By ROLI S
My association with Ganesha goes back to the time when as a little girl I used to stand next to my mother singing Ganesh Aarti at the top of my voice. I remember we used to sing “Jai Ganesh, Jai Ganesh, Jai Ganesh deva, mata jaki Parvati, pita Mahadeva” during all pooja celebrations. I was told by my mother that we have to invoke Ganesha’s blessings before starting anything new. As a young girl, I was quite fascinated by the way Ganesha came into being and to my little mind and eyes the most fascinating things during pooja celebrations used to be the catchy and rhythmic tunes of aarti and fascinating forms and looks of all our divine figures. Ganesha being one of my favourites, as I grew up I tried to learn more about him through books, movies, etc. I came to know that the earliest mention of Ganapati, but not referring to the current Ganesha or Vinayaka, is found in the Rigveda. The mention of Ganpati appears twice in the Rigveda. One of these hymns implies the role of Ganapati as “the seer among the seers, abounding beyond measure in food, presiding among the elders and being the lord of invocation”, while in the other hymn it is said that “nothing nearby or afar is performed without thee”. This is uncertain how the Vedic term Ganapati which literally means “guardian of the multitudes” came to be known as Ganesha. Mahabharata mentions Ganapati as Ganesvaras and Vinayakas. Ganesha appears in the medieval Puranas in the form of “god of success, obstacle remover”. As fate would have it, I happen to have come and settled down in Thane in Maharashtra, a suburb of Mumbai, and the nerve center of the Ganpati Festival! Ganesh Chaturthi as it is known all over the world is celebrated to mark the arrival of Ganesha to earth from ‘Kailas’ with his mother, Goddess Gauri. ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’ falls in the month of August or September of the Gregorian calendar. The popular version is that Ganesh Chaturthi Celebration started during the era of Maratha Warrior King Shivaji and continued till the era of Freedom Fighter and Social Reformer Lokmanya Tilak. There are various stories that do the round as to why Lokmanya Tilak promoted the Ganesh Chaturthi celebration. There are instances mentioned in literature where Tilak has been found to relate this festival to politics and communal harmony. Over the years, living in Mumbai, I have found the Ganpati Festival has grown to great proportions. The ‘grand pandals’ and public involvement, the spirit, the fervent prayers by millions of devotees, including eminent politicians and film personalities who throng these grand pandals and pray to bring happiness, peace, wealth and prosperity in their lives, the multitudes visiting ‘Chaupatis’ for Ganpati Visarjan, etc., are highlighted in movies, TV and Magazines. In the recent years, a lot of noise is being made by the citizens who are environmentally conscious about the pollution that the ‘Ganpati Immersion’ creates and, rightly so, but the new aware India and its citizens have made all the efforts to keep Ganapati Festival eco-friendly. Instead of getting a massive idol made from plaster of Paris, several pandals have opted for eco-friendly Ganpati idols made out of mud and paper. “Bring Home the Clay Ganesh” or “Mati Gnash” as it is popularly known has been the mascot for “Be the Change”. Keeping the tradition of “Swachch India” this year, apart from chanting the traditional Ganpati Bappa Morya, agle baras tu jaldi aa!, people in Mumbai continuing the tradition have chosen a special eco-friendly message – from opting for eco-friendly Ganesh idols that turn into a plant after visarjan, to Ganpati idols made of cow dung that serves as food for fish, to idols made from clay or recycled paper, people have opted for unique and green idols that dissolve in water without polluting it with toxins. In Mumbai, the artists also have now started making idols out of paper and mud, which are completely soluble in water and do minimum damage to the ecology. Even as the major pandals in Mumbai always compete for the biggest and best Ganpatis, a famous pandal in Lalbagh has decided to lead by example. Instead of getting a massive idol made out of plaster of Paris, this year Tejukaya Ganpati Mandal in Lalbagh is made out of biodegradable components. The 22 ft huge Ganpati idol does not comprise thermocol or plastics; decoration is also of paper, cotton, etc. In fact, this mandal has even asked the devotees not to bring agarbatti, modaks and flowers for the idol. Instead, they have been asked to donate pencils, pens, notebooks and similar things which can be donated to flood- affected areas of Kolhapur and Sangli. The mandal, which is now in its 53rd year, believes that saving the environment is the need of the hour. This is a welcome change initiated by the big pandals to ‘Go Green’, but I must tell you that it is the small efforts taken by countless individuals that give an impetus to a change like this to take place. This real change one can experience when one visits for Ganpati darshan in the Mumbai homes. One finds that it is the children who are making Ganesha idols with clay at home with help from volunteers, who are bringing the change. Children participate enthusiastically in idol-making workshops and competitions held by the volunteers. Workshops in schools and building compounds are generating awareness about the importance of conservation and follow it throughout their life. Even new ways of immersion such as ‘bucket immersion’ is gaining popularity and parents are taking in this quiet revolution, because they are emotionally attached to their children’s work and behaviour. So, this year when I visit my neighbour’s house for ‘Ganpati Darshan’, I am shown a small ‘Mati Ganpati’ kept near the large Ganpati statue by their 8- year-old daughter. She tells me, “Next year only ‘Mati Ganpati’ will be kept in our house, with only natural flowers of roses and marigold’ not the plastic flowers that the present Ganpati is decorated with.” I am impressed. Indeed the ‘Mati Ganpati’ has brought in a welcome change, all for the better.
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai