I position myself roadside, out of the way of crowds streaming toward the lake, the men bearing Ganapati idols, and women, Gauri idols. Men carrying Ganapati outnumber women carrying Gauri. It is day five of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations.
The police have blocked off the approach to the lake for regular traffic, only letting in rickshaws or tempos bearing devotees carrying Ganapati idols that come to a stop at the entrance to the lake.
Families get off. The head of the family, a male, carries the Ganapati idol resting against his chest before placing the colourful idol on a retaining wall surrounding the lake. Chants of Ganapati Bappa Moraya rend the air.
There, they perform puja and offer prayers before carrying them to a makeshift barricade where bare-feet workers wearing saffron t-shirts with the name of patrons prominently displayed on the back carry the Ganapati idols to a waiting boat fitted with an outboard motor.
In no time the makeshift platform is occupied by Ganapati idols placed by their bearers to be taken out to the boat by local youth. An official, possibly from the fire brigade detachment positioned for rescue operations should any mishap occur, warned the boat-bearers in saffron t-shirts against coming drunk on duty, telling them they can do so once they're done with loading the boats, implying it would hurt religious sentiments of devotees to see their beloved deity handled by drunk bearers.
Yet, one of the bearers smelled heavily of alcohol. It takes all kinds to pull off a festival on the scale Mumbai hosts it.
Once the boat is loaded with Ganapati idols and a few devotees who want to do or see the immersion themselves, it motors out to the middle of the lake.
I watch women in sari walk with large Gauri idols balanced on their head, accompanied by more women, among them their neighbours and relatives.
Ganapati idols outnumber Gauri idols 10 to 1. The sight of women bearing Gauri idols during Ganesh Chaturthi is heartening, indicative of responsibility equated in matters divine. All around me are excited voices. They mingle with invocations to Ganapati, and sounds of cymbals.
Ganesh Chaturthi can be a noisy affair. Vibrant and noisy. Among them the Sonar family who accompanied the deity with much pomp and colour. All eyes turned to the riotous procession drumming their way along.
For eleven days Ganesha reigns supreme except day five when he has to share the spotlight with his mother, Gauri as Parvati is popularly known in
At the best of times the Mumbai street is crowded, leaving little latitude whatsoever to manoeuvre your way about.
Come Ganesh Chaturthi, especially the main Ganesh Visarjan (Immersion) days – Day 2, Day 5, and Day 11, the streets leading to lakes, wells and the sea (Girgaum and Juhu) are impassable as traffic shares roads with the loveable deity being borne to the water in a steady stream of families making their way to the numerous immersion locations around the city.
Newspapers publish in advance the routes rearranged by Traffic Police. And I’ve little doubt that it’s one of the most widely read sections. No one fancies being caught up in temporary dead-ends that seem anything but temporary once stuck in it for hours on end.
Drums and occasionally trumpets accompany the rotund elephant-headed deity to his watery abode, families seeing him off with affection.
Hundreds of Ganesha idols make their way to the water. In the evening all the roads leading to immersion spots turn into a sea of colour. Soon boats ready to carry their esteemed 'passengers' to their resting place, a time of much emotion and sadness.
Those who cannot muster music along for want of people to accompany them or lack instruments, will hire brass bands to do it for them.
On immersion days, the Brass Band will be rolled out with smartly dressed musicians bringing up the procession.
It repeats year after year.
It’s only on the fifth day that Lord Ganesh is not on his own instead sharing the spotlight with his mother, Gauri, as she accompanies him to the immersion place to be immersed herself.
However, not every Ganapati is accompanied by Gauri, only those who’ve installed Gauri idols in their homes alongside Ganapati will carry them both else Ganesha makes his journey alone even if he shares the cart with Gauri, both emerging from different homes.
Likewise, families who’ve only installed Gauri idols will carry Gauri to the immersion point all by herself. The absence of Gauri idols in Hindu households does not mean she’s not worshipped, she is, since Gauri Puja is an important and integral aspect of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, except they’ll use more traditional forms of representing Gauri – small earthen pots my mum said used to be painted over with fighres of Lakshmi, Shanka (shell), Chakra (wheel), Tulsi Vrindavana, and a Cow with a calf.
Now she says, copper vessels are readily available with these signs engraved on it. Some use silver vessels for the same purpose, all so as to avoid the ‘hassle’ of finding an earthen pot in urban centres and possibly the lack of immersion points within easy access.
Men carry Ganapati, and women, Gauri.
Women bearing Gauri idols for immersion on day five of Ganesh Chaturthi is not as common elsewhere as it’s in
Maharashtra. While Gauri Puja is a thread that
binds Hindu womenfolk across India,
carrying Gauri idols for immersion is not as prevalent elsewhere.
She further says, ‘Mysore-side, she’s known as swarna Gauri and is installed a day before Ganapati is installed.’
‘Elsewhere in Karnataka, she’s celebrated as Jyesta Gauri, also revered as Lakshmi, and installed on Anuradha Nakshatra which appears on the second day of the commencement of Ganesh Chaturthi, sometimes on the third day.’ Gauri Puja ritual is interesting.
‘Rice is placed in the copper vessel with the five signs, some will use wheat depending upon what’s staple for the region or the household in question.’
‘Once the Puja is done on the third day following Gauri installation, the rice or wheat as the case may be is removed from the vessel before the Mula Nakshatra goes away and is made into payasam or payasa. Unlike rice that can be boiled and made into payasam, the wheat needs to be ground before it’s mixed with milk and made into payasam.
I grew up seeing Gauri Puja performed at home. Unlike Ganapati where the entire family is involved right from the time decorations commence to his immersion, Gauri Puja is primarily driven by the women of the house.
She tells me the thread is placed in the vessel, and as with rice or wheat offerings, it’s removed from the vessel upon deinstallation and worn on the wrist or around the neck until the day before Dussehra when it’s removed and buried in the earth around the Lakshmi pole.
‘In some regions, women remove the thread on the full moon (Purnima) after Dussehra. An alternative is to cast it in the river to avoid it channelled out along with garbage.’
In older days she remembers seeing Brahmins going house to house, Brahmin homes, selling thread made from cotton. ‘Thread offered up to Gauri during Gauri Puja would be made of 16 strands. A second 16-strand thread, or a third depending upon the number of married women in the family, would be similarly offered during puja to be worn by the women either around the neck or on the wrist once the puja was done and Gauri de-installed.
The thread is made wet, applied with haldi (turmeric) and Kum Kum (vermillion) and placed in the vessel for the duration Gauri remains installed. In instances where married relatives elsewhere are unable to perform Gauri Puja then a 16-strand thread would be dutifully placed for consecration on their behalf and mailed by envelope to their address.’
I distinctly remember this as I would carry the envelope with its distinct haldi strains to the post office and mail it out. Other times the postman would bear an envelope home and opening it Mum would extract the thread.
Seeing haldi now evokes many different memories and times.