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!
I am here in Goa for Tehelka’s Thinkfest. While this media blitzkrieg is being inaugurated at the posh Hyatt at Bambolim, I am sitting at a local temple near where my uncle lives, hearing some beautiful music!
Goa never fails to surprise.
Tonight, I have the opportunity to experience a temple festival of the Shri Pimpleshwar Dutta Mandir in Talegaon, a municipality close to Panjim, Goa’s capital city. Dattatreya is the Trimurti, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, much worshipped in these parts. The festival features three local singers, artists of some calibre and plenty of confidence. Akshay, a young vocalist blessed with a mellifluous voice impresses me with his confidence and complete mastery of sur. Tanvi Valavalkar, also young, excelled at devotional music and her classical training comes through in her strong renditions. An older lady, whose name I did not catch, leads the group and has been singing in temple festivals for some forty five years! They carry on the vocal tradition of this region that has produced famous musicians and singers including the famous Mangeshkars.
The master of ceremonies is a colorful personality who fills the interludes with devotional stories, and quotes from a variety of ports and saints in a truly dramatic and traditional style of oration. A crash refresher course in Marathi for sure!
Temple festivals have been a long standing tradition in these parts. It is always heartening to see the strong sense of community in Goa. Today, I see the young and old, men and women, entire families with kids, the rich and the poor, even the resident dog gathered here. Most are truly enjoying the music, some are getting exposure to it. The music is semi classical and offers an opportunity for upcoming artists to showcase their skills to a relatively non judgemental audience.
This is a society bound by convention, faith and common interests. Shared beliefs and ideologies. Shared spaces. Shared rituals. Shared enjoyment. A society in which the whole is a bit more than the sum of its parts.
A day before any major life event, there is the Devkare. Today, we appeased the Gods a day ahead of Arnav’s Upanayan ceremony. Arnav is my cousin brother Ashish’s son. Ashooda has the clear distinction of being my favourite brother, sans competition. Arnav therefore had a special place in my heart. That he is only a year older than Udai and we have been fortunate enough to have spend time with each other as family despite living a few continents apart, is our good fortune. It is truly delightful to see the kids play and spar together. We relive our childhood experiences through them, those good old summers when we all visited each other, teased, laughed, cried together (i did a lot of the crying) and drove the parents crazy!
Anyway, there were many special aspects to today’s Devkare. It was held on the top floor of the family home in Calapur. A space we all remember well, but one that has fallen out of use. Being together in that old huge house has a special significance for family members. Besides the nostalgia, we are all aware that there are these few precious occasions remaining that still continue to bring us all together. Soon, it shall become harder for us to organise ourselves to come together like this from different parts of the world. The old home shall, eventually and inevitably, crumble. And along with it an entire era.
I was particularly happy to see Ajjee so excited. Nearing on a 100 years in age, my grandmother is truly remarkable. She admitted to feeling very fortunate to be able to see her great grandson take an important next step in his life. She handmade sheviyo (a type of noodle) that was used in today’s payas (sweet preparation). As well as badiyo (small balls of lentils cooked and dried) that were added to one of the vegetable preparations. Despite being very tired, she watched most rituals and interacted with everyone who came. Remarkable what love and will power can do. I must appreciate the important role traditions and rituals play in making the elderly feel relevant, making their guidance necessary and appreciated by us, who otherwise think we know it all!
Aadyaa and Udai, who have been to this home several times in the past few years, each time for a family ritual, are now comfortable with their cousins, the spaces and the general manner of conducting ourselves with family members. Today, Udai dutifully played the role of dhedo (companion) to Arnav and sat through all the rituals Very seriously Despite not speaking Konkani, the kids seem to have made themselves at home. I now have to keep the tempo of interaction going!
Tomorrow is the moonz (Konkani for Upanayan) when Arnav gets his sacred thread and symbolically adopts Brahminhood. Much buzzing activity, planning and organising has gone into this. I am excited to see what it entails. And of course, meet more people!