I got the first feel of the community based festivals during my posting at Kolkata. Our first Durga Puja at Kolkata was a memorable experience. Five days of holidays on a trot, life coming to complete halt during the daytime on these 5 days, the city sleeping in the morning and completely vibrant during the nights, public transport, including the tube railway plying whole night and hordes and hordes of people doing pandal hopping, standing in serpentine queues outside some of the more famous pujas of Mohammad Ali Park, College Square etc. Of course, some of the Durga Puja Committees experimented with newer themes year on year ( eco friendly, Kargil war, space journey etc) that attracted crowds to their pandals. Food available at the stalls was to die for and Mother Teresa was treated almost with same awe, respect and devotion as the divine Ma herself. Delhi had Ramlilas, but such community based festival was a big novelty for a Delhiite.
Fast forward to our arrival in Mumbai and we were exposed to Ganpati festival for the first time. I had some idea of this festival thanks to Bollywood, but first hand experience of how this elephant God had captured the imagination of Mumbaikars was exhilarating to say the least. It was actually a divine experience . Also, unlike Durga Puja, which was largely community based with very few households having private puja at home, Ganpati festival had both – communities as well as households celebrating this festival with big and small idols of various hues, moods and materials. Seeing the devotion and gaiety, we decided to bring home a Ganesha every year for 1.5 days, a tradition that has continued over the last 16 years.
We bring home Ganesha on the festival day morning, welcome him like a house guest, treat him well, invite friends and acquaintances for Prasadam and take him to the sea beach the next day evening for immersion. It is said that immersion of the Lord is symbolic of his reunion with his mother, a happy event but tinged with sadness on having to see off a guest, who changed our lives by being our guest for 1.5 days.
This is the 17th year of our celebration and what makes this event even more special is the presence of our grandson, whom we lovingly address as Maghi Ganesh (he was born during that period).
As I always admit, festivals represent our culture and ethos, but with each passing year the gaiety and enthusiasm are waning. Diwali is quieter and less sweet, Holi is dryer and less boisterous, Rakshabandhan is lonelier with none or one sibling (sometimes of the same sex like only two brothers or only two sisters), but the community based festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi play an important role in keeping our tradition alive, bringing the communities together and conveying the larger purpose of these festivals in our lives that goes beyond eating , dancing or fasting!
Ganpati Bappa Moriya to everyone! May the lord shower his choicest blessings on everyone irrespective of sex, caste, creed, religion, nationality or economic status!!!!