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GOWRI GANESHA
By Mohan Shenoy

GOWRI PUJA AND GANESHA CHATHURTHI

Gowri Ganesha Festival is another important Hindu festival. Gowri is the mother of Ganesha. Gowri festival is on Bhadrapada Shuddha Thritheeya (the third day of the first fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada) according to the Hindu calendar. Lord Ganesha festival is on the next day, i.e. Bhadrapada Shuddha Chaturthi (on the fourth day of the first fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada). Sometimes the thithi(s) of the third and the fourth days fall on a single day. These festival days do not come on the same dates of the common calendar every year. Therefore in order to avoid confusion, this festival may be held on the third Sunday of the month of September every year regardless of what the Panchaanga books say.

Gowri festival is mainly observed to promote married women's interests. Being the wife of Lord Shiva, Gowri assumes powers to bless the married woman with the boons she wishes for, such as long life for her husband, fertility and prosperity. The Gowri festival is on the same lines as the Varamahalakshmi Vratha, except that the deity is Gowri instead of Lakshmi. Hindus are not united in the worship of their deities. There is rivalry between the Shiva worshippers and the Vishnu worshippers.  Each regards their deity to be superior to the other.

Gowri is the wife of Shiva and therefore the Shiva worshippers encourage their wives to worship Gowri. Lakshmi is the wife of Vishnu and therefore the Vishnu worshippers extol the virtues of worshipping Lakshmi. These differences were so acute in the medieval times in India that there were wars between the rulers on account of a ruler being a Vishnu worshipper and his enemy being a Shiva worshipper.

Shiva worshipping rulers have compelled the Vishnu worshippers to give up the practice and convert to Shaivism. Many Vaishnavites were either imprisoned or were banished from the kingdom by the Shaivite rulers. When the British gained control of administration of India, they put down this kind of fight among the Hindus and allowed the growth of all faiths alike. Both Vaishnavite and Shaivite thoughts survived. Both sides were able to observe their festivals in peace. That is how now women are free to worship either Lakshmi or Gowri or both. Many men and women these days do not give importance to any one particular deity but worship all deities equally. Therefore in the houses where Lakshmi Puja is held, there is Gowri Puja is also held.

Gowri festival is considered to be the festival by which goddess Gowri will be very much pleased with the married women. Unmarried girls also take part in this festival, and pray the goddess to grant them a very loving husband; a husband who is handsome, strong, hard working, and courageous.

The story behind the elephant-headed god Ganesha is as follows: Parvathi was alone in the house, when she wished to go for a bath. There was no one to guard the house, so she got a doll prepared and give life to it. She asked the doll to guard the house and not let any one enter the house. After a while Shiva came home but the live doll stopped him from entering the house. Shiva got angry and beheaded the doll. Soon Parvathi returned and found that her husband has killed her doll. She asked Shiva to please bring life in it for her sake.

Shiva asked his soldiers to go and fetch a fresh head to join with the torso of the doll. He told them that a head of any animal would do. The soldiers found an elephant and cut off its head. They brought the elephant's head to Shiva who joined it to the doll's torso. The doll lived but with an elephant's head.

Parvathi and Shiva adopted this elephant-headed boy doll as their son Ganesha. Shiva also assigned him the duties of the chief of Gana(s). Shiva declared that Ganesha must be revered at the start of any religious activity to ward off any obstacles that the Gana(s) might put in.
Why would the Gana(s) put in obstacles in the performance of the festivals? Gana(s) follow the orders of the planets and star
constellations, that is why. They can cause difficulties in the smooth conduct of any ritual. But Ganesha is capable to holding the actions of the Gana(s) under wraps. It is then that Hindus worship Ganesha ahead of any function or celebration.

In the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, the Ganesha festival is celebrated as a publicly funded festival, in addition to being held in the homes of Hindus. In the other states there may be a few places where the Ganesha festival is similarly celebrated as a publicly funded festival, but they are not so extravagant as in the state of Maharashtra, and especially in the city of Mumbai.

It was in the early nineteenth century that the famous Marathi freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak who popularised the publicly funded Ganesh festival in Mumbai, Pune and other cities of Maharashtra. He did this in order to make the citizens participate in celebrations in a public spirit. Public spirit brings the citizens together on a public stage and allows them to unify to work united for public causes. He encouraged formation of groups and associations of the neighbourhood residents. They collected money as donations to run the festival. The money is collected from the members of the association and also from the general public. An executive committee is formed. This committee works hard day and night to make the festival a success.

