by Dr. Madhav Prabhu
Belagavi is the citadel of the middle class, the house of sweet tooth, and the native of the patrons of art. We have our differences and we have our grudges, but when we celebrate, the world can only envy us. We may not have huge hoardings and the pomp and show of the metros, and we may not have crowd-pulling celebrities but when we come out and rejoice, we do it from our heart and we can show the world how best to celebrate the festival called life.
By far the biggest festival celebrated in the city is its Ganesha Utsav, it’s actually not merely a festival but a carnival of devotion and happiness. The city is in high spirits, everyone is welcome and there is plenty to do. It’s the most awaited festival of the year and nobody can be low at that time.
Although the festival starts much later, the preparations start as early as July or August. The first thing that tells us that we are on to the festivals is the Ganesh murtis which start appearing in Shahapur, Vadgaon, Bapat Galli and Mahadwar Road. As soon as you see them you realize it’s time to remind your siblings that they should apply for leaves and do their reservations. For us, the middle class, railways, and buses are the most important means of transport, and in this time of need, the government announces extra buses and trains to ferry home the faithful, if you don’t book in time you end up paying double of normal charge.
The shops get decked up in the last week of Shravan, there are mantaps coming up all over the city and the crowds start swelling up in Kirloskar Road, Ganpat Galli, Ramdev Galli and Khade Bazar, even the very dis-concerned can tell that its time for the most eagerly awaited celebrity of the year, the favorite God, Ganapati to make his annual visit to our homes.
The sweet shops have multicolored modaks on display, there are modak pedhas and the cashew nut modaks. Bapat galli, Pangul Galli have the electronic displays, Ganpat Galli has the decorations and Ramdev Galli has the bed sheets and the clothes. The market is glittering in glory with counters catering to every demand. There are experts in idol making like the Lads in Shahapur who have been making idols for five generations in Belagavi, and it is wise to do the booking in Shravan itself.
Back home you realize it’s time for Ganapati when one morning your mom wakes you up and hands you the broom making you an instant aam aadmi. We traditional Belagaviites have three occasions when cleaning is compulsory, Ganapati, Dasra -Diwali and yes Sankrantri, every room needs to be spic and span, there is no room for bachelor’s and their privacy, every corner is dusted and every wall painted. It’s a febrile pitch and even the kids are excited to welcome the Lord.
There is that one special corner however which is selected for hosting the deity, it is decorated and kept ready for the big day. The decoration has a base element which consists of one fresh bed sheet from Bombay Dyeing or Textile House, the Thermocol devara which are beautifully crafted and the beautiful samayis, this is then topped with plenty of other stuff ready to make the corner look like like a Bollywood set. If you are from Konkan you have a muntap on top and it’s called matav which has all the wildflowers and leaves adorning it.
Everything is set and the fever reaches its peak now, the wait seems like ages, it’s as if the marriage hall full of guests is waiting for the bride to arrive.
Coming Back Home
The young men and women come back home, with leaves from their offices and workplaces from places like Pune, Bengaluru, Mumbai, or even as far as New York, the buses and rails are packed with eager eyes waiting to see their homes. And then just when you think you can take it no more, the day arrives and the festivities begin.
It’s as if Mother Earth conspires to raise the pitch, she puts on her best costume, excited to welcome Ganu. There is greenery everywhere, flowers are in full bloom, the birds are chirping as if they were debating in the parliament, the streams are full of fresh water, the fields are lush with color, and the atmosphere is just electrifying. It’s as if Mother Earth herself welcomes Ganesha on his arrival to her abode.
It’s time to get the things you shopped for all these days, out of the closet, wear new clothes, clean your vehicles and get the wooden paat ready. The paat is nothing but a wooden plank which otherwise is seldom used but today it is special as it is the chariot on which the Lord arrives.
The children are most excited, they get their share of fun too, the eldest one is the General of the army who is responsible for the firearms (the firecrackers actually) and the other foot soldiers ready to fire at will, but that will have to wait till the guest sits on the paat. It’s usually a short procession led by the elders with children tagged along. In Belagavi you will find the shehnai and the drums midway and you can hire them to add to the show.
By the time you reach the moortikar, its excitement at an all-time high, and you are just dying to see the first sight of Ganu.
There is a system that works here, the delivery is on a first come first serve basis and how do you ascertain your spot, no you don’t drop your handkerchief, you keep your paat in the queue and after the formalities are done you are handed over the precious package, the eldest in the family gets the honor of lifting the paat with the beautiful image of the Lord on it, but wait its not only the elders, the children are not left behind and they are given the responsibility of carrying mushak the mouse, and this responsibility is equally great and its undertaken with due diligence. Then the procession starts, it could be on foot, on a scooter, or in a car, you feel like you are walking in the clouds.
Ganapati Bappa Moraya, yes that’s what is said and loud enough for the world to hear. The fervor is so much that some can’t stop dancing, the champion of hearts, the Lord of knowledge is coming to our house, nothing else can give you that feeling.
