Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pune Street Scenes V: Ganapathi Bestoweth Happiness

It is difficult to associate the street scenes of Pune during ganapathi puja season as anything approaching one in which one is immersing one’s self in Ganesha solemnly; rather it is one in which one is hoping to be among those on whom Ganesha bestows happiness. The nature of the happiness depends on the individual’s needs at that time and so it is sufficient to be happy to realize that one has been bestowed with happiness. Basta!? The beginning of this blog will have to be a little essaying of the essay kind. The latter half is mainly pictures of the impression kind.

As always, click on the pictures to enlarge and get a better view

To perform a ganapathi puja, one should find a ganapathi; just as a German should find a book of instructions before starting any machine. A purist would make a ganapathi from mud without using a mould. The ganapathi should be installed at home and the family should participate in the worship preferably as a joint family. That should be sufficient cause for happiness. It is also true that such joint family happiness cannot be sustained throughout the year. There could be some other reasons associated with ganapathi which is too sophisticated for me and could require an understanding of theory of particles and virtual photons and octet theory, before one understands gana (as a spiritual particle from Sanskrutkosh, or as a vasu from Panini or as a collection of triyak or tama frequencies from Nighantukosh) and before one understands ganapathi as the nurturer of such ganas. All that high energy is sufficient to clean a home but cannot be sustained at home for more than a few days---of that, one can be reasonably sure.

Most of us Indians are singularly untalented in almost all spheres of creative expression. Not to worry!? Dag Hammarskj√∂ld, the second Secretary General of United Nations, at a time when UN was important to the world, would say this of himself; John Kennedy would call him “… the greatest statesman of the world.” In this modern India where the medicine men in the shape of pharmaceutical companies, and kings (in the shape of non-innovative “industrialists” protected by government licences), and IT czars (who sell the innate Indian skill of counting and logic to gives fresh life to the erstwhile clerks of East India company) pass off originality for the way good “singularly untalented” skills may be sold at cheapest rates to foreign companies so at have enough money to buy foreign arms and other luxuries. Such “entrepreneurs” have probably squeezed all day-to-day skills of ordinary living from the hapless middle class. Few now make any idol. We only worship them. One requires buying images of modern idols (Salman Khan, Rakhi Sawant, her mother) if only to show our worship. It also helps to promote the economy, whatever that means.

Forunately, most Indians are young and unfettered, and happy, without obligations to worship.

The place where the majority of idols is sold is near Kumbharwada near dagdi pul (now Dengre bridge). It is on the bank of the river opposite Shaniwar wada between the Dengle bridge and the new Corporation bridge. The original dagdi pul was at a lower level; a remnant of this bridge is probably seen below the present Dengle bridge in the google map at (http://wikimapia.org/#lat=18.5246811&lon=73.857286&z=16&l=0&m=s&v=9). It could also have been at the submerged structure (http://wikimapia.org/#lat=18.5230534&lon=73.8560629&z=16&l=0&m=s&v=9) in front of the old Punyeshvar temple over which the Darga of Chote Shaikh Salla Baba is supposed to have been built. Dagdi Pul was the main and perhaps only entrance to Pune gaon from other villages during Nanasaheb Peshwa’s time (~1720-1761). It is Nanasaheb (or Balaji Bajirao) who had transformed the Poona gaon to a city during his reign. After the debacle at Panipat, when Nanasaheb lost his son and brother, he felt ashamed to enter the city through Dagdi pul and he built (nearly 250 years ago) another wooden bridge, the Lakdi pul, which would later become Sambhaji bridge.

This stretch of land where the idols are sold still has the old world charm and one can imagine oneself, looking at the trees and the river (near bottom left of collage) to be transported to the time of the Peshwas if one can ignore the traffic and other urban noise (we can do it, incroyably, when we want); one can imagine, people from surrounding villages transporting idols to Pune and stocking them (as on the top right of the collage) to be sold to the residents of Kasbapet on the other side. The idols would have been made of mud and decorated with wooden beads and flowers. They now arrive made from alabaster and painted with enamel and wrapped in paper. As can be seen from the collage there are ganapatis of all colours and shape and size. The popular ones are of Aryan colours (what else?) without becoming white elephants. There are ganeshas who would be like shivaji, or Sai Baba, or other deities, or sit on a dolphin, or be dressed in Shiva’s animal skin, or whatever one fancies (see Fig 1).

