The Lord's tryst with nature

Ganesh Chaturthi in Goa is not only a celebration of the elephant god, but also an event that commemorates the significant role nature plays in our lives, writes Gajanan Khergamker

A decorated idol of Lord Ganesha with the 'matoli'

Mangesh Naik’s matoli is ready and after a good fortnight-long preparation for tomorrow’s Chavath, as Goans call Ganesh Chaturthi. The Arambol resident had proceeded on a fortnight-long leave from August 15 onwards till Chavath to be celebrated tomorrow. “Pandrah din toh lagenge na, sab taiyyari karneko…Bappa ke aane ke liye (It will take at least a fortnight to keep everything ready for Bappa’s arrival),” he had offered then.

“Matoli bananeko kitna time lagta hai maloom? Aur toh aur, is baar mera matoli che foot ka hai aur ek hafta to lagega hi bananeko. (Do you know how long it takes to make a matoli (a floral covering)? And this time around, my matoli will be six feet long and will take easily a week to prepare),” says Mangesh with a distinct pride in his voice. And today, he flaunts his work on display in full bloom atop his Ganesh pandal at home.

 

From scratch

So, Mangesh, instead of leaving for work at Panjim every morning at 7 am from Arambol in North Goa as was his usual routine, went to Pernem instead and, on a plant-gathering spree for a fortnight preceding Chavath. Along with a friend and guide by profession, Raju, he collected kangla, matti, kevan and fagla leaves and flowers along the way for his home in Arambol, his ancestral familial home.

The annual ritual continued every day for the entire fortnight and the flowers, leaves and fruits gathered, stored on a damp cloth to retain their freshness, changed every day till Chavath, by when the matolis were readied in their full splendour.

Back in Arambol, Sarika Naik’s brother-in-law Sadguru Naik awaits for a pundit who begins the Ganesh puja on the big day. Come tomorrow, women will cook the customary delicacies for the family in a room that usually doubles up as a makeshift extended kitchen, while Krishna Naik and wife Gauri will keep seven-year-old Shreya and three-year-old brother Shreyesh busy in the verandah lighting crackers.

After all, a pundit is in huge demand this season. He performs a string of pujas in the vicinity before moving out to another. And, time is the casualty here. “Booking a pundit for Chavath and for every arti through the festival is a tall order considering the handful of pundits available are in huge demand this season,” says Sadguru.

The Naiks’ family home, like most others this season, is decorated with colourful paper ribbons, radiating into a colourful pattern on the ceiling. The Ganesha idol rests in the middle of one wall of the ‘hall’ aglow with light emanating from oil lamps and a string of bulbs with alternating lights. Each member of the house, from the grandmother to the youngest, will play a key role during the utsav. While the duration of the Lord’s stay varies from one-and-a-half-day to 11 days, the most preferred period is five days.

Ethnicity runs deep in the Goan who believes strongly in the concept of the ‘family’ home. So, BSc graduate Veena Matkar usually proceeds on leave from her job at a medical store in Mapusa to help her parents organise the home and ready the Ganesh pandal complete with the legendary Matoli during the festival.

The entire progeny of octogenarian rice farmer Vishnu Matkar will converge, as usual, to their once-thatched-house at Keri during the five-day festive period starting tomorrow. Son Sudhakar Matkar, who retired after 35 years of service and resides in Vasco Da Gama, ensures he visits his family home with wife and two daughters during the utsav. And, Veena with her younger sister Nikita, brother Sadashiv and cousins Siddhi and Shruti, will sing Ganesha artis before sitting down on the floor for their traditional afternoon meal served on banana leaves during the utsav.

Veena speaks with distinct pride about her great-grandfather’s house, once a mud house with a thatched roof now renovated, reinforced and made pucca but “only on the exterior.”

Ganesh visarjan in the sea
Ganesh visarjan in the sea

 

In ode to Mother Nature

Ganesh Utsav in Goa is an all-natural affair. It’s that time of the year when everything seems to come alive. On the heels of Goa’s legendary monsoons that charge the atmosphere in Goa, infusing life into the leaves, the flowers, the winds and the festivities that follow, the matoli that adorns Bappa’s murti is only symbolic of the mood. Mangesh Naik’s fortnight-long leave prior to Chavath may seem excessively festive for most, but not for the Goan who will, as a rule, push things way beyond the limit to ensure that life is celebrated in all its form during the utsav.

This, in sharp contrast to the Ganesh Utsav celebrated in neighbouring Mumbai — a largely commercial festival, where the religious artis are ‘mixed’ with loud bhangra tunes and remixes to boot. Needless to say, while the celebrations in Mumbai are peppered with stray incidents of violence and molestation as huge crowds of ‘outsiders’ swarm to grab a peek at revellers leading to law and order issues, the Goan keeps his celebrations simple and ethnic even in the face of change.

“Bappa has given me so much. Within just three years of having taken loans for my child’s education abroad and starting a new guest house in Morjim, I managed to repay all my debts and start anew. This, after I had lost all to a family crisis in 2016 after which I started getting Bappa home every year for the full 11 days,” recalls Avinash Ghorle. So now, Avinash walks for miles on end to find fallen coconut leaves and branches for his matoli but refuses to break one from a coconut tree.

For all of Goa, breaking a branch from a coconut tree is nothing short of blasphemy. For the Goan, the coconut tree is his child. In January 2016, the BJP-led coalition government had changed the Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act 1984 and dropped the tree status given to the coconut. It was swiftly followed by a public outcry expressing fears for the safety of the tree.

So, in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 7A of the Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, 1984, the Government of Goa having regard to ecological, socio-economic, cultural or heritage value, declared matti (Terminalia Elliptica, known for storing water used through the summers and having a bark that is a natural fire-resistant) and the ‘coconut tree’ to be state trees, through an official notification.

Matti wood is used across Goa for furniture, panelling, boat-building, decorative veneers, and other works. More importantly, the water stored in the stem of the tree is often tapped and used as a source of potable water in the summer by tribals and villagers across Goa.

The law apart, these trees are literally revered across Goa owing to their symbiotic relationship with the local. Ganesh Chaturthi, Chavath in Goa, is only an endorsement of the Goan’s unique tryst with nature and its resources so closely intertwined with life. It’s only natural for the Goan to pay obeisance to nature in the form of a matoli so significantly providing shade to Bappa, all across Goa.

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