Sanjeev V Sardesai
One of the most looked forward to festive events all along the Konkan Coast, is the arrival of Lord Ganesh in many homes. In every Hindu home, every new venture commences first by holding a ritual to appease Lord Ganesh. The main festival is celebrated on the fourth day of the Hindu Lunar calendar month of Bhadrapad. Festivities are held with pomp and gusto, in each home for a day and half, or for five days, seven days, 11 days, or 21 days, as per their ritualistic vows and convenience.
On a day previous to this grand festival (‘Hartalika Tritiya’), a beautifully painted clay idol is ceremoniously brought home, customarily covered with a paper cone or a crochet wrap, from the Ganesh Chitra Shala, literally translating to Ganesh’s Art School. Children are not allowed anywhere near it. This has always been a mystery for the writer who only recently learnt of the simple logical explanation – ‘To keep the idol from any defilement from the muddy rain water or to protect it from any bird droppings’. And as regards children being forbidden anywhere near, the reason was more practical. Children are always in a hyper excited mode during this festive season and could damage it. In Hindu rituals, no idol which is cracked or broken is used for rituals.
It is this writer’s personal belief, one that is shared by many litterateurs, that ‘Ganesh Chaturthi has nothing to do, specifically with Lord Ganesh, as a deity’. It is felt that our wise ancestors had a different well meaning, hidden agenda, for instituting this festival, purely caring for the welfare of the society at large and the interests of its people.
A reason for positively considering this theory is that if it weren’t so, a framed picture or Ganesh idol would have been used and then kept at home like the Satyanarayan Puja panel and not immersed.
In fact, the first message, which has permeated down centuries regarding this festival, is to use eco-friendly materials – the Ganesh idol is made of clay and after immersion, blends and becomes one with nature, without harming it. To justify the above theory, four interpretations are placed below for scrutiny and unprejudiced analysis.
We have to understand that the joint family of the old era would lead to satellite families, far away from their ancestral land due to work, restriction of space, or just family bickering. The elders possibly may have instituted this festivity including Lord Ganesh as its integral part, monopolising on the “god-fearing” aspect. It was possibly their positive intent to make a real time effort to bring all family members and siblings together under one roof to bond and revive their relations.
Today, many houses celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi with a strict condition that there shall be only one Ganesh idol, and no individual family can commence a Chaturthi ritual on their own, separately. This festivity also creates a healthy environment for the new generation children to meet and is also a meeting place for all the mothers, daughters, mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. These ladies help in the mega kitchen, and it is an opportunity for the new daughters-in-law to learn from these experienced elders and vice versa. In this way, traditional culinary methods of preparing age-old pure vegetarian recipes without onion and garlic also survive and are passed on to the generation next.
In the old era and with the teachings of Ayurveda, many diseases had a cure, with herbs made of leaves, barks, and roots of wild plants and shrubs. But in the present scenario jungles are being maliciously mowed down and medicinally rich herbs are fading away.
Let us relate this to Ganesh Chaturthi and its rituals. Lord Ganesh, it is said, loves the raw shoots of the ‘durva’ (Cynodon dactylon), a fine lawn grass, that grows even after being continuously trampled upon. According to legend, after annihilating a fiery demon, Analasura, by gobbling him up, Ganesh started feeling uneasy, as though a raging heat was building up in him. No divine therapy seemed to work. Some sages then offered him 21 durva shoots, which gave him immediate relief. It is said that Ganesh decreed that he should be offered these durva shoots during his ritual; a custom that is followed in all Ganesh temples till date. This has led to the compulsory survival of durva.
One more mystery enveloped in mythology is the tying of the matoli over the head of the Ganesh idol. This is a wooden grid frame tied with local fruits from the garden and filled with wild herbs like kanglaan, ghungroo, karathi’n, ghonsale (ridged gourd), ambade (hog plums), sitaphal (custard apple), chickoo (sapota), jaiphal, bedde (betel nut), etc, found on the mountain sides. Every year, just before Ganesh Chaturthi, there is a special ‘Matolecho Baazar’ or ‘market for the matoli fruits’ that takes place. In Sonal village in Sattari, one can see an astounding number of about 375+ different wild herbs and fruits in the matoli.
It is the final aspect of the theory that our ancestors wanted us to preserve these life saving herbs and fruits and being positively calculative, wrapped this health related medical aspect in religious rituals and requirement, so that we would be forced to preserve these.
Today, we are aggressively doing away with lush greenery and our herbal wealth. Festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Touxanche Fest, Jaiyanchi Puja, etc are offering us a solution to many of our problems on a golden platter.
We need to learn from such ancient rituals and myths.