Once a purchase is made the idol is transported away by the customer who customarily covers ganapatis face with (red usually) cloth. Ganesha is traditionally a modest family affair and was not meant to be ostentatious. On Ganesh chaturthi or a day before that Ganesha may be seen being carried on a wooden platform by the nominal head of the house with the idol facing the man carrying accompanied by celebrating family members. On reaching the house the idol should face the main door while entering the house. His face is covered all the while till he is installed properly on a platform covered with whole grains of rice.

The private nature of worship changed when the practical minded “freedom” hero, Tilak, strategized to have the Ganesh puja on a public scale (around 1893) so that religious Hindutva fervour would unite the fight for “freedom”; just as BJP would use it for their fight for political power. Tilak would later say that both Hindu and Muslim fervour was important and went further to add (during a Shivaji festival in Bengal) that a great hero like Shivaji could be Mohammedan; just as Advani and Jaswant Singh would have liked to say about Jinnah? They could not say, however, that Jinnah could as well have been a Hindu!

Lokmanya Gangadhar Tilak’s house or Tilak Wada near ABC (Appa Balwant Chowk, I have to find out whether appa balwant is Vasudev Balwant, the father of Indian revolutionaries who took over Pune from the British for a few days, was imprisoned, and who actually died of a non-violent hunger strike in 1893, when Tilak sought a softer option for raising the revolutionary spirit) is itself rather opulent with an imposing door (Fig 2 left), with plaster work (Fig 2 center) reminding people of his various successes (a water drop on my lens due to the rainy season leaves a blur). Tilak himself is seated (Fig 2 right) more prominently behind several ganeshas; a large Honda car, of the deemed Tilak Maharashtra University, belonging to its Vice Chancellor, Deepak Jayantrao Tilak, great grandson of Tilak (who recently switched party from the Congress party of the Lokmanya to the deemed rightist Hindu party of BJP), is parked in front.

It should be important at some time to understand how the public psyche of the average marathi manoos was changed from the transformation from a private Ganapathi puja to a public Ganapathi festival. Acording to Shabbir Khan’s biography “Tilak and Gokhale: a comparative study…”, Tilak appeared to Gandhi “…like an ocean on which one could not launch forth; and Gokhale by contrast was like the Ganges which invited one to bosom. Tilak always lived in a crowd and Gokhale…in small companies.” I suppose the difference was similar to that between Nehru and Lal Bahdur Shastri. One of them was flashy and showy with a published record of statesmanship and scholarship, the other was shy and reticent but still firm and resolute; one was loved the other was trusted. Tilak’s rich and noisy Gaekwad Wada reputation prevailed. The mandals and their flamboyant interpretation of the festival took over for the public gaze instead of the introspective private worship. Agarkar’s disappointment with Tilak “ … no amount of plain writing can set right a person whose one business all along has been self glorification at the cost of honesty, unity, friendship, public duty and several other social virtues.” Like all traditions good or bad such behaviour is typical of many present leading Indian public figures and many of our leading “intellectuals” and “scientists” and “educationists”? The ordinary people would be lethargic in showing such leadership, which they think is often misrepresented as dynamism.

The rest of the blog will be about this flamboyant and noisy Tilak-like part. It has its momentary pleasures. It has also a spontaneity stemming from a very old history of living without in any way being cognizant of the power of the gods…. The celebration is perhaps just a love of the gods’ love of the people’s love. I will not be consistent in emphasizing in italics a word in an Indian language, nor in the various names will I call ganapathi by. There are also a fairly large number of video clips which may not work on clipping on it. I think the video clips add to the content even if some of them may require you to turn the computer by 90 degrees, which may be inconvenient, but is possible with a lap top.

