When an entire household sings for the Lord of Music

Anwesha Singbal/The Goan September 07, 2013

From gathering in ancestral houses, to filling an entire village with colour, huge families across Goa get together to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, from their homes across the world. They eat, sing and dance together, discuss issues, as they raise their voices as one, for Ganpati

The Ganesh idol stands in the centre of the main hall and almost 2000 people stand around it, singing bhajans in one glorious voice, their musical praise of this benevolent god ringing through the house and into the kitchen, where an army of cooks have laid out a meal for the crowd to partake of. Once the puja is over, there’s a flurry of activity, many of the ladies head into the kitchen and the huge dining room to oversee the lunch preparation while some of the men sit down and start discussing an issue local to Vaje, in Shiroda, where they have all gathered. But, this is not your normal gathering of people coming together to praise and worship Ganesh, it’s one big 2000 member family, gathering in the ancestral Vajekar-Raikar home.

For five days, planes, buses and trains bring members to Shiroda, from across Goa, India and countries across the world, for that one time in the year where the spirit of community and family is celebrated during Chavath or Ganesh Chaturthi. But, the task, of coordinating this isn’t at all easy, but the family functions in a transparent and democratic way, as a committee under the banner ‘Brahmdaivajn Vajekar Raikar Samaj’, assigning tasks and responsibilities to various family members. “Members stay all across the globe now, and so it’s not easy for everyone to be present at the same time,” says family member Somnath Raikar.

There have been factions that wished to break away and celebrate Ganesh separately. This happened twice. But Lord Ganesh intervened. “Once the idol of the Ganesh was broken. Another time, the family who broke away had to face severe problems. We believe that Lord Ganesh wants to keep us together and hence he himself takes care of the same”, says Raikar with total faith and belief. The family prays together and even eats together, following the traditional custom of sitting on the floor. However, with their ever growing numbers it does get difficult to serve everyone at the same time. “Now, we only eat the traditional way on the main day and have a buffet for the rest of the days,” says Riddhi Raikar, who adds that they hire cooks who work alongside the women in the family to prepare the massive quantities of food. Chathurthi for the Vajekar-Raikar families is not just a time of worship but also a time to discuss family affairs, which the Sanvordekars of Sanvordem do too. “It’s the only time in the year when the family comes together as one and so we discuss property issues and other matters related to the welfare of the family,” says Pranav Sanvordekar.

The 400 member strong Sanvordekar family has a very unique tradition. The tying of a new born baby to the matoli, the pandol decorated with fruit. “Couples often pray to Lord Ganesh, asking for a healthy child. They promise to tie the child to the matoli. So, the cradle is made up of cloth and the child is tied, for just a few minutes, to the matoli,” says Pranav.

In the midst of cooking, discussing matters and conducting pujas, there are group dances and other forms of entertainment, a new tradition started by the younger family members. Often, this ‘tradition’ becomes more than just entertainment. It turns into a way to unwind, especially when the women of the house prepare food for hundreds of mouths. “We don’t hire cooks yet and the women of the house cook for those who gather for the festivities. They often get tired and hence we add some relief through song and dance”, says Sawani Shetye from Pirna in Bardez.

They keep Ganesh at home for just a day and a half, believing that extending the stay to five days would change their fate, leading to something bad. On the other hand the Raikar’s five day Ganesh worship has an interested story. Around 400 years ago, Sawalo Raikar fell seriously ill. His uncle prayed to Lord Ganesh, asking for him to be restored back to perfect health and in return the family would extend the lord’s stay in the house to five day. Sawalo recovered and the rest is history.

In Pirna, the Shetye family, numbering over 200 members, start the aarti and bhajans at their house and this is followed up by bhajans at the other houses in the village. In Adpai, Ponda, the village is full of 13 Naik families, each with more than 100 members. The families get together and hold a small rally with the different tableaus, before Ganesh is immersed and the waters take him away. 

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