Gajanana , the Elephant headed God ,
Vighneshwara, the slayer of obstacles,
Ganapati, The chief of the ‘Ganas’
Kshipraprasadi, The instant bestower of wishes
Known by a thousand names as is the case with all other Hindu Gods, Ganapati, is one of the most playful Gods in Indian Mythology. Vinayaka Chaturthi or simply the Ganesh Utsav in local parlance, is celebrated every year towards the end of the Monsoons in reverence to Lord Ganesha when the idol of the God is installed in either the household or in the locality in decorated Pandals (Pavilions), worshiped by the devotees and finally the statue is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, and cheering to be immersed in a waterbody symbolizing a ritual see-off to the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Mount Kailash while taking away with him all the misfortunes of his devotees. This act of immersion, also known as ‘Visarjan’ marks the end of the Festivities.
Hailing from the southern coasts of Malabar, I’ve never been a part of the Ganesha Festival since the cradle of this festival is the Konkan coast, mainly Maharashtra and the neighbouring states. The city of Mumbai pulsates with vibrant energy during the Ganesha Utsav.
Last year, I got an invitation from a dear friend who lives by the sea to join him for the Ganesha Utsav at his native place, a quaint old seaside hamlet in North Goa. Having known Amay since my college days, I didn’t think twice before embarking on this journey. Interestingly, his name itself means Lord Ganesha in Sanskrit.
Touching down at Goa on a monsoon afternoon, I left to his native place, riding pillion on his scooter, travelling through the fresh green paddy fields wafting in the wind like a silk scarf pegged loosely in front of a table fan, white washed church spires jostling for space among towering coconut palms, temples hidden like precious gems wrapped in the vines of the sacred groves, sloping winding roads running up and down the tropical forest covered laterite hillocks. The birds and the breeze hinted the presence of the sea even though the roads discreetly kept us away from the seashore.
The village of Chapora, is as interesting as its name might suggest. The towering ruins of the Fort guard the village from atop a rocky promontory jutting into the sea, the Chapora River meets the sea at the foot of this hillock. But before it meets the sea, the river spreads out to form the Chapora estuary embracing the land almost like a parting gesture to their eternal friendship. The waters of the river then mix up seamlessly into the sea. On the bow shaped banks of this estuary lies the fishing hamlet of Chapora. Truly, a setting befitting a fairytale.
The tiled roofed cottage where I stayed with its lovely rain drenched garden overlooked the estuary and the sea beyond. The setting sun used to peep in through the Balcao-verandah into the house before taking a dip into the molten gold of the sea water.
The Ganesha Idol of the family was kept in a decorated pandal at their ancestral home with its red-oxide flooring and laterite walls. The Idol was decorated with fresh flowers, festoons, fruits and other offerings. The pujas and the aartis were sacred moments when the air gets filled with the fragrance of camphor, incense sticks, flowers and rose water.
All the members of the family got together to perform the daily puja rites and ate their meals together. The leaf platter was filled with heaps of rice and curries cooked in coconut based gravies and flavoured with the choicest of spices. The food was lovingly served in copious servings and saying ‘enough, I don’t want more’ was considered almost a taboo. The taste of the carefully cooked dishes still linger at the tip of my tongue as I punch in these words , a year later.
The highlight of the trip was a ride through the various villages of Goa with Anup and Amay on a 'Ganesha-spotting-spree’.
The pandals were put up in various places and decorated specially for the festival, using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc. Some were theme based decorations, depicting a mythological story or religious themes or a current event.
An eco-friendly Ganesha made out of ‘willowing-pans’ used to willow the chaff from the rice. These are locally made out of dried palm leaves.
An angry Ganesha cursing the moon, a tale from the mythology.
A Ganesha made out of spices, cereals and grains. Indeed, edible.
A Mythological diorama replete with the Kailash mountain and the river Ganges. Another story is being played out with moving statues of the Gods, while the localites walk through them and pose for snaps.
The evening of immersion was a moving experience as I watched people from neighbouring villages bringing the Ganeshas idols from their households in a procession one after the other with cheers of “Ganapati Bappa Morya….Mangal Murti Morya…Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya" (Hail Lord Ganapati, Come again soon Next year). Groups of devotees carrying their Ganesh Idols walked down the winding roads from their respective villages all the way to the bay where they would immerse the idol.
One by one the processions from the neighbouring villages proceeded towards the bay, the idols of Chapora were also carried out with loud cheers and fireworks, lighting up the atmosphere with an electric frenzy. And then, as if it was pre-decided by the Gods, it started to drizzle…..the drizzle soon grew into a rain. Despite the pouring water, the idols were carried to the bay with all the people following it with chants and cheers hailing the Lord Ganesha. Fireworks competed with the thunder and lightning vying for attention. So infectious was the religious fervour that the shyest person would also get enraptured by this triumphant display of energy. Initially I was shy to shout out the cheers , but as I walked along in the rain with fireworks and Ganesha Idols all around, I found myself getting soaked in this electric frenzy. Soon I too joined the cheering group as we walked past the paved road, entering the wet beach, walking past the mud flats into the water. We paused there, the fireworks and the chants reaching a crescendo.
A few men carried the Idol walking into the waist deep water unfazed by the gushing rains, the waves, the slushy, slippery ground. My friend too joined them. The idol was finally immersed, alongwith the misfortunes of the year gone by. The crowd shouted loud hails of praises inviting the God to visit the village and bless all the coming year too. As we stood there, content and emotionally cleansed, Anshu, the little boy with a twinkle in his eye tugged at my arm diverting my attention from the statues settling gently into the water. He wasn’t sad to see the giant elephant head disappear beneath the waves since he probably knew that Lord Ganesh had not really left him.
“Ganapati Bappa Morya….Mangal Murti Morya…Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya" he shouted out smiling triumphantly, almost as if to remind me that Lord Ganesh would return year after year, unfailingly to his small hamlet, to play with him.