The ganapathi season of 2009 has been the season of swine flu which the ham, bacon and pork industry changed to the H1N1 virus disease. The pharmaceutical industry benefited most from the H1N1 awareness… As they say Faith can move virus and there was considerable amount of mask-awareness with wearing actual masks (used masks being discarded freely in dust bins below Coca Cola perpetrators, Fig 3 left) or a holding a notional handkerchief to one’s face being thought to be sufficient (fig 3 center); at least for those who were not convinced about Ganesha’s protections since the virus may not have been started with his blessing… Finally it was case of embracing Ganesha with peacock feathers (Fig 3 right) before swine flu.

The August-September months of Ganapathi comes after the monsoon when Pune has already been soaked by nearly continuous rain for three months. Even in 2009, when there is a deficit of rain, there is enough wetness for a green moss-like coating on the walls which adds a verdant glow to the buildings. In Fig 4 left we are looking at the roof of the Tulsibag ram mandir while in the center of Fig 4 we are looking at the exit out of the mandir towards the Tulsibag “shopping mall”. This is the robust Pune-ite’s exuberant and practical shopping area that shuns the pseudo-western shopping mall culture. I am reminded always of the Okachimachi shopping area of Tokyo even if there is not the Yamanote line to get there. The third picture on the right of Fig 4 would be seen on old tiled buildings. This one is near one of the older and popular ganesh mandals, the Dagdu sheth mandal on Shivaji Road, near Faraskhana police station. Besides the green cover, this small building has, on the top floor, a computer shop named Computek, a photograph studio and a snacks joint selling vada pav among other Marathi fast food.

Once in the Tulsibag mandir complex during Ganesh festival, brass or bronze images (Fig 5) of Ganesha are seen. Before the chaturthi (fourth day of the moon) not much attention is paid to Ganesh who can be seen in the image on the left reading a book while waiting for his time. More attention is paid instead to Gauri. Gauri is thought elsewhere to be Parvati, daughter of Himlayas and wife of Siva. Gauri, the mother of Ganesha, is the fair version of the benign Parvati, daughter of himlayas and wife of Siva, while the “fearful” (to whom?) Kali is the darker version. Gauri is also known as Kanya Parvathi (the young unmarried Parvathi) representing purity and austerity and worshipped by maidens to become a wife of a virtuous husband.

When one enters the Tulsibag street, one would think that the more important part of the Ganesh festival is that associated with Gauri. Gauri has to be first assembled and then decorated (like the Gauri in the right corner of Fig 6). So one has a variety of Gauri heads, bloused chests, hands and jewels in the shops and it’s a pleasure for the ladies to do unto Gauri, what they would hopefully do unto themselves with more genuine stuff. Like all worships all over the world, the more the public worship the more the private profits.

They would also sell nandi the bull (like the girl under the umbrella, Fig 7 center), an important member of Siva’s family being his vehicle. Other decoration items such as garlands and festoons and balloons are sold happily and bought compulsively for private worships.

It seems that in Pune and some other parts of Maharashtra, Gauri is taken to be the sister of Ganesh especially during the Vinayak Chaturthi which is the time for the Ganesha Festival. Idols of Goddess Gauri (one for puja of Mahalakshmi) are usually sold in pairs (see image to the left in figure 8; four hands in a packet are sold, Fig 6 right) and brought home as sisters of Ganesha two days after ganesh Chaturthi and immersed in water after three days.

Why should Gauri, universally acknowledged as Parvathi the mother of Ganapati, be treated as a sister of Ganesha? It does not seem to matter to the ordinary worshipper, who, in any case, does not seem to belong to the majority class. It probably has to do with the beliefs of the ruling class. This small confusion of whether Gauri is mother of Ganesha or sister of Ganesha need not be of too much concern to us (or even Ganesha) since we require Ganesha’s permission to start the puja in any case.

The people of Bengal generally recognize Lakshmi and Saraswathi as sisters of Ganesha so that there could be a Bengal connection to the celebration of Gauri sisters. It is said that the Gaur Brahmins, who lived on the Saraswathi river, migrated to kanauj during Parshuram’s time, when the river went underground (whatever that means; dried up about the time of Indus valley civilization?), and then went on to Gaur in Bengal where they became kanyakubja Brahmins (Gangulys, Mukherjees, Banerjees and so on) and learnt to love eating fish. Because of water scarcity, Parsuram took them to Konkan where they would get the fish they had come to love.

