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Ganesh Chaturthi: History, food and traditions

Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chaturthi, the 10-day Hindu festival to mark Lord Ganesha’s birthday, is celebrated across India but mainly in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and other southern states.

August 31, 2022 / 07:44 AM IST
Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. (Image via Wikimedia Commons 2.0)

Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. (Image via Wikimedia Commons 2.0)

Traditions across India

A sarvajanik Ganesh idol was first installed by Bhausaheb Laxman Javale in 1892 in Pune. Apart from pandals or community pujas, Ganeshotsav is celebrated in homes in Maharashtra. It starts with “Padya pooja”, or adoring the feet of Lord Ganesh, a day before Chaturthi. Lord Ganesha enters the home on Chaturthi.

Food researcher Chinmay Damle says, “In Maharashtra, Haritalika and Gowri pujan are a part of Ganeshotsav and women worship Goddess Parvati and fast. In Chitpavan Brahmins and CKP communities (Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu), seven pebbles are collected from the banks of a river or a lake and installed as a representation of Goddess Gauri. The next day, a naivedya of ghavana–ghatala (thin rice flour pancakes and rice kheer) is offered. In Vidarbha and Marathwada regions, Mahalakshmi pujan is celebrated.”

In Goa homes, the matoli – a wooden mandap, decorated with seasonal wildflowers, leaves, medicinal herbs, fruits and vegetables – is used to invoke God’s blessings on this produce. Sprigs of freshly harvested rice, from the temple are offered to Lord Ganesha, and post visarjan, are hung in front of the house for the entire year.

In Karnataka, Ganesh Chaturthi or Ganesh Habba, is celebrated with fervour, and Gowri Habba a day before Chaturthi, when Goddess Gauri, the wife of Lord Shiva and mother of Lord Ganesh and Lord Subramanya, is worshipped.

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Home chef Sumitra Kalapatapu of Sumi’s Kitchen, who moved from Karnataka to Maharashtra, says, “The festival is celebrated with great reverence and pomp in South India. We used to get a new idol every year and decorate the puja mandap with flower garlands and mango leaves. Every household cooks special foods. Modak, is offered to Ganesha. At home, the festival is celebrated for one day but in pandals, it is a grand celebration for nine days.”

History and Origin

From Shivaji’s time, during the 18th century, the Peshwas were followers of Lord Ganesha and began a public Ganesh celebration in Pune during the month of Bhadrapad. During the British Raj, Ganesh celebrations ceased to be a state festival, but instead became a private family affair. It was only much later, in 1893, that social reformer Lokmanya Tilak restored its popularity. The festival then facilitated community participation.

Damle says, “In the 18th and 19th centuries, the then prevalent Ganesh Chaturthi ritual consisted of a Ganpati idol which was made in the morning and immersed the same day, every day for a month, from Shravan Shukla Chaturthi to Bhadrapad Shukla Chaturthi, i.e. Ganesh Chaturthi. Priests chanted Brahmanaspatisukta daily and fasted during the entire ritual. A feast would be organised by month-end, on Panchami. While some families chose to perform the rituals for a month, during Shravan and Bhadrapad, many affluent ones would install the Ganpati on Ganesh Chaturthi for one-and-a-half, three, five, or 10 days. People thronged their wadas to look at the decorations, fireworks and to feast.”

Food

As in other festivals, food occupies an important place in Ganesh Chaturthi. As Lord Ganesha is believed to have a sweet tooth, modaks (sweet dumplings filled with jaggery and coconut) are typically offered to him.

Explaining the significance of modaks, Abhishek Tulaskar of The Maratha Kitchen, Mumbai, says, “When the Asurs and the Gods were fighting over the Amrut, during the Samudra Manthan, there were a lot of sweets prepared from the Amrut that arose from the oceans. One of these was modak, which all the Gods offered to Parvati. She then offered this to Lord Ganesha, who fell in love with it and hence, this is an offering on Ganesh Chaturthi.”

