“Come home on Sunday for lunch, I am having Ganpati prayers in my house.” said my friend, Deepu, when I met him during my regular walks at the Jogger’s park. It had been many years, since I had last attended a Ganpati Festival in Mumbai. I had lived in Canary Islands for many years, and Ganpati Festival was celebrated there, within the small Indian community, that resembled more like a private party than like a festival. My friends, back home, would relate to me about the celebrations of the festival but I had always wanted to be in India to experience it first hand. Now, that I was finally having the opportunity to celebrate the Ganpati festival in India, I was curious and most eager to attend.
“For how many days will you bring Lord Ganesha at your house?” I asked him as I sipped the water from my bottle.
“It will be for one and half day.” Said my friend, “Although many people bring home idol of Lord Ganesha and celebrate the festival by worshipping the Lord in a special way, some for a day and half, or 5 days, 7 days or 11 days, depending on the family tradition and commitment of each individual..” My friend informed me.
Ganpati Festival started on 27th August this year. Deepu brought the idol of Lord Ganesha to his house with much love and devotion. He had devoted one week prior to the festival to cleaning and decorating his house. All his friends and relatives, who came to seek the blessing of Lord Ganesha, were welcomed to stay for meals and sweets. Deepu informed me that this wonderful custom was popularized by Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak (in the year 1893 in Pune, India,) to bring together the ‘Hindustanis’ during the British rule. Originally, worshipping Lord Ganesha was a family affair. Wet clay was fashioned into a symbolic Ganesha form, placed on the left palm and worshipped with the chanting of mantras, followed by the rituals. The idol was then immersed in the well or a pond. A devout Hindu believes that what came from the earth should return there.
After one and half day it was time for the farewell. We gathered at his house at 5 o’clock in the evening to perform the aarti. (An Aarti is a devotional hymn accompanied by musical chimes, with one devotee moving the plate containing rice, sindoor and burning lamp, in circular motion in front of the deity). Deepu’s family had hired a special open truck for transporting Lord Ganesha to the beach. The truck was decorated with yellow and purple flowers. After the aarti, he carefully positioned the Ganesha idol in the truck. Some of us sat facing the idol and the rest followed us by walking behind the truck..
As the truck crawled down the crowded streets of Mumbai, we all happily chanted devotional songs and hymns. Deepu’s mother had made lot of Prasad, which she distributed to every passerby who cared to accept. We passed the streets that were decorated with chains of lights and were flooded with long procession of devotees. A Spanish native would have called this ‘Hindu Carnival’. We saw some groups of people in the procession dance to the Bollywood numbers while some other group danced at the traditional music of layzims and drums. (a layzim is a kind of musical instrument that has a long metal chain of chimes, that converges into an arc connecting the two ends of a wooden rod. A dancer holds the wooden rod in one hand and the metal chain of chimes in other hand and produces the music by swinging the arms in rhythm) The festivity was everywhere. There was a huge crowd of spectators lining both sides of the street, some sitting on the foot paths, others perched on the building fence and many stood leaning against the wall.
We reached Juhu beach after a long ride of one hour. (Normally it takes just ten minutes) Deepu carefully lifted the idol of Ganesha from the truck and took it to the beach and placed it on the sand. His mom dug a large hole into the sand and placed the burning lamp and other puja materials in front of the idol of Lord Ganesha. They, then performed a farewell aarti for the last time.
After the farewell aarti, I saw everybody whisper something in Lord Ganesha ear. Deepu’s mother asked me to make a wish in Lord Ganesha ear and she assured me that it would be answered!! She informed me that whenever she selected an idol of Lord Ganesha, she looked for the idol with large ears and big belly. The big belly signified the prosperity for the family and the huge ears would guarantee the listening capacity of Lord Ganesha!!
Deepu lifted the idol of Lord Ganesha and placed it on his head. Each family member touched their head to the idol’s feet to seek the farewell blessings. He carried the idol on his head and waded into the waters as far as he could, while we waited at the shore with our feet immersed in water. When he could go no further, he, and all the other family members who had accompanied him, chanted loudly ‘Ganpati Baba Morya! Pudcha Varshi Laukarya!’ that means ‘O Ganpati, Return soon next year’. He, then, slowly immersed the idol into the water and waited for it to disappear.
When he returned, tears clouded his eyes as he announced his decision of bringing the idol of Lord Ganesha to his house once more, next year!!!