All the while preparations are on for the public pomp and pageantry aspects of Tilak’s ganapathi festival by the various mandals many of whom started functioning around 1893 at the behest of Tilak. The rest of the blog will be the festival on Pune’s streets, although Hutatma Babu Genu Ganesh Mandal and the Dagdusheth Ganapathi will feature more prominently.

As one comes eastward out of the Tulsibag internal road, the Dagdusheth Ganapathi mandal is to the left and that of the Hutatma Ganapathi is to the left. On the way to the Hutatma pandal near Mahatma Phule Mandai, the street in front of the Suvarnayug Sahakari bank is buzzing with Ganeshutsav (Ganesh festival) activities two days before Ganesh Chaturthi. There were huge elephant parts strewn all over which was being assembled for a gajapathi mahal in which Ganesha was to be installed. Between the legs of an installed elephant (Fig 9 center) sits a lady selling ganapathi puja ware (banana plant, ketaki or screw pine leaves). Behind the lady one can see a tank being built. The elephants are arranged in rows with their raised trunks forming an archway to the temporary palace in which Ganesha is to be installed.

Further down the street, walking northwards, one comes to the dagdusheth mandal’s mahal (Fig 10 bottom right), with intricate finishing touches (Fig 10) being given before ganapathi is installed (in the area at Fig 10 bottom left). This year, because of the depression in the financial markets (signaled by unused advertisement billboards behind the mahal) the scale of decoration is said to have been toned down.

The fun of the public ganeshutsav lies in the procession that takes the idol to the various ganapathi mandals. The more pompous the procession, the less is the fun of the individual participating in the procession. Usually, this procession has a band of followers singing bhajans and dancing for the glory of the lord. Nowadays, these processions consist of a vehicle carrying the idol, which is accompanied by a live, liveried band and a vehicle carrying loud speakers (sound blasters) amplifying the sound mainly from the person playing on a synthesizer so that the noise made by the live band is drowned out. The dance is more boisterous but has the advantage of being spontaneous and suited for the garishly contemporary music.

When we set out in the morning before Ganesh Chaturthi for some household chores we would pass a procession on our Pashan-Sus Road. There was the idol, the vehicle carrying the synthesizer and the band (Fig 11 left). There was no procession of followers or devotees as such except those sitting near the idol. When we came back home a band was playing. They were installing (Fig 12) the idol in a pandal opposite our building (Mont Vert I). Ganpathi’s face was covered with a red cloth. The band had to play during the installation. There were no followers or devotees to dance.




Fortunately for ganapathi bappa, there is an auto-rickshaw stand at the corner where there are some drivers who love to sit and chat and finish some spirits. They are, like the paisanos in Steinbeck’s Tortilla flat or Cannery Row, loved life. For them, the auto rickshaw stand is where they collected and chatted. Among them there were a selfless few who would gladly encourage potential customers to take another rickshaw. If for some reason they had to ferry a customer they made sure that they came back quickly. They celebrated all festivals. When the band struck up they happily joined in, conjuring up some steps that would make Michael Jackson blush. In the first of these (pashansus1.mp4) Ganesha is being installed while his face is covered. In the second (pashansus2.mp4) they are in the process removing the cloth from his face. In the third (pashansus3.mp4) he is properly installed. The noise of the sound blaster would go late into the night. There were to be few if any worshippers at the pandal. The music would, however, go on till 11 in the night if were lucky. The Ganesha was installed by some industrialist or a rich devotee for publicity purposes. So it mattered that the music was loud and the neighbourhood devotees were obliged to consider it a blessing.




