Tuesday 10 September 2013

Celebrating Ganesha Chaturthi the Special Way

Mr Jules and I were extremely honoured to be invited to a private family celebration of Ganesha Chaturthi (the birthday of Ganesha).  We took part in the festivities yesterday - consisting of an Aarti and a Prasad lunch - together with all 60 members of the Pandit family. 

Although the Pandit family has been celebrating Ganesha Chaturthi for close on 100 years, their family idol is rotated between the descendants of the five Pandit brothers every year - each branch of the family taking responsibility for celebrating the festival and therefore keeping the family connected.   

The Aarti really was a marvellous experience and a sight to behold - and the lunch that followed was simple but delicious.  I would like to extend thanks again to Shwetambari, Priyanka and their wonderful family for making us feel so welcome and so included. Thank you also for explaining the whole process to us in detail and for letting me write about it afterwards!  

As with any spiritual celebration in India, there is a format to be followed - with religious iconography, colours, lights, candles and singing. Amazing!  By the time this piece has been written, the Pandit Ganesha idol will also have been immersed in a lake at Aarey Colony.  I am sorry we will have missed that spectacle!

The story is better told in pictures:

Here (and below) is the sacred Ganesha installation at the Pandit household -
adorned with flowers and blades of grass etc

This is a representation of Parvati - the mother of Ganesha.  Lord Shiva (the father of Ganesha) - is represented here by a coconut in front of Parvati.

Powders for anointing the tikka (dots on the forehead)
Waiting to begin...mobile phones are always useful in these situations
Mr Pandit and the men folk (he was wondering whether he was going to end up on my blog
...well here you are Mr Pandit!)
Beautiful Pandit sisters!

This is the Modak - made by mum Mrs Pandit and central to the Aarti.  The Modak are sweet steamed dumplings made with coconut and jaggery and other ingredients and offered to Ganesha during the 'Shhodashopachara' ritual . Modak is believed to be Ganesha's favourite food (funny how he had a sweet tooth!)
Shweta holds the actual Prasad offering on a banana leaf (including one of the Modaks). Prasad literally translates as 'gracious gift'.
The girls show me their Mehendi - Priyanka has managed to draw Ganesha on to her own palm! (Far right).

The little percussion instruments that are used to assist chanting during the Aarti.
For those who have not memorised the devotional songs - hymn books can be used 
Amazing and mesmerising scene as all 60 Pandit family members crowd in front of the idol and chant Vedic hymns during the Aarti ceremony.
Mr Pandit presides over the Aarti - wearing a traditional Dhoti and Uttariyam (shawl)
The chanting of mantras is accompanied by swirling of fire in front of the statue. The Aarti plate must have on it a lamp containing the burning ghee or oil. The waving of the lighted wicks before Ganesha is done in the spirit of humility and gratitude - wherein the participants become immersed in the god's divine form.
The chanting of mantras invokes the presence of Ganesha using the statue as a body for channeling his energy (this ritual is called the Pranapratishhtha).  The room at this point becomes quite hot and intense with incense and soot from the candle flames.  Very atmospheric!
The ghee is being topped up.

Towards the end of the ceremony, the Aarti plate is passed around and those present cup their down-turned hands over the flame and then raise their palms to their forehead - the purifactory blessing passed from Ganesha's image to the flame - has now been passed to the devotee. 

After the chanting part, family members make offerings to Ganesha.
Afterwards we share in a Prasad lunch provided by the Pandits (nearly forgot to take a photo before gobbling it up!) - consisting of a farsan, dal spooned on to steamed rice, pulao, puris, sol kadi, pickles, mutter aloo (pea & potato curry) and cauliflower (ghobi) curry. No onions, garlic or ginger is used in the preparation of the Prasad lunch. Finally, one of the delicious steamed modaks which has now been blessed by Ganesha.
Family members in their beautiful, bright saris, get stuck into the Prasad lunch.
Stunning pink sari and blingy matching bracelets.

The Legend of Ganesha (according to Wikipedia)

Traditional Ganesha Hindu stories tell that Lord Ganesha was created by goddess Parvati consort of Lord Shiva. Parvati created Ganesha out of sandalwood paste that she used for her bath and breathed life into the figure. She then set him to stand guard at her door while she bathed. Lord Shiva, who had gone out, returned and as Ganesha didn't know him , didn't allow him to enter. Lord Shiva became enraged by this and asked his follower Ganas to teach the child some manners. Ganesha who was very powerful, being born of Parvati, the embodiment of Shakti. He defeated Shiva's followers and declared that nobody was allowed to enter while his mother was bathing. The sage of heavens, Narada along with the Saptarishis sensed the growing turmoil and went to appease the boy with no results. Angered, the king of Gods, Indra attacked the boy with his entire heavenly army but even they didn't stand a chance. By then, this issue had become a matter of pride for Parvati and Shiva. Angry Shiva severed the head of the child. Parvati seeing this became enraged. Seeing Parvati in anger Shiva promised that her son will be alive again. The devas searched for the head of dead person facing North. But they found only the head of a dead elephant. They brought the head of the elephant and Shiva fixed it on the child's body and brought him back to life. Lord Shiva also declared that from this day the boy would be called Ganesha (Gana Isha : Lord of Ganas).


  1. What a privilege to be invited to attend such a wonderful family event.



Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.