Down Ganapathi lane!!!

It’s the Ganpati festival season now in Mumbai and as they say this city is the place to be during Ganpati time. Last Wednesday (the eve of Ganesh Chaturthi) as I was riding back home from the airport late evening, I could still see feverish activity in the lanes and by lanes of Mumbai – people thronging the market for last-minute purchases of Ganesh idols, lights, lamps, decoration items,…,… The cabbie mentioned that the markets will be open throughout the night. Well, the “Ganpati economy” is huge and thriving.  And over the years it has only been ballooning. What Lokmanya Tilak started probably as a movement In Pune to get people together during the Independence movement in the name of Sarvajanik Ganpati Utsavs are on different trips these days. Ofcourse so are Durga Pujo in Kolkatta or Navratri in Gujarat. The interesting aspect over the years I have noticed is all these festivals and expressions around them are immune to economic recession,..,… Irrespective of how the economy is, these festivals are observed with fervor only to better the previous year effort and budget.

As I watch the Ganpati festival unravelling around me now, I couldn’t help walking down the Ganapathi lane when I was in school. Vinayaga Chaturthi in Tamil Nadu was indeed celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm. Trichy being the place of the Uchi Pillayar (Rock fort temple) was not an exception. With Vinayaga temples of different sizes and scales in every nook and corner of Trichy, the day of Vinayaga Chaturthi is extremely noisy with loudspeakers blaring Seerkazhi Govindarajan’sVinayagane Vinai Theerpavane’,.. on the loop. Once the songs were done, it was the time for playing the sound track of popular Ganesh movies, top on the list being Shivaji Ganesan’s Thiruvilayadal. If I can reel out even today the fiery exchange between Shivaji Ganesan (playing the role of Lord Shiva – one of his career best) and A.P.Nagarajan (as Nakeeran) and the antics of Baliah from that film, it is thanks to the over exposure on Vinayaga Chaturthi days.

After the Pooja at home and polishing off few Kozhakattais (Modaks) – sweet and salty made at home and savoring the ones made by neighbourhood mamis – it was time to literally walk down the many lanes to check out on Ganapathis. One of the favourite competition among friends was to check who sees the maximum number of Ganapathis on Ganesh Chaturthi day. And ofcourse tasting the different Sundals offered as prasad at each temple. My personal record was 65 I remember vividly – from Thillai nagar where I stayed till Main Guard Gate area in Trichy.  In Trichy, all these Ganapathis were mostly in temples and not in pandals as we see in Mumbai today. I understand that the Mumbai style of huge Ganesh idols being kept for public viewing and worship for 10 days and immersing the same in the sea/River on the 10th day have become popular in other cities like Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and even in Trichy today.

In Mumbai, from the 1st time I was witness to the mass Ganpati Visarjan at Chowpatty from the terrace of our college hostel and now, Ganpati Utsav has come a long way.  Corporates and sundry companies pour in big money. So don’t be surprised to see “Ganpati being sponsored by Baba Elaichi Pan Masala” at one place and Kailash Kher exhorting people to use Torex cough syrup from ugly hoardings in another place.

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“Eco friendly” is the buzz word. From the idols to decorative items to the prasad bags – pandals try to be environment friendly. The latest innovation in this Eco friendly business is the campaign I heard today on Radio. Red FM’ Visarjan squad” – where they urge people to carry out immersion in artificial tanks instead of spoiling the waterfronts. Supported by corporates, in this campaign – you give a call and a Visarjan squad comes to your place with a mobile artificial tank and carry out the immersion. Cool isn’t it???

When we talk of cool and innovation can “apps” be far behind? Literally Ganpati Bappa this year has become Ganpati bAPPa!!! So you have a “Times BAPPA” app where you can decorate your Ganesha idol in the most creative way and then share it with your friends!!! Most liked and shared entries get points and get featured in Times Of India it seems. Ganpati bAPPa morya!!!

And for pandal hopping celebrities, the latest craze is ofcourse “Selfie with Ganpati“☺️ And so is a pandal showing Lord Ganesha taking a selfie with his parents☺️

selfie

or a muscular six-pack Ganpati as Baahubali carrying a massive Linga Idol ☺️☺. In these days of health and fitness can Ganesha be left behind. Is Ganesha’s tummy size reducing by the year????

baahubali

The civic administration of Mumbai I would say comes out at its best during Ganpati I would say. From filling up pot holes in a hurry to controlling  crowds to handling traffic to managing the immersion at different spots in the city – things happen efficiently. Few years ago I was travelling on the next day of the Mega Visarjan. Much to my pleasant surprise, even early in the morning as I was riding to the airport, the Powai Lake road near IIT which is a major Immersion point was swept clean with hardly any signs of the crowds and revelry of the previous night. I was told that many volunteers of NGOs and Sansthas work with the civic administration for the massive cleanup.

