaturthi from thereon. And yes, it has always rained on this day in Bengaluru. This year it was pouring cats and dogs in the early hours itself. So the routine trip was even more challenging, with the rain and the fact that I am not getting younger anymore… sigh.
Once home, other than taking care of my children, the only other chore [mind you, both of these are not easy] for me is to get the pedestal and puja room decorated and ready to seat the idol. My wife handles the rest of the action [which is a lot more than what I do] around the festival. It takes easily until noon to complete all of this. Once the idol is completely ready with all the grandeur, my father takes center stage. Unlike other festivals, the act of worshiping Lord Ganesh lasts longer… for about 30 minutes at least. My father will recite various hymns and songs dedicated to the Lord and we repeat it after him. I must confess that my father is less competent in this when compared to my grandfather. And I can also confess that leave alone less… I am not at all competent at this activity. I doubt I will ever be able to recite and read any bit of these hymns and songs. Hopefully iTunes will come to my rescue, when needed. Once the long worship is done, it is time to finally break the fast and eat. No Indian festival is complete without a good meal… and Ganesh Chaturthi is no different. A sumptuous meal brings an action packed morning to a closure.
Towards evening, there is a lot of activity again. Relatives and friends in the neighborhood visit our home to see the idol and pray. Of course I and my family also pay such visits to others in our neighborhood. I am proud to say that religion takes a back seat in such visits. We always have a couple of non-Hindu families visiting us to not just take part in our celebrations, but also to pray to the Lord! We also visit some of the pandals which are set up in the neighborhood. Idols as big as 10 feet are placed in such pandals for everyone to come, see, worship and celebrate. I recently heard that this sort of community worship was started by the Indian freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak to take the fight to British rulers who had banned Hindu gatherings. It is really heartening to see that this practice is only getting more and more popular and bigger.
Finally comes the departure. Towards night, we take the idol on its final journey to immerse it into water. We usually go to Ulsoor Lake for this final ritual of the day. Unlike in the morning, I take the idol with the rest of the family in my car. Out there we pray to Lord Ganesh one last time, before seeing some unknown hands and faces take the idol away from us and immerse it in the water. As the idol sinks into the water, an highly eventful day comes to an end. We spend some time at Ulsoor Lake watching the rest of the proceedings and living the experience, before finally returning home.
Another eventful Ganesh Chaturthi has passed by, only to return again in the coming year!