Ganesh Chaturthi is India’s most spectacular festival celebrated in the months of August and September. During the ten days of the festival, a clay idol of lord Ganesha is worshipped, and on the last day a procession takes place with grand festivities followed by the idol being immersed in flowing water. Here’s a quick guide on how to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi and make the most of your experience during the festival:
There are hundreds of ganpati mandals put up across cities in western India during the ten days of Ganeshostav, as the festival is popularly known. The life-size idols of the elephant god, dazzling with gold and silver are installed in glorious flower adorned pandals and magnificent decors based on mythology, environment and popular culture.
Most pandals are extremely crowded with large queues of people waiting to catch a glimpse of the deity. Some of the popular mandals are strikingly beautiful, for example, Lal Baug Cha Raja in Mumbai or Dagdusheth in Pune, but I bet you cannot stand there for more than a couple of seconds. The idols are beautiful but the experience is short lived.
So, you can entirely skip the popular pandals and head to the smaller ones in quiet neighborhoods. The best part is that you can stay there for longer, take your time to soak in the vibes, join in the celebration with the locals, take pictures etc.
Tip: Go early in the morning to attend the morning aarti and pooja. It’s comparatively less crowded in the mornings.
Feast on Modaks and more
Food has a major role to play in Indian festivals, and this one is no exception. There’s a wide variety of snacks and sweets prepared during ten day festival, modaks being one of the most prominent sweets offered to the deity. Modaks are sweet dumpings, made fried or steamed out of wheat or rice flour and filled with a mixture of coconut, dried fruit, cardamon, saffron, and sugar. Modaks come in a mind-boggling variety; from mango modaks to chocolate modaks, the assortment of modaks you will get to dig into are limitless. Then there are other sweets like motichoor laddoo, shrikhand, basundi, kheer and puran poli!
If you happen to be around Pune or Mumbai during the festival, you should not miss going to the traditional Maharashtrian thali restaurants. Many restaurants will have specials menu, everything from modak, Shrikhand to pooran poli. It’s a total feast! And if you are lucky to get invited by a local into their home for ganpati pooja, you are in for a real treat. Every pooja is followed by a gala lunch and you will be served with a lot of love until you are happily stuffed!
Tip: If you are invited for pooja at someone’s home, carry a box of modaks for the deity. It’s a way of showing respect towards your hosts and you’ll blend right in!
Soak in the festive vibes
Take your time to experience the festival; watch, observe and listen. Indian festivals can be overwhelming, especially if you are not used to crowded, noisy atmospheres. Seek to volunteer your time or your skills at a friend’s home or your neighborhood housing society, ask locals for recommendations and most important of all go with an open mind. Savour the festival food, try your hand at making modaks, watch intricate rangolis being drawn, adorn a festive attire and soak in the vibes this extravaganza of music and festivity.
Tip: Devotees chant ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’ all the time during the festival.
Watch the dhol-tasha pathaks play
The festival is incomplete without the beats of the dhol-tasha, and during the immersion procession, you’ll see troops dressed in traditional attire, adorning brightly colored phetas and drumming away to glory. These youths practice for months in advance and put their heart and soul into the performances. There is so much energy, so much noise and yet crowds keep pouring in from different parts of the city to watch the Visarjan.
Shiv Garjana, Nadbramha and Shiv Mudra are some of the most popular dhol-tasha pathaks and you should definitely not miss their performances if you happen to be around during the last day of the festival.
Tip: Visit Pune on the last day of the festival to witness the best of dhol-tasha pathaks perform on the streets during the Visarjan miravnuk.
Attend Gauri pooja
During the ten-day festival, there is a three-day pooja of Goddess Gauri. The idols are welcomed into homes with traditional rituals and adorned with sarees, jewelry, and flower garlands. The best way to witness this is to visit a local and live the experience at their homes. On the second day, there is a gala lunch for guests, followed by a pooja and aarti.
You’ll get to hear stories about Ganpati & Gauri, watch the pooja and rituals performed in the most traditional ways and dig into some scrumptious prasad. What’s not to love?
See how idols are sculpted or make one yourself!
For an eco-friendly celebration, many people are now opting for idols made from Clay. There are a number of workshops held in the cities where you can learn to sculpt your own Ganesha idol from clay. It’s fun and safe for the environment too. You can also watch youtube videos to learn how to make an idol using shadu clay.
If you do not fancy a DIY, there are a number of artists who have open workshops that you can visit and see how they sculpt life-size Ganesha idols. Pen, a town two hours from Mumbai is where the majority of Ganesha idols are crafted. The labor-intensive process of handcrafting the idols starts three months before the festival. It takes specialized skills, handed down from generation to generation, and artisans come from across the country to assist.
Join the locals in the celebration
The best way to experience the Ganesh festival is to join the celebrations at a local’s home. The festival was started with the sole intention of bringing people together and spreading joy and cheer in the communities. Traditional celebrations are some of the core aspects of any culture and getting deep into the local culture is a fantastic way to understand as well experience it. It’ll forever be etched in your memory; everything from seeing how pooja is performed, to how Prasad is cooked and even getting to adorn the traditional attire.
There are housing societies that celebrate the festival with a lot of excitement too, with themed decors and magnificent idols, it’s a great way to experience the culture close up. Passer-bys and non-society members are happily welcomed with an open heart to join the celebration.
Watch the Visarjan miravnuk
Thousands throng the streets to catch the last glimpse of the deity as the ten day festival comes to an end . Flowers are showered upon the idols as the mandals make their way through the city streets laden with colorful rangolis, while the dhol tasha pathaks perform mesmerizing sequences as the crowds cheer and dance to bid a goodbye to the elephant god.
The Visarjan Miravnuk is a fun-filled yet a very crowded procession and if you are not comfortable with loud sounds then you can also catch the procession broadcasted live on local television channels.
Tip: If you plan to join the Virsarjan in big cities like Mumbai or Pune, be very cautious. Make sure you have a trusted friend accompanying you during all times who knows the way around the city well. The crowds can get extremely unruly. Don’t carry valuables and be wary of pickpockets. Avoid the main streets as much as possible, stay around the popular neighborhoods to catch a glimpse of the procession.