Then it is the ladies’ turn to welcome the Lord home, there is the Arti at the doorsteps of the home and even the bearers of the paat are treated like heroes, suddenly the lights go on and the decorations come to life as the Lord of the world takes his place in your home. There are special rangolis all around and rangolis are usually of two types, the freestyle, sanskar bharati and the dotted ones which emphasize symmetry, It is fun for the kids to fill colors in the rangoli. You know somehow when all this is going on, the size of the house never matters, someone rightly said: “Jagah ghar me nahi, dil me hone chaiye “.
There is another very important entity in the pooja and that’s the bhatjis or pandits and its the best time of the year for them too, it’s actually the start of the season which only ends in May after the marriages are over. Every family in Belagavi has its own Guruji, just like you have a family doctor you have a family priest. The appointments are taken in advance but keeping the time is difficult, the priests are literally in demand and out of stock. Once the pooja begins the priests have to prove their point and we never know what goes on in the pooja for so long, its the arati at the end that is the beacon to call everyone to order, the arati is the time to burst the crackers and is followed by the naivedya, something every child waits for.
There was a unique ritual at our homes, we would get naivedya only after seeing eleven Ganapatis after their poojas and we had to go from one house to another to see the aratis being performed. In hindsight, I realize this time was kept for Mom to prepare the cumbersome lunch including the modaks.
Ganapati is actually a great foodie and that necessitates that the naiwedya be delicious. There are different naivedyas and prasads, you have whole course meals, you have the small Prasads with the thrice daily Aratis and then there are sweets which are pre-prepared including the Chaklis and Chiwda, all, in all its a foodies delight.
The most essential dish in the naivedya is the modak. The modak comes in different types, there is the saucy boiled ones, the sugary fried ones, the ones with jaggery and the ones with coconut. You can make out a good cook on the number and perfection of the pleats on the modak, served hot with ghee you just can’t stop eating one.
You have a variety of sweets though and you need not stick to modak, the traditional have ladoos, karanji and barfis while the others have sweets like cashew modaks which serve as prasad.
We also have this special Panchakhadya which essentially consists of five ingredients, well at least five with no upper limit, you have dry fruits, jaggery, coconut, dalh, poha mixed together and the result is really yummy. Ganapati just loves this and we being bhakts cannot be different.
On Rushi Panchami there is Khatkhata, which is a veg dish prepared from tubers and shoots, it’s like the Belagavi version of Italian Ballito di Verdure, steam boiled veg and greens that tastes yummy. It’s quite an exercise going around the market searching for these edible vegetables.
There exists in some households in Belagavi ritual called undri served in honor of mushakraj, he is given nonveg naivedya, well how can we ignore the God vehicle and since he requires more proteins it has to be mutton? The custom is to cover Ganapati with a curtain while this is done, but I am sure the Lord sees it all.
There is another very exciting ceremony for the women of the house, Gauri, it’s a day women pray, chat, fast, gossip, and yes play. The games are called phugadi and it’s actually a dance in circles with traditional songs, teasing each other yet happy. It’s their kitty party. It’s not an easy thought and women have to be agile to play.
Another thing dear to the Lord is the flowers and being so close to the rains the gardens are in full bloom, red flowers are the favorite of Ganapati, especially the hibiscus flowers kept with the blades of grass called durva, then there is the Nevada and Jasmine and the list goes on and on. The entire day is spent meeting friends, and relatives and showing them your Ganu and the decoration. You get so used to waking up early to put on the lights and sleeping late looking at the decorations, you sometimes wish it remains forever.
Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav
A carnival is not however a carnival if it’s restricted to your home, right? Belagavi is no different, the mantraps in the city can give the best a run for their money. Belagavi is the only other place apart from Pune where Shri Balgangadhar Tilak himself started the Ganesh Utsav. There are hundreds(384 last year) of mantraps and each one has Ganesha in a different form, it’s a delight to watch. This reminds me of the picnics we had, every evening and especially on weekends, we went to see the different forms of Ganesh and the decorated mandaps, there was a snack prepared by Mom which we carried along in case we got hungry, then again there was bhel, churmure, popcorn available outside too. These picnics happen today too. There are huge crowds all over the city with people thronging the Mantaps, children enjoy this the most. We had the city divided into days so we did not miss a single mantap. There are also these school-going kids who cycle around the city visiting the pendals. Somehow you don’t feel tired waking up or cycling around the city when it comes to this festival. The mantaps also give a stage to emerging talents in the Galli, and it is the only chance you could get to a mike. You can dance, sing, mimicry, and perform dramas, the kids practice hard to come on stage.
Every happiness, however, has to come to an end, and so does the festival, the Gauri’s go first on the fifth day, and then the countdown starts, the paat soon becomes empty and you realize that the guest is going back to his home, there is a void felt for so many days after this, the home appears empty as if a member of the family is missing, the day of visarjan is one day we never want to see. In Belagavi however we send Ganu home in style, it’s the end of the carnival and we give it a fitting finale. The Visarjan procession in the city is famous and is a fantastic display of culture and art. The entire district comes down to see the glory of the Lord, there is popcorn, alipak, peanuts and so many more things you can relish while enjoying the procession.
” Ganapati Bappa Moraya, Pudhcya warshi laukar ya”, yes the love for Ganesha is so strong that the city keeps hoping this carnival is never-ending.