The Fond Memories of Vinayagar Chathurthi Celebrations

Lord Ganesha or Vinayagar is the remover of hurdles. He occupies a central place in Indian mythology. Every Hindu family has its own favourite Ganesha. He was the Divine Scribe who took down the dictation of Veda Vyasa. This dictation is the ‘Mahabharata’ The Siddhi Vinayak temple is famous in Mumbai and so are the other famous temples of this deity. They are known as the ‘Ashta Vinayaks’. Many devotees undertake a visit to these temples. Adi Sankara founded ‘Shanmatham’ or six paths. ‘Ganapathyam’ is one of the paths, according to which Lord Ganesh is the supreme. The deity also is connected with the freedom movement. Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak popularized the ‘Ganesh Chathurthi’ celebrations nationally at a time when the country was oppressed in every sense. Its time to recall some of the famous shrines of the remover of obstacles. Aneggudde Ganesha in Karnataka, Karpaga Vinayagar in Pillayarpatti (Tamilnadu), Kanipakkam Ganesha in Andhra Pradesh, Eachanari Vinayagar in Coimbatore, Mundhi Vinayagar in Puliayakulam Coimbatore, Raja Ganapathy in Salem, Varasiddhi Vinayagar in Saibaba Colony (Coimbatore), Raja Ganapathy in Race Course, Thiruvalanchuzhi Vinayagar, Mukkuruni Vinayagar (Madurai), Manakula Vinayagar (Pondy) are among the famous temples.
I remember the celebrations at home. Our old house in Vysial street used to be hub of activity all the time. An order used to be placed with the manufacturer and a freshly made wet image of Lord Ganesha used to be brought home. We used to give the wooden plank to the potter at the time of the order itself. Great grand father P.A.Raju Chettiar and the four sons Krishnan, Viswanathan, Raghunathan and Dhamodharan used to get the decorations done the previous night. They used to place a large gold coin on the navel. A silver erukkamppoo garland would be adding to the looks. The wet Ganesha was never painted and he looked natural. A platform near the pooja room was used for the placing of the wooden pandal. It was made by Shanmugha Asari for my grand aunt Indrani Viswanathan. A smaller silver pandal used to be placed right next to it for the kids. The women of the house would have celebrated the Gowri Vratham on the day previous to Ganesha Chathurthi. The pooja setting would be left undisturbed for the next day. Lord Ganesha would be installed next to his mother.
Our family priest Subburama Iyer used to arrive early in the morning. Great grandfather and the rest used to sit on small wooden planks known as ‘Palagais’ and do the pooja. The wooden planks would be decorated with silver lotus buds on all the four corners. They were made of fine rose wood. Our household had more than a dozen planks made of rose wood and each one was fitted with silver lotuses A few of the palagais were fully wrapped in silver. About four of them used to be placed in front of the deities for keeping the pooja items.
Huge silver lamps, varieties of harathis made of silver were used alongside. The family did the prayers as per the instructions of the priests and Naivedyam (Prasadam) would be offered. It used to consist of Jillidikais (Kozhukattais) stuffed with shredded coconut mixed with sugar, one more variety would have ‘noogulu with jaggery’. Hundial kind of pieces with stuffing inside would also be offered. Undrallu (kozgukatttai bhatter balls with tempering) used to be offered along with sundal and payasam. Everyone used to listen to the story connected with the festival and put ‘Gunjillu’ (Thoppukaranams) in front of the deity. They used to pray to the Mother Goddess Gowri also.
My granny Lalitha and her co sisters Indrani, Saraswathi and Shantha used to get the entire pooja apparatus ready. They used to get the cooking done with the cooks, tie the flower garlands themselves, wash the flowers and get the lamp wicks ready for the celebrations. Post pooja, the women used to do a big Rangoli of Lord Ganesha in the space in front of the pooja area. Our small hall was known as ‘Chinna Kottaam’ and it was huge. The evening was open for all the kids in the neighbouring streets irrespective of their background. They used to enter the house through the door and leave through our private lane which separated our house from our neighbor. All the kids were given ‘Vadais’ to eat.
The deities Goddess Gowri and her son Lord Ganesha used to be decked with finely crafted diamond jewellery. The gold face of Gowri used to be benevolent. A smaller gold face or mukham was used in the silver pandal for the pooja. Earlier my great granny Rajalakshmi used to get by 2AM and prepare the Gowri after sieving the processed turmeric with a fabric. She used to make the deity all by herself and was known to make the best in town. On getting older, she had requested my great grand father to make one in gold for the household. It was made based on her sample in our workshop behind the shop itself.
Granny Lalitha and the other members of the family used to sing devotional songs and play the veena in front of Lord Ganesha everyday. She was used to playing ‘Vatapi Ganapatim’ on her old veena everyday and it was played on that day too. The cooks and our family members used to make the ‘Naivedyam’. The vessels would be used only for this purpose. No onion or garlic will be cooked. In any case garlic was more or less not used at home. The food was never tasted before it was offered to Lord Ganapathy. One was not supposed to even smell the sweet odour of food that used to waft out of the kitchen. We were thus taught the value of self control through abstinence. The offerings were made in huge silver containers and they used to be covered with banana leaves. Everyone working at home would be given the Naivedyam. Small pappu untais or paruppu urundais were also part of the offerings. Sundal used to be offered in the evening. Mango leaves, oleander and other flowers would be used. Tiny plantain trees would be tied to the mandapams which were made of wood and silver. Over all it used to be enjoyable and there was a lot of bonhomie those days. Lots of near and dear used to visit our household in order to pray to the deities.
Everyone used to seek the blessings of our family priest Subburama Ayyavaru (Iyer) after the pooja. A junior priest used to accompany him to our house. We used to have a small conversation at the time of his visit. The place used to look the best at the time of the pooja. They used to show the eka harathi, thrai harathi, pancha harathi, adukku harathi (all made of silver) after the pooja. The priest used to tell us the story of Ganesha Chathurthi by beginning with Lord Ganesha becoming the Ganapathy. The laughing of Chandra at Ganesha and the curse that anyone would struggle if they see him would be shared. Subsequently, the lightening of the curse of Parvathi were she says that only the ones who see him on the day of Ganesha’s coronation will undergo an ordeal would be stated. Then, the story used to shift to Dwapara Yugam and the Swayamantaka Gem. Lord Krishna would have seen the moon on Ganesha Chathurthi and would have to undergo a trial akin to the ‘Media Trial’ of these days.
He would recover the gem and in the process marry Jambavathi and Sathyabhama. In order to provide relief, Lord Krishna would provide an exemption, according to which the people performing the Ganesh Chathurthi pooja would not be affected if they looked at the moon that day!
The memories of the pooja and our family continue to enthrall all of us.
I am sure that everyone reading this piece would recall their own fond memories connected with the Vinayagar Chathurthi celebrations with their near and dear.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

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