When we went back into town later in the afternoon, we were unable to locate any procession of the bigger mandals. On the way we saw an elephant (Fig 11 center) trying to avoid traffic. After searching around near Deccan gymkhana we heard drum sounds emanating from Kelkar road when we crossed Sambhaji bridge (ladki pul). We managed to get a glimpse of the procession (Fig 12 right). There was a happy and exuberant procession (Fig 13 left and centre) with the participation of children and adults, an original dramatic use of soap spray and a lady attendant of the lord (kelkar1a.mp4), the traditional music was provided by typical Maharashtrian Nagaras (flat drums played with sticks), with the Ganapati in a traditional red colour similar to those of the ashta vinayaks (kelkar2.mp4). On our way back there was an enthusiastic group of girls accompanying Ganesha home (Fig 13, right; kelkargirls.mp4).

The installations of the pandals were complete within two days, the most impressive being that of the Hutatma Babu Genu Ganesh Mandal, which had the water reservoirs with lotus flowers and elephants in place (Fig 14 left), the idol properly worshipped by important announced worshippers (Fig 14 centre), while the ordinary worshippers were draped in the auspicious red glow of white Ganapathi (Fig 14 right).

The dagdu sheth mandap (fig 15) did not have its serpentine queues of worshippers because of the swine flu dampener. There were very few masked devotees with even the security guards keeping their masks removed (Fig 15 centre); the smoke of the prayers (Fig 15 right) must have helped in the defumigation.

There were several other Ganeshas installed with their lower right palm having the abhaya mudra (that removes fear) in most cases although some as in Fig 16 left shows the calming Guyan Mudra. Most Ganeshas have a modak in his lower left hand which is convenient because his trunk is usually shown to be towards his left. The more pompous ganapathis usually have weapons on the other two hands, while some more modest ganeshas such as that in Fig 16 right have a book and a conch.



The sounds and activity around the bigger mandals for these H1N1 times is still impressive. The sounds of Ganapati baapa Moriya, so typical of Maharashtra and specially of Pune, are heard around the Dagdusheth mandal during aarti (moriya re2.mp4; fig 17 top left). In the Hutatma mahal the milling crowds are treated to some light traditional music (elephant mandal.mp4; Fig 17 top right). The lighting of the Hutatma mandal (Fig 17, bottom) is rather impressive.

In the midst of all this worship and bestowing of Ganapati’s love on the worshippers, there are those who would love to have the revenues for worship. They sell lotus (water lilies actually) flowers and balloons and usually look (Fig 18) quite famished unless they are serenaded through the night by a flautist. Their miseries must increase when they see the pav-bhaji stalls (Fig 19) with the colours of Ganesha tantalizingly before them

The most spectacular event during the Ganesh Festival is the immersion of the idols. The bigger mandals take about twenty four hours and more. This year the bigger mandals succeeded in doing it in less time (16-20 hours). We should have gone in the night. We thought early morning would have been sufficient. The last stages of the immersion procession (ganapat immersion lion.mp4; Fig 20 and 21 left) involving the smaller mandals was on the Jangli Maharaj Road. People were still dancing in the procession accompanied by very non-worshipful music---the kind of music that modern youth from the rich and the newly emerging rich can dance to happily---that comes with the bestowing of happiness by Ganesha. The traffic was still blocked on the road. The boys (immersion boys.mp4; fig 20 center) probably danced through the night and the girls (immersion girls and pink sari.mp4) probably were fresh if one looked at the lively lady in the pink sari.




As we walked back home, the sindur-drenched revelers (Fig 21 left) were taking some rest. There were no H1N1 virus masks to be seen this morning. The only mask was on the face of a tiger that was being carried. It reminded me of a well known limerick about a lady and a tiger which I have rephrased for the occasion (I must make it better, I know)
Ganesha went masked with his tiger,
`cos of H1N1 virus.
When immersed in river,
He knew flu’ll last longer,
and put the mask on face of the Tiger

The joys of Ganapathi in a procession has been there for more than at least 250 years and has been shown (Fig 22 left) in a painting from the Peshwa’s school of arts. The music and dance as a manifestation of ganesha’s happiness may have changed a bit but the spirit of joy continues in the gauri as mother grandmother sister daughter(Fig 22 right) as it should. Where else but in the streets of Pune?!