Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Piece Of Tradition

Worshipping Lord Ganapati on Ganesh chaturthi ( fourth day in the month of Bhadrapada of the Hindu calendar) and  goddess Gowri, Ganapati’s mother, on trutiya (third day of the month) has been a tradition in our family for decades or probably centuries. Decades I know. Centuries I guess. This involves bringing clay idols of Lord Ganapati and Gowri, setting them up on a suitably decorated platform or ‘Mantap’ as it is called, worshipping them on the specific days according to tradition, preparing tasty dishes (purportedly as offering to the gods), eating them to heart content and at the end of the festivities immersing the idols in a well or a stream.  Since there are hardly any wells or streams around these days, a bucketful of water performs the function of a well. Before the ‘puja’ (religious worship) you invoke the god and request him/her to enter the idol and accept your worship. After the ‘puja’ you invoke a well into your bucket and immerse the idols in it.

Even though Ganesha chaturti is celebrated all over the country and more importantly in all the southern states, my experience is limited to the way it was being done in Bengaluru, and after I shifted to Goa, what I have seen in Goa during the last three decades. Between the two states I find that lot more importance is given to tradition in Goa. There is tradition involved in every aspect of the festival here. You get the idols from the same idol maker every year. The colour, shape, size and trimmings are always the same. The ‘Mantap’, its decorations and the offerings to the deity follow tradition. The priest who comes over to guide the ‘puja’ will always be from a particular family. The number of days that the idol is kept for worship is fixed and so is the place of immersion. One rarely deviates from tradition.

I read a recent news item  which said that one of the families had an old ‘Mantap’ which had reached a stage of collapse after bearing the Lord’s elephantine weight and bearing with the coastal humidity over decades. The family ordered for an exact replica and it was done only after obtaining approval from the ‘Kuladevata’ (family deity) and with the concurrence of the traditional family priest!

As far as the ‘Mantap’ is concerned we too had our tradition and the ‘Mantap’ that hosted the idols in our house at Bengaluru traditionally was an upturned table. We had only one table in our house which was meant to assist our education process and for three days in a year it housed lord Ganapati who is the god in charge of knowledge. I do not know if studying on the table which hosted the lord of knowledge boosted our learning process but the fact that the learning process came to a standstill during those days surely boosted our festival spirit.

This up turned table was very convenient as a ‘Mantap’.  Its four legs jutting out of four corners were ideal for tying plantain saplings, and mango leaves were hung on a string tied across the legs. The drawers made the raised platform and the idols seated in their places for traditional worship with lighted oil lamps by their side were a pretty sight unlike what you see right now in the picture above, incidentally my debut as an artist. (Please resist the urge to reach for the key board for drafting protest letters. And if you must, reach for my artist cousin’s neck if you can. He happens to be the inspiration. Anyway I assure you that I will not do it again.)

After I shifted to Goa and we started celebrating the festival here, I had to give up the tradition of an upturned table as there were no tables around (my learning process had stopped long back and my children’s process was yet to begin) and for a few years we deviated from tradition and housed our Ganapati once on the TV table, once on the book shelf, once on a teapoy and so on. Then our old refrigerator broke and we bought a new one during a Ganesh Chaturti discount sale. This one had its own legs to stand up on and our old wooden fridge stand was rendered redundant. During ‘Chaturthi’ that year we placed two wooden planks on top of this stand and from the humble position of a fridge stand its journey towards the exalted position of Ganapati’s  ‘Mantap’ began.

It served the lord in its original shape for few years and during the construction of our present house I got a marble slab cut to size and used it as the top instead of the rotting planks and the fridge stand really started looking like something made for the purpose.

Another year my son got inspired by the decoration of the ‘Mantap’ in his friend’s place and decorated our ‘Mantap’ too with shiny golden paper and hit two nails at the corners for tying a string for the purpose of hanging auspicious mango leaves. With these trimmings it turned out to be a fully developed Ganapati  ‘Mantap’. It has served for more than a decade now and has become the traditional ‘Mantap’ of our household.

I am sure that my improvised ‘Mantap’ will surely last longer than me and few more decades down the line those who are around will have no knowledge of its humble origin. It will only be known as the Ganapati ‘Mantap’ always being used for placing the idols for worship during the Ganesh Chaturti festival.

Another piece of tradition is born.

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