Today's Ganesh Chathurthi. There was a time when we used to call it Vinayaka Chaviti though - and thought it was a Telugu thing. After that the festival got fashionable and we came to know that it was an All India festival celebrated in large scale. All kinds of changes happened to the festival over the years too as I noticed. Or maybe the changes happened to me.
It was one of the three festivals we celebrated at home. The other two being Sankranti and Diwali. Dad was in his element on Vinayaka Chaviti days. There were six of us children and I wonder how they got anything done with all of us around. I also think there were other people at home in the early years - relatives, uncles and servants - so things happened.
Early recollections were maybe when I was less than ten. Getting up, nay, being woken up roughly at some ungodly hour and rushed off for a head bath. In those days, the 70s, shampoos were not always the answer to head baths. We had this brew made from kunkudu kayas (soapnut is it?) which could make you miserable with its soaps, stingy and rough texture it left the hair with. The luxurious option to that was the Tata shampoo, a plain serrated bottle with some yellow shampoo, no particular fragrance, but far better than the brew. After emerging from the bathroom, already in a foul mood, because of the bath, the rules, stiff new clothes and no breakfast, we'd wait while stuff happened around us for the puja. The puja material had to be got, mango leaves washed and tied to every door step, food stuffs and sweets made, the Vinayaka mandir prepared and installed, and while all this was going on, everybody had to be head bathed and ready in new clothes. Even thinking about it is tiring but they managed it. And hey, we also needed to identify what we wanted blessed by Vinayaka for success! Most of us chose books because we had no other ideas until much later when I put in my cricket bat for blessings as well.
Sometime before noon the puja would finally take off. Vinayaka installed on a mould of rice, under a chhatri made of wood to which hung all sorts of stuff, from lotus leaves to flowers to bhuttas, lamps were lit, agarbattis lit, prasadam got for God, and finally Dad would read the Vinayaka stothram, Mom would fuss about or indicate what to read all resplendent in her silk sari, Peddakka would help out in the puja room, Nalini would create and announce crises and liven up proceedings with some story or another, Mythily would be working strongly and efficiently by deploying all resources within her reach to help achieve the goal of getting the puja underway, Chanti would identify some part of the process she liked and immerse herself into it, I would be either irritating everyone around or tying mango leaves or stuff and Ram would be someplace around Dad (who had his white silk kurta and lungi for this occassion).
Now this was one day when Dad would always be happy, look happy and enthusiastic. And so would Mom. Puja would be fun though we never understood what was going on. Dad read mostly and read well. Mom took over after he passed away. And sometime the baton passed to me and I had a tough time reading those shlokas. But I did.
After shloka reading, we'd offer prasadam to God, pray individually to him about what we want him to bless us on, a particular journey, got the tools and implements (in our case the books), pasted vermilion and turmeric on it, prayed really hard (means that we shut our eyes really hard and said please please God), prostrated before the God and were ready to devour the wonderful spread had had cooked up. For sure we would have undrallu (kind of tasteless), pulihora (nice), payasam (nice) and vadas (nice). We'd gobble up all the food that was there as fast as we could and then relax and wait for lunch.
In the evening there was another puja and this time we had to be careful not to see the moon until we did the puja (long story). And after that we could return to our feasting again. After 9 days the idol and the puja stuff were to be immersed in water, in a nearby lake or waterbody.
Some of the happiest moments of our childhood were spent celebrating this festival. We continue doing it of course, in our respective houses. As we grew older, we were given the job of getting the idols, the puja samagri, cleaning up, decorating and doing the puja. The good old Bajaj Chetak DBQ 6042 helped me many a time in getting it all together. Long as Mom was alive, we did it all, the right way. Now we forget many things, take some short cuts, cut down the number of days. But we do it, in memory of that happiness and of what it meant to my parents. God bless their souls.
Today Shobha made that same stuff - pulihora, vada, payasam and a Marathi version of undrallu (only they taste better) called modaks. We had a small puja ceremony which was conducted with great enthusiasm by a silk langa clad Anjali who decided to 'help' us by rubbing vermilion and turmeric all over our foreheads. She likes this stuff, Anjali, and can sit for long hours in front of the Gods. For the first time though, we used an idol that Anjali's school, Daksha, had made, a small eco friendly, Ganesha. My throat was bad so I declined the mantras and merely thought of the time my Dad would read them.
And so Ganesha blesses us as we move on into another year carrying our hopes and aspirations, dreams and destinies. Maybe sometime we should all get together and do a big Vinayaka Chavithi again.