In addition, there is the other “Terrorism attack” menace to be handled. So most pandals bear signboards goading people to call the Police if they spot unattended/suspected things!!!

After so many years 30 to be precise, I would like to again walk the Ganapathi lane in Trichy to see the changes in the Uchi Pillayar town during Vinayagar Chaturthi. Trichy being in the Govt.’s “Smart city project” list, who knows may be Ganapathi pandals will be free wireless zones to enable easy sharing of the “Selfie with Ganapathi” over WA ofcourse 🙂 🙂

Celebrating India’s (food) festivals!!!

It’s that time of the year in India. The scorching heat of the summer is behind us and the monsoon wherever applicable is in its last lap. Come August and the general mood in the country changes in line with the changing weather.  Though we don’t have a pleasant spring as a season in India (except may be Kashmir), in this time of the year, there is a spring in everyone’s feet.  Starting with Id and then the Rakshabandan it’s an avalanche of festivals in India from August till Feb next year.  One can see this festival spirit manifesting itself in the media, in streets, in shopping malls and where have you. What I have noticed in the last many years is that irrespective of the state of the economy, the mood of the people in this period is in a state of buoyancy.  Then it dawned on me that the day-today lives of millions of people is also linked to the economics of festivals – the increased spending on clothes, on festivities, religious ceremonies, investment in real estate, starting of new businesses, renovation/painting of homes, feasting on food,…,… So festive season is one happy season for all.

The difference is while most of the countries in the East and West and the Middle have just one or two important festivals in a year, we in India are blessed with many. Thanks to the number of Gods we Hindus subscribe to. This is one thing in which we are clearly the envy of many countries.  And thanks to our regional identities, we don’t have the concept of one important Pan – Indian festival which we all celebrate but many. If it is Diwali in the North, it is Durga Pujo in Bengal, Onam in Kerala and so on. In my earlier company, my Japanese friends were bemused and amused to see different holiday lists for our different branch offices.

In all this, one thing which cannot be missed is the connect between the Pet (stomach) and Pooja.  It is interesting to note that just like each festival has its own link with a God, it also has associated unique food items going with it 🙂 These are supposedly meant for offering to God which eventually ofcourse find its way to our stomachs. So if it is Kozhakattai (Modak) for Ganesh Chaturthi, it is Appam, Cheedai for Krishna Jayanti, Pori Urundai for Kaarthigai, Different types of Sundal for Navrathri, and so on. So much so for many years I didn’t know why Kaarthigai was celebrated but knew that Karthigai means Pori Urundai 🙂 🙂    In fact celebration of Onam festival is never complete without the traditional “Ona Sadhya” which with its array of dishes on the plate or rather leaf challenges the digestive ability of many a stomach of this generation.

Sadya

One really wonders how our elders came up with this timetable of different dishes for different festivals. Safely I inclined to conclude that they saw themselves in God and came up with things what they liked depending upon the season.

This brings me to the old or rather our youth times when at home the mother gets extremely busy during festival times trying to do justice to the “Naivedyam”(Food offering) specifications for each festival by preparing all at home.  The preparations usually start 1 or 2 days in advance. Keeping the prepared items from our prying eyes or rather mouth till the Pooja / Naivedyam are over was always a mission unaccomplished for the mother 🙂 🙂  The festival times also provided opportunities to showcase their culinary skills to friends and neighbours by distributing the home-made stuff and earn ‘likes’ in a pre-Facebook time.  Among the neighbourhood, it was always few mamis’ stuff apart from our mother’s which were in demand. I vividly remember in the 9 days of Navrathri the houses we choose to visit depends upon the cooking skills of the mamis 🙂 🙂

These days the mothers have different challenges. Since the entire process of preparing appropriate dishes for festivals has been “Adayared” (If outsourcing and losing of jobs to Bangalore is called “Bangalored” then outsourcing of the preparation of food items to ‘Adayar Ananda Bhavan’ is called” Adayared”!!!), knowing where to outsource/source what for different festivals is the biggest challenge.  At home, we as children displayed humongous appetite to polish off things prepared in quick time. These days the children have little interest and less appetite to gorge on the different offerings which come along free with festivals.  So gradually the linkage between pet and pooja is gradually dwindling I guess.

Today is Krishna Jayanti. Time to wind this up and time to finish the Pooja of Lord Bal Krishna, do Naivedyam and then launch into next Pooja i.e Pet Pooja 🙂 🙂

Postscript:  While we were discussing about Gokulashtami,… this morning, my 7 year old daughter asked her mom, “Even after eating so much butter, how is Krishna not fat???”  For GenY, Pet poojas can wait I guess.