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Goan Ganesh Chaturthi : One idol, many rituals

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Goa is one unique land where people respect people of other communities in their entirety and in a wholesome way. Not only do we see a practical communal harmony, but we find people of every faith interacting in festivities of each other, with joviality and sincerity, and being welcomed with warmth and hospitality.

One local festivity of this land along with the Konkan belt, which evokes huge participative celebrants across faiths, is undoubtedly Ganesh Chaturthi. In a land held warmly in the embrace of the mighty Sahayadri and lovingly lapped at by the Arabian Sea, this festivity has its own unique ways in which it is
celebrated.

The most common custom is to procure a beautifully painted, clay idol – big or small. The symbolic use of clay in idol-making strengthens the ideology that Lord Ganesh was instituted during those days for more relevant purposes rather than its ritualistic significance. Clay is a natural element of Mother Earth and when immersed back into its folds, returns back to its normal natural self of clay.

However, many houses do not bring this idol but use alternative options, for reasons justified and applicable to their families

The Khandeparkar Family at Khandepar, Ponda has a very unique custom of venerating a hollow, paper mache painted Ganesh idol, resembling a typical clay idol. However, they do not immerse this paper mache idol. After the completion of the allotted days, the idol is taken out and kept in their garden, where a special masonry platform has been
constructed.

On the next day, this idol is brought back in the house and stored in a safe place. One can see many of the earlier idols stored over here. On seeking a rationalisation for this practice, it was informed that Ganesh being their family deity, they can venerate it, but not immerse it. After about eight-10 years, all these collected idols are immersed as simple “idols” and not as an immediate effective
“venerated deity”.

Some Goan homes venerate a clay idol of Ganesh, but do not immerse it in that year. They store it in the house till next year, and immerse the idol that is kept since last year. Though the family members do not have a plausible explanation, this tradition has come down since ages.

In Ponda, in a very historic ‘Shiv-Tirth’ Palace of the Saundekar Family at Nageshi, resides the only erstwhile royalty in Goa. The king here celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi in a different way. There are two idols venerated under one roof. A separate small Ganesh idol is venerated by the family head in the left wing of the palace; while a huge six feet tall, golden coloured idol is venerated in the right wing, for the people in general. Both idols are immersed in the Sri Nagesh Temple Lake, by the villagers in a royal procession. During the immersion, the king and his family come to a window overlooking the lake and distribute coins and fruits to the people, who wait below.

Another very peculiar veneration is seen in the home of the Casa Social de Camotim Mhamai or the Mhamai Kamat House at Panaji. This house was once connected to River Mandovi through a side channel. The Adilshahi Summer Palace which later in the 17th century AD, became a home for the shifted capital of Portuguese from Old Goa, was adjacent to the house of the Mhamai Kamat’s, separated with a short lane.

The process of evangelisation, conversions, and religious persecutions during the times of the Goa Inquisition, were at its peak. It was prohibited, with penalty of being arrested and even put to death, if any person or home was found to perform any type of local ethnic religious rituals in Hindu or other homes.

This dilemma was effectively solved by the Mhamai Kamat members by drawing a picture of Lord Ganesh on paper and sticking it to the inner side of the lid of a wooden casket. The rituals were then carried out and later the paper drawn deity was immersed secretly. In case there was any possible entry of Portuguese officer or an identified informant, then the lid of the casket was shut.

The celebrations of Ganesh festival in metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Pune have taken mammoth strides with expensive decor and infrastructure, and their public venerated idols are much over-sized and attract huge number of devotees. However, to compensate this extravaganza, the Goans create beautiful and artistic dioramas, near the Ganesh idol, with Indian mythological theme.

The best example of artistic display of multiple dioramas are seen on one of Goa’s most picturesque and petite inland island in North Goa known as ‘Rannyanche’ Juve’, off Revora village, in Bardez. It is given to understand that this piece on land, embraced by the waters of the River Chapora, was granted to the Ranes by the Portuguese. This island can be covered by walking around, along its borders, within about 45 minutes. There are around 25-30 families residing on this island, and the huge, majestic ancestral house of the Rane Family, is seen towards the eastern part.

During the Ganesh festival, the main Ganesh idol of the Rane family, along with the other idols from the island are loaded on a ‘Sangodd’ or canoes tied together and rowed around the island, before they are immersed. This event takes place at night and ends at around 2 a.m., but attracts a huge crowd to watch this immersion.

Sketches of this done by Antonio Lopes Mendes, a Portuguese cartographer, who was in Goa around 1860 have been documented in two printed volumes of ‘A India Portuguesa’. It is a beautiful experience to be part of the jovial crowd on a passenger ferry that goes out into the River Mandovi, with many Ganesh idols and immerse them in the fast flowing waters.

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