Those familiar with the classical arts in India would understand that it is vital for the tempo to reach a crescendo, like the taan in a Hindustani vocal musical recital, before the climax is achieved and the experience of the rasik (connoisseur) draws to a joyful end, which itself is a state that anticipates the experience of yet another cycle of beauty.
The last day of chavath in Goa feels like this. The family turns out in the best clothes and prepares to enjoy to the fullest even as the mind prepares to big adieu to Ganapati by immersing the God into the waters at the end of the day. Till next year….
I will focus on two experiences of this day that I particularly enjoyed this time round on our trip to Goa. The first is the ritual of taking a trip out to the fields to cut a bunch of rice stalks from the fields. At this time of the year, the rice fields are an electric green and the short stalks of rice stand in still water, imbuing the countryside with a sheen of magical greenery that contrasts and yet blends with the deeper green of the coconut palm skyline.
We all trundled into Rohit’s van, a few of us adults and the entire gang of kids! Snehit, Saurabh and Udai were led on by Raunak, the oldest of the lot. Aadyaa tagged along, happy to be part of an adventure. We drove a short distance to the fields nearby, where a few families were engaged in wading out into the field and acquiring the nave, which was subsequently received into the house with pomp and ceremony. This time, Neela kaki did the aarti of the three young boys, washing their feet first, putting a teeka on them and also showing them the reflection of their faces in a shallow plate of water that had been made auspicious by the addition of kumkum and rice. This particular step of the aarti is unique to the Western coast in India, it seems. I’m married into a north Indian family and I haven’t seen anyone do this reflection stuff in these parts. The entire ritual of bringing in the nave seems to be another way, like the matoli, to connect the festival of chavath to the agricultural traditions of the community.
The other tradition unique that may be unique to Goa happens towards the end of the day. Each house in the vaddo (a unit of the village) is visited by a group of singers comprised of a few people from every Hindu household from the vaddo. Our house is the last in the vaddo and so we wait a long time for this group of people to turn up, spending the afternoon preparing the prasad and neatly distributing it into 50-60 portions to distribute later. Even after they have sung the aartiyo so many times over, or perhaps because of that, the sheer energy they bring to the singing fills the air with an electric pulse of joyful energy. This time, I took video clips of their singing, that you can see here.
I found this tradition fascinating. In Rahul’s village in Rajasthan, ladies from the village come in to sing auspicious songs at daybreak during weddings and this is a great form of community participation. In Goa, the ritual of singing the final aarti not just with members of your family but with the larger family that is the village community takes relationships onto a new platform. These are people you may not know very well, but in the socio-economical construct of the village, they are your extended support structure and a certain level of interaction accompanied by the requisite dose of mutual respect is expected. By dedicating a person or two from your home (Viraj and Rohit took turns to go from our family this year) to join this group of singers, villagers create a collective identity that extends into their lives, tying the community together in an intangible manner. Yes, this group is a male group and this sort of distinction between the duties of men and women is also a mark of the traditional functioning of a Goan village that have remained intact through generations.
After the guests leave, the family carried the idol of Ganapati into the living room and we danced around Ganya, showering him with laayo (puffed rice, considered auspicious in most parts of the country). Watch my kakis and even the kiddos Udai and Snehit participate with gusto at close to midnight in this video clip of our little send off ritual. Udai saw this business to its end, insisting on going all the way to the immersion ghaat till he watched our little Ganapati sink into the waters to the sounds of more firecrackers and shouts of “Morya! Morya! Ganapati Bappa Morya!”
Goodbye Goa! We will be back for more, next year!
We arrived in the ancestral home in our village Kalapur close to lunch time. Anookaka, who is my father’s older brother and was the senior most male member of the family present had gone ahead early and performed the pooja to ensconce our beloved Ganapati in his beautiful altar. When we walked in, we were greeted by his resplendent presence and beatific smile!
Through the morning, male members of the Naik family offered doorva (a specific type of grass considered auspicious) to Ganapati as an offering. By tradition, an upanayan ceremony is performed for Brahmin boys about the age of 7 to formally adorn him with the sacred thread. All boys who had their upanayan ceremonies done took turns to change into traditional savle attire (dhoti, bare chest, sacred thread and angavastram) and offer dhruv to the deity. Last year, we attended Arnav’s upanayan in Goa. For those of you curious to see what that ceremony is like, here’s a link to my blog post from then.
