CHAVATH CELEBRATES NATURE IN GOA!

Lord Ganesh idol installed at a tribal family home at Aivao village near Dona Paula. The village of Aivao celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi with fervour and devotion to see.

By Rajan Narayan

Ganesh Chaturthi popularly called Chavath in Goa is celebrated uniquely in Goa. Every Lord Ganesh puja pandal small or big will have this glorious matoli canopy featuring as wide a range of natural flora and fruit as possible…all natural forest wild fruit, vegetables, flowers, the bounty of whatever Mother Earth which still exists nearby. Chavath is a family festival in Goa and the entire family comes together in their large village ancestral homes or houses to welcome Lord Vinayaka or Lord Ganesh for blessings and removal of all obstacles facing anyone in life….Chavath or Ganesh Chaturthi (in Maharashtra) is a festival loved by all young and old.

GANESH Chaturthi is the most important festival observed by Hindu Goa and Goans. The festival which is observed traditionally for ten days sees a voluntary closure of the state in towns with most restaurants, eateries, cafes, shops – including popular Goan snacks outlets like Café Central and Café Real taking a break for the ten days of Chavath. The Goan owners and their Goan staff return to their native villages for the family celebration to do with Lord Ganesh and his final day immersion in water.
At least for the first days of the festival a few vegetarian restaurants will remain open and amongst these are the Udipi restaurants and of course the popular Punjabi food vintage eatery of Sher-E-Punjab down 18 June Road. A few small-time cafes too stay open to do business in these hard times. We have seen the local gado outlets shutting down for there will be no sale of cigarettes and sundry requirements during the festival days.
At one time in capital city Panaji I remember searching and getting desperate for some cigarettes, for I was an addict and could not live without my cigarettes while editing the OHeraldo in the early 1980s through the 1990s. I still remember how Lord Ganesh is the first to be worshipped in any Hindu household before any major event like marriage, housewarming, religious festival, etc.
Hinduism’s elephant god Lord Ganesh or Lord Ganapati (running into many names) is the revered god who is synonymous with good-luck and blessings for any new venture or beginning be it in a business venture or an auspicious relationship. And the elephant god is the most loveable and amusing of all Hindu gods with his stories of fat belly, cheerful nature and many adventures of the religious kind, depending on how we take our religious stories, with a pinch of salt or as a hundred percent truth of history oral or documented later on.

SANATAN DHARMA
AND to give an example of how Sanatan Dharma is very diverse, we focus on the celebration of Ganesh Chathurthi. Lord Ganesh has different names in different parts of the country. In Tamil Nadu he is called as “Pillaiyar or Pillai” but the sweet dish offerings to Lord Ganesh are namely the modak be it in Goa or Tamil Nadu. The Ganesh festival is by and large limited to the Konkan and west coast states. It gained popularity in Maharashtra during the freedom years when nationalist and independence activist Lokmanya Tilak thought it was a good idea to organize public lok utsav as part of the freedom movement.
Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations became a political tool with special significance in Maharashtra with political parties competing to donate to the Sarjavajanik or local community Lord Ganesh pandal, where people together to invoke prayers and blessings for small and large causes. In time the Shri Siddhivinayak Temple in Dadar in Mumbai became the most popular and richest temples devoted to Lord Ganesh worship. Here came the film stars including Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai who reportedly walked barefoot from their homes to the temple seeking Lord Ganesh’s blessings for success for their films.

MANY FESTIVALS
THERE are many festivals which are celebrated by different groups of people in India which is Bharat. At least the importance given to various festivals depends on the state or the region. In the north and in Mumbai for instance Diwali is a most important festival. It marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year. In contrast in Goa, Diwali does not evoke as much public interest amongst the local niz Goenkar people or native Goans. For them it is Chavath or Ganesh Chaturthi which is most important to observe and celebrate.
Similarly, Pongal and Ugadi are different names given to the New Year festival in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh it is Dassera which is considered the most biggest important festival of the Hindu calendar. In West Bengal it is Durga Puja which takes pride of place in every Bengali home. The worshipping of Ma Durga also is a ten-day puja which ends with Dassera. The sanatan dharma embraces all these forms of worship. What it objects is the glorification of the demon Narkasur during Narkachaturdashi day, a day prior to Diwali or Deepavali as it is called down south India.
But to return to Goa’s Chavath or Chovoth as said before it is a unique celebration because together with Lord Ganesh there has to be a matoli canopy of the flora and fruit of the forest where the elephant god was born and lives. Goa is the only state in the country where Chavath is a celebration of lush green nature and its abundance of fruit and flora. Every home installing a Lord Ganesh idol will feature a matoli of the fruitful season of the celebration. Here strung up on the matoli will be all manner of wild fruit, vegetables, berries, nuts, seeds, grasses, leaves, flowers, ferns and much else representing the deep dark lush sacred forests of Goa.

ABUNDANCE & BEAUTY
SELECTED members of the family go around scouting for forest material and are in charge of weaving the matoli to look like a tapestry of abundance and beauty. Below the shade of this matoli is installed Lord Ganesh who also enjoys a different meal for all days of the festival (including a different sweet) and which is later served to the family and visiting friends.
Incidentally, Goa is the only state in the country where a member in the legislative assembly is amongst the craftsmen making Ganesh idols or deities. This is Mayem MLA Premanand Shet who hails from a traditional potter’s family. His family has been crafting Ganesh idols for decades and MLA Shet is often heard proudly declaring that he was barely nine years old when he was taught to focus on the eyes of the Lord Ganesh and how to make them look real and alive.
In this strictly family affair of a festival only the eldest male member of the family can install the newly arrived Ganesh idol in the house or home on the first day, the rest of the family of brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws and relatives from near and far gather together if there is an ancestral house and everyone or those who can contribute towards the ten days of coming together of the family in the village home. In Goa the two occasions when families really get together is when it is the Ganesh festival or the Tulsi Vivaha festival. Tulsi Vivaha festival in Hinduism traditionally gives the signal for the marriage season to commence soon after Diwali. Marriages are banned during the four monsoon months of Chaturmaas and especially during Shravan. In Goa few politicians promote Lord Ganesh pandal on the lines of Mumbai which the celebration has become both politicized and commercialized. This hasn’t happened in Goa yet.

GRATEFUL TO LORD GANESH
I HAVE always been a great Lord Ganesh fan. When I was very seriously ill due to my beating up by goons when I was editing the OHeraldo from 1983 to 2002, the Catholic family of Dr Peter Ronnie Dsouza presented me with a large Ganesh idol in their home and I still have this terracotta Ganesh which must be more than 200 years old. This Lord Ganesh has the most beatific expression on his face and we do not immerse it but give it a quick bath every time Ganesh Chaturthi comes around before it goes back for routine worship and payers. In fact, I once had a large collection of over 300 Ganesh idols, some of metal from precious gold to silver to panchdhatu (five auspicious metals).
When I went for my detoxification from steroids hospital stay in Bengaluru in 1994, thinking I won’t be coming back ever, on my last birthday party I gave away all my Ganesh idol collection including a rare jade Ganesh. I did not expect to come back, nobody expected me to come back. When I did come back I was happy to see my 200-year-old Ganesh idol there to greet and welcome me back to my basement flat in Dona Paula where I lived those years.

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