Vignahartha and destroyer of all obstacles, Lord Ganesha is worshiped by one and all. No new task begins without his blessings. Perhaps it was this unifying power of Lord Ganesh which made Bal Gangadhar Tilak, think about creating this household Ganpati festival into a community festival.
It was in 1893 that Tilak organized Ganesh utsav as a religious and social function and introduced the tradition of worshiping huge deities of Lord Ganesha in the community pandals and then immersing them on the tenth day.At the time when social and public gatherings were banned by the British this festival served like a common point for people of all castes and communities to come together.
I grew up in Bandra, a cosmopolitan suburb of Bombay. My earliest memory of Ganpati was driving down toThane another distant suburb to my grand aunt (grandmothers sister) maharashtrian household who hosted the Ganpati festival at their house every year. It used to be like a nice picnic, a long ride, worshiping the god and then sitting down in a pangat to be served a nice maharshtrian lunch with masala bhat. We just had one or two family friends in the Bandra neighbourhood who would have Ganpati at their house. On a few occasions, I would visit the big Ganpati pandal opposite Bandra talao. The pandal would have nice exhibits with houses and fields or a social message recording. In spite of not have much exposure to this festival, it was in high school, that I too was somehow fascinated by the idea of bringing Lord Ganesha home. My parents obliged, by suggesting that I could create my own little festival at home with our metal Ganpati idol and creating a mini exhibit by using the little box I made in my art class and a few decorations all nicely put up on top of a little wooden stool (choki). When it was time for immersion, I could do that home in a small tub and not contribute to polluting the sea. That is exactly what I did. Immersed the idol in the tub, nicely cleaned it and put it back in the showcase.
It was only in the year 2000 when we moved to the distant suburb of Kandivali is where I discovered the grandness of this festival. Every single society in the neighborhood had a ganpati pandal. The normally dark lane that I walked down each morning to get to the bus stop would be completely lit up with sparkling lights throughout those 10 days. Those 10 days truly felt festive, something I had never experienced before. The first year that we moved to our new building my father decided to volunteer to do the decoration for the Ganpati pandal with the help of young boys and girls who also volunteered to help out. This is where I met other people from my building and become friends with a few. Some of them continue to be my friends even after moving cities and countries. Another interesting concept was getting invited by random people in the building to come and visit their house for Ganpati. Some people were so enthusiastic they would put up invites on the notice board of each wing in the building, inviting people to come for the darshan. This was not it, if you went to their house for darshan you would be offered snacks or cold drinks. No shyness was allowed, it was not considered good if you didn’t eat or drink something at every visit. Ganesh Chathurthi truly did serve the purpose of uniting us with the people in our new building complex.
Well I am all for Ganesh Chathurthi and the spirit of togetherness that it creates, but there are some things about this festival that make me unhappy. The huge loud procession of bidding farewell to Lord Ganesha, contributing to the noise pollution, followed by the tons of waste that is created in sea and river due to the immersion perhaps killing even more marine life. I am sure Lord Ganesha would never approve of this.
In the last 124 years the festival has grown in leaps and bounds, from a small community gathering it has turned into organized event activities. But today I dream of a different Ganpati festival.
I dream of a Ganpati festival, where idols are never immersed, they are re-used perhaps metal idols are used. Alternatively, we have digital Ganpati idols, imagine walking in to a pandal with 3 D glasses and the pandal décor to is created with 3 D effects. So much less waste. All money that is contributed by devotees who visit the pandal can be authenticated through Aadhaar number and paid towards a specified charity. Strict fines imposed on pandals who violate the noise decibel. Non devotional music should not be allowed at any of the pandals. Pandals also need to be given a certain identification card through which all the money that is collected as donations or otherwise is accounted for.
I salute the spirit of this festival and what it does to unite us all together, but I want this spirit to also respect our natural resources and mother earth.
Ganpati Bapa Morya!