Goa-based home cook Shubhra Shankhwalker adds: “Anusuya, the wife of an ancient Rishi Atri, presented Ganesha with a tray full of delicacies, which Ganesha went on devouring, but no dish could satisfy his hunger. She then thought of feeding Ganesha something sweet. Ganesha finally gave a loud burp, which indicated that his belly was satisfied. Lord Shiva also burped loudly, soon after Ganesha and that too, 21 times, which meant Lord Shiva was also full. It made Goddess Parvati curious about the sweet treat that Anusuya offered Lord Ganesha.”

Ukdiche Modak and ice cream by Icestasy. The traditional sweet has adapted to new tastes and health requirements, with options like vegan, sugar-free, lactose-free and gluten-free modaks. Ukdiche Modak and ice cream by Icestasy, Mumbai.

According to Damle, modaks started replacing laddoos as Ganpati’s favourite food around the late 19th century. Steamed modaks were considered superior to the fried ones because the former was assumed to be a mark of affluence, class and taste. Steamed modaks are prevalent in Konkan and in Pune, while fried modaks are common in Marathwada and Vidharbha regions.”

He adds, “Kheer, and ladoos would be offered to God and then served to the priests and the common public. Kheer is the favourite dish of the Mooshaka, the vehicle of Lord Ganpati, and it was believed that it should not be accompanied by any dessert other than laddoos, which are Ganpati’s favourite.”

Apart from modaks, the moon-shaped semi-circular Karanji (karjikai in Kannada), or Neuros in Konkani, is yet, another sweet eaten across India during the festival.

On Anant Chaturdashi, the last day of Chaturthi, in Maharashtra, Kairichi vaatli daal (tempered, ground dal mixed with grated raw mango), dadpe pohe (tempered rice flakes), and karanji, were traditionally offered to the deity, and then, visitors.

In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, modak, laddu, vundrallu (steamed coarsely ground rice-flour balls), panakam (a jaggery, pepper and cardamom drink) and a moong dal vadapappu are served.

Panchakajjaya – dried coconut powdered and mixed with cooked Bengal gram, sugar, ghee and sesame – is a must for Chaturthi in Karnataka. Local delicacies – both sweet and savoury, like Modakam, Kosambari, Gojju, Mosaru Bhajji and a variety of Payasams – are offered on a banana leaf. Halu holige or hal obbattu – made with maida, poppy seeds, cashew, almond, coconut, milk and sugar – is also prepared.

According to Amol Dessai, a Goa-based chef and restaurateur, the menu for all five days of Ganesh Chaturthi is based on the ingredients which are grown locally and easily available. Basically, the food offered to Ganesha, prepared during these days, is a form of thanksgiving, for the abundant produce which is grown naturally during this period in villages.

In Goa, Ganesh Chaturthi or Chovoth, begins a day before Chaturthi with ‘Tay’, which is dedicated to the worship of Goddess Gauri. “Patoleyo, a rice paste, spread on a turmeric leaf and filled with a jaggery, fresh coconut, dal and cardamom mixture and then steamed, is a must. Next day, when Ganesha enters home, he is offered a naivedya of 21 steamed modaks – his favourite food. Khatkhate (a curry made with coconut extract and almost 21 vegetables including breadfruit, ridge gourd, raw papaya, pumpkin, snake gourd, raw banana), is cooked,” says Dessai.

He adds, “On the second day, a bhaji is made using five leafy vegetables – Tambdi bhaji (red amaranth), valichi pana (Madras spinach), muskachi bhaji (moringa leaves), Taikilo (a local leafy vegetable) and colocasia leaves. This is paired with a rice bhakri. On the third day, it is Shirvolyo (rice idiyappam) with a sweet coconut extract, jaggery and cardamom.

In some homes, a small rice dosa ( ghavan ) is prepared and topped with fresh coconut and jaggery. On day four, a dish called Bhatacho (rice) uffar, made by steaming rice, tur dal, jaggery and grated coconut, is served. The fifth day – Mhamne – witnesses a spread, as per the family’s choice.”

The prasad, prepared by using five items called panchkhadya, is distributed to people during Visarjan, and with that, the festivities of Ganeshotsav draw to an end.
Mini Ribeiro
first published: Aug 31, 2022 07:39 am
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