A Konkan meme doing the rounds shows a ‘Free World Tour Ticket’ counter empty, while a queue three-deep gangs up in front of the counter selling confirmed tickets for trains headed to the village for Ganpati.
With a whopping 2200 ST buses and 200 trains ferrying revellers to their villages in the Konkan this season — not counting the private vehicles — the joke is not off target.
For every Mumbaikar with roots in the Konkan, Ganeshotsav fever is running high, as it faithfully does this time of year. “Don’t forget, nearly 60% of Marathi residents of Mumbai originally hail from the Konkan.
Most villages in Southern Konkan, mainly from Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, have at least one member living in Mumbai,” points out Sachin Parab, writer and ex newspaper editor.
And Ganeshotsav, as any Malvankar/ Malvani worth his ‘mashyachi aamti’ will tell you, is absolutely the most important five days on their annual calendar.
“It is Konkan’s Diwali, Eid and Christmas all together!” vouches Parab, “It is just the biggest festival here.” Malvanis in the city will do whatever it takes to get back to their village to welcome Ganpati in the place of their origin.
Not even threats of getting fired can faze them and the only time they will relent, is to give another Malvani co-worker a chance to take leave this year, consoling themselves with the thought that next year it will be their turn for 15 days of bliss!
And bliss, it evidently is... India’s rugged section of the western coastline is blessed with enormous scenic beauty. The air itself is magic, going by Kishor Patkar’s description of his village, Pat (Mhapan)...
“Imagine, rows of fresh vegetables growing in the courtyard of your house, the simple joys of fresh coconut water (to be consumed only before 8 am, mind you) and fresh chutney...the feeling of walking on narrow paths through a bedspread of tall green swaying stalks of rice... the gentle rain that comes and goes. I get goosebumps just thinking about it!”
The festival itself serves as a wonderful glue, bringing together masses of relatives and reinforcing familial bonds. For Vilas Parab and his family, it means returning to the home of his forefathers in village Amberi, Malvan.
“There are at least 100 members of our extended family who gather at home for the festival. My great-grandfather had five sons, and each has their homes nestled close in our Parab Wadi. Every night there is ‘dhamaal’. The wadis become a beehive of festivity.
There’s Ganpati in every home, and every evening we visit each house for the aarti. This goes on till the wee hours of the morning.” There is no room for tiredness, avers Kishor, not with the thump of the leather-surface dhols touching your soul.
Prep of course starts well in advance when the family paat (low stool) is delivered by each family to the idol maker, for the ‘shaadu mati’ (natural clay) deity that is crafted onto it.
Rooms are opened up, cleaned thoroughly, and floors re-plastered with beneficial cowdung. Family heirlooms are polished for the festive rituals that lie in store.
The ancient brass ‘laman diva’ (hanging lamps) along with the small ‘niranjan’ lamps and the large multi-tiered ‘samai diva’ emerge in their gleaming glory.
“Why, we even have the ‘paatla’ from my grandfather’s time, made of ‘sagwan’ wood, coming down generations,” smiles Vilas, with a touch of quiet pride.
Nothing is too much when it comes to welcoming the beloved ‘lok devta’ of the Konkan people. “Ganpati is a folk deity in the Konkan,” explains Sachin Parab.
“In many parts of Maharashtra, Ganpati remained a deity mainly of the upper castes only. In Pune, Ganpati was honoured as the ‘Kul Devta’ of the Peshwas who ruled here for years, who originally hailed from the Konkan, namely Shrivardhan.
As the Peshwas wielded immense power, their devotion to Ganpati also spread. In the Konkan however, Ganpati was always the god of the common man. All castes observed and celebrated the festival in the Konkan and do so till this day.”
Ganpati has gone from being part of religion, to being part of culture. In the folk arts, Parab points out, Ganpati joins his devotees in their celebration. ‘Ganpati aala, nachun gela,’ is a popular song that sums up this sentiment.
“In other places there might be a certain rigidity and formality to the rituals—but it’s different in the Konkan. Here informality characterises both the rituals and celebration of Ganeshotsav,” he adds.
Interestingly, of the five key days that Ganpati is worshipped, three belong to Gauri and in the Konkan, among many, she is equally if not more important.
It is believed that in the conflict that occurred when the early matriarchal system shifted towards patriarchy, Ganpati was a supporter of the former.
Essentially, the elephant-headed god holds strong as the leader (pati) of the people (gana). He remains, avers Sachin Parab, the epitome of all a leader should be:
A philosopher king like Plato described, his large ears suggesting the need to listen to his people, his trunk which is used to choose and draw only that which is desirable towards himself, his small eyes which minutely scan his surroundings, his choice of vehicle, the humble mouse over the mighty tiger or lion, denoting his desire to give importance to those who are, by and large, neglected. A time for some soul-searching amidst the revelry? Ganesha would approve.