We all sat around and talked some more. Then we assembled for the aartis, sang them and finally, ate lunch together. Lunch is a traditional spread, the few days in the year when Goan Brahmins remain absolutely vegetarian. Coconut, kokum, ambade and whole bunch of local seasonal vegetables are used to cook traditional delicacies like khatkhate, kokum kadhi, chanyache tonaak, phodi, bhaji, papad, etc.
This is a day for bonding and easing into the celebrations. As per tradition, married ladies fast on this day, in empathy with Parvati or Gouri, Ganesh’s mother. This is a day dedicated to the Goddess and to Mahadev or Shiv, her husband and also our family deity.
My camera’s roving eye found various groups of people in conversation, in camaraderie over activities like cooking or decorating or, in the case of the children, on burning firecrackers! Looking back at the pictures I clicked, I see how the young and old come together, how barriers come down as people ease their guard, how the ritual activities of a family festival take over a rhythm of their own and individual moods, opinions and priorities take a backseat. It is this transformation that grips me each time I come to Goa for Chavath. I revel in the slowing down of the pace of life, in the inversion of priorities away from the self and into the realm of family, community, ritual and perhaps even faith.
My aunts sat together, peeling and cutting vegetables and also sharing memories and planning the menu for the next two days. Ajjee sort of oversaw what they were doing, out of sheer force of habit because this is what she has been doing for the last forty odd years! We cousins swapped stories, clicked pictures and ‘Whatsapped’ them to each other and to other cousins far away.
As evening came, we gathered to sing together. The aarti, to me, is the crescendo towards which the events move. The chaal, best described as the rhythmic tune, in which we sing the aartiyo in Goa are distinct from those in Maharashtra. More musical and complex rather than merely chanted, participating in the aarti is as much about skill as gusto. We all enjoy this bit immensely, as you can see in this video. The kids particularly charm me with their enthusiasm!
The kids utilize the evening to do what they enjoy the most- Fog, or firecrackers! See the joy on their faces!
Despite being from Goa, I never made it home for Chavath except perhaps one time during my childhood. I grew up barely aware of the immense importance of Ganesh Chaturthi to Hindu Goan families.
In Mumbai, where I stayed through ages 6-11, Ganpati was all about visiting countless pandals with enormously elaborate statues of the Elephant God as well as interesting tableaus telling stories from the scriptures or even commenting on current politics or sports! We sang the evening aarti with great gusto, running from one community celebration to another to catch the aarti and collect the prasaad, usually sweet modak or laadu.
In 2008, I first attended chavath in Goa, where the festival plays out within the domain of the family rather than in the community or saarvajanik form. I was mesmerized by the numerous ritual and activities that went into the two and half day festival and fell in love with the feeling of family bonding that I experienced. My children were very small then, Udai was four and Aadyaa was a few months old. I felt Goa and family exert an unmistakable pull on my heartstrings and I came back for more, in 2011 and now in 2013. The next few posts on this blog are an attempt at describing the festival as it is celebrated in my ancestral home in Calapur, a few kilometres outside Goa’s capital city, Panaji.
We reached Goa on Saturday, 7th of September. Rahul, the kids and me. All enthused to participate. This was the day the family prepared for the festival. As we entered the home, we saw that the matoli had been put up. On our last visit, we had been in time to actually hang seasonal fruits, vegetables and flowers on the wooden grid (usually made of bamboo or wood from the betelnut palm) that is permanently suspended from the ceiling in the puja room. Ganesh Chaturthi, like Onam in Kerala, is also an autumnal festival, celebrating new life that you can see all around after the three months of rain. Typical items that are plucked (or bought nowadays, the bazars full of these typical seasonal items that would go up on matolis in ancestral homes across the state) and hung are chibud (a cousin of the cucumber), nirphanas, torand (grapefruit), ambade, coconuts, betelnuts, bananas, local yam and bunches of wild fruits and flowers. These are interspersed with mango leaves, considered auspicious in Hindu culture, and tied together using a local vine.
The stage is set for the most popular and fun festival of the year!