These associations usually install a big clay figure of Ganesha and decorate it with gold and silver jewelry, apart from the flowers and garlands. There will be Puja(s) performed to Ganesha twice or thrice a day. There will be entertainment programs held in the evenings. There will be bhajans (singing songs of prayer) every afternoon. Public feast is served every day. People throng the halls, really because of the feast. But at the same time they will also have an opportunity to perform Archana or Namaskaara to Lord Ganesha. Finally there will be immersion of the clay figure in a water body such as a lake or a river. Those clay figures installed in homes are slowly lowered into deep water well located within the compound of the house. In all the cities, towns, and smaller settlements there will be processions of these clay figures of Ganesha being carried on customised trucks, bullock carts, handcarts, or other open vehicles accompanied by bands and Nagaswara orchestra. Nagaswara is an oral wind instrument played by blowing wind into it with force. The celebrations end with the immersion of the clay Ganesha.

Gowri festival is a joyous festival. There is much preparation to be done for this festival. The house or the apartment is thoroughly cleaned and then decorated with plants, garlands of leaves and flowers, mini-lights and floodlights. The entrance of the dwelling should be decorated with potted plants preferably with flowers. In rural areas banana plantains are tied to either side of the door, and garlands of mango leaves are hung on the top of the door. Small paper flags are stringed and hung between the corners across the room.

For observing Gowri-Ganesha festival, a clay figure of Ganesha is suitable. Idols of Shiva and Parvathi are also needed. There are various sizes of clay figures available. A size suitable for the family may be procured from the market and placed prominently on a platform, (usually a 5 foot long wooden bench) in the central area of the house. Idols of Shiva and Parvathi are also placed on the same platform on one side of Ganesha. Shiva is the father and Parvathi (also known as Gowri) is the mother of Ganesha. With this kind of a set-up, Parvathi (Gowri) and Ganesha are worshipped on the same platform. In some homes, instead of the clay figures, paintings of these deities on paper are obtained from the market. These paintings are fixed on frames made from large folded Aloe leaves. These frames with the pictures are placed on the platform.

VAINA PUJA (WORSHIP OF VAINA)

The main item is the Vaina. Vaina consists of a coconut cleaned of its outer husk and fibers and then the shell polished to make it shiny. There is one Kumbha Kalasha, which is set up for goddess Gowri and another for god Shiva. Kumbha and Kalasha are pots made of either copper or silver and containing sacred water. The water becomes sacred as soon as it is poured into the pot. When a coconut is placed on the pot's opening, Kumbha Kalasha becomes complete. These coconuts have to have their stalk fibres intact. The stalk fibres are situated at one pole of the coconut shell, like a shendi. Shendi is the tuft of hair on the top of head worn by Brahmins of yore.

Kumbha Kalasha adds beauty to the ceremony. There are many idols of different deities also arranged on the altar. The altar is a wooden platform or a low wooden bench. Lots of flowers and garlands are draped to the idols. Idols of Vishnu, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Shiva, Parvathi, Sharada, etc., are all worshipped together. In India the Gowri festival and the Ganesha festival are observed separately. Once in a while both of them are observed on the same day. But as a minimum Hinduism practice, both Gowri and Ganesha festivals can be observed together every year disregarding the Panchaanga dates.

Puja consists of waving the lighted aarathi in the face of the deities. There are also Vaina coconuts that have to be shown the aarathi. Banana leaves form an important part of all Puja(s) at any home. Only the end pieces of the banana leaves are used. Each end piece is about 2 ft. in length. Such pieces of Banana leaves are used for keeping Puja implements on them.The banana leaf pieces are spread on the floor and then heaps of raw rice are arranged on them. The Vaina coconuts are placed on the heaps of raw rice. One Vaina coconut is placed on each heap. The rice heap stabilizes the coconut from rolling. On the top of the coconut a terracotta oil lamp is placed. Lamp is oiled and a cotton wick is placed in the oil with one end sticking out, which is lighted using a matchstick. About 30 such coconuts with lighted lamps are arranged on the floor over the banana leaf pieces, in front of the goddess Gowri's portrait. A priest, or a man in the house, or a married woman may perform the Puja.

The Puja begins with Sankalpa. Sankalpa is literally determination. Here, determination to worship goddess Gowri and Lord Ganesha. Next Achman is made. Achman is to clear the throat with a sip of water. Water is taken in the palm of the hand and sucked in the mouth, without regard to any sound that accompanies such sucking. The sucking might sound like drawing the last drops of the drink with a straw from a bottle.

The third item is wearing the Pavithra. Pavithra is a ring of the Darba grass. One end of the grass sticks out from the knot. Darba grass gives authority to the Pujari (one who performs the Puja) to perform the Puja. After this the twelve Gana(s) are remembered and invoked. Gana(s) are the chieftains of the universe. Ganesha is the chieftains of the Gana(s). By paying respects to the Gana(s) and the god Ganesha, the worshippers pray for protection from obstacles in the Puja that is yet to be performed. All these steps in the Puja are executed while the Vedic or Puranic Manthras (verses) are chanted. Only the priests know how to chant the Manthras. On the other hand any one who learns how to chant the Manthras can officiate as a priest. Only the priests and priest-likes can therefore perform the steps such as Sankalpa, Achman, wearing Pavithra and invoking the Gana(s). If the service of a priest or a priest-like is not available then these steps are omitted.

Now the goddess Gowri is invoked by reciting her names. There is a long list of names of Gowri, which have to be recited at the Puja. Names of Ganesha are also to be recited when Ganesha Puja is performed a little later.Puja performers other than the priest can recite these names by reading the book of procedure of Gowri Puja/Ganesha Puja that is available in the Vedic bookstores. Vedic book stores are book stores that stock religious books. If the priest is attending to the Puja then he will recite these names for us.

In some homes a Homa (fire in which offerings are tendered) called Gana Homa is set up. The Homa adds value to the Puja. A priest can help set up the Homa. During the Puja, god Ganesha is offered Naivedya (food prepared for the feast) by placing small quantities of every item prepared for the feast in small containers in front of the altar. The priest offers the Naivedya to the god by waving a flower or a Tulasi leaf to the god and then dropping it in the container. This is done with every container.

A thread known as Vaina Daara (Daara=thread) with twelve knots is also worshipped along-side goddess Gowri. The Puja of the thread consecrates it. The married women put on the thread around their neck or they might tie it to their right wrists. At last, the Mangalaarathi (Mangal=final auspicious) is waved. To play music at the time of aarathi, someone will play the Jagate (a brass plate beaten by a drum stick.) and another person will blow the conch to produce the appropriate music. The Mangalaarathi is the final act in the Puja.

Always more than one coconut Vaina is to be worshipped so that there are enough to distribute to the married women-relatives and friends. The Vaina coconuts are to be distributed immediately after the Mangalaarathi to those married women-relatives and friends who attend the Puja. By presenting the pujaised Vaina, to the older married women, a married woman will seek their blessings. To the younger women she herself gives blessings at the time of presenting the Vaina. The practice of blessing some one younger is a tradition in Hinduism. It is also a tradition to seek blessings of an older person. These are good traditions but a large number of young people do not think that giving and receiving blessings helps them in their life in any manner. The expectation is that all the women will let her keep her married status intact and all will remain happily married without any jealousy or ill will. The receiving woman will respond by giving back a pujaised Vaina at a later date. She has to give a Vaina coconut that has been pujaised in her home. By returning a Vaina the woman confirms the mutual hopes and aspirations. There are some families that do not practice the Vaina Puja as a tradition. Women from such families can receive the Vaina coconut but need not return the gift. 
The Tamboola or the betel leaves and nuts play an important part in giving and receiving gifts. Every Vaina is to be presented along with Tamboola (a pair of betel leaves and a few cut pieces of areca nuts). An article of gift is to be accompanied by Tamboola. A gift given with the Tamboola gets separated permanently from the giver. The same gift item cannot be given back.

If the receiver wishes to return a Vaina, then she cannot return the same Vaina coconut back. She shall reciprocate with a newly pujaised Vaina and Tamboola. However there is no rule that a Vaina gift has to be reciprocated.

Some of the invited guests wish to perform Archana prayer to the goddess Gowri and/or god Ganesha. They bring their own offerings such as the coconut, banana phonno, flowers, incense sticks etc. Banana phonno is a cluster of 5 banana fingers. The priest will perform the Archana on their behalf to the deities. He will break the coconuts into halves, break the tips of the banana fingers, mount the flowers on the deities, and light the incense sticks. He will also pray the deities to grant the wishes of the Archana aspirant.

After the Puja it is time for a grand feast which is served to all the guests. The dishes that are recommended for Gowri Puja are as follows: salt-less spinach curry, sugarless rice gruel, and patholi. The patholi recipe is given below.

The dishes that are recommended for Ganesha Puja are Takka ambata (butter-milk sour curry), Pathroday, Khottay, Modak and Chakkuli. Recipe of Modak is also given below.

Patholi is a rice preparation with the rice steam-cooked in turmeric leaf. Keep a steam-cooker ready. The quantities can be fractionated depending upon how many Patholi(s) are to be cooked. The capacity of the steam-cooker should be suitable to cook the number of Patholi(s) to be prepared.

Patholi Recipe
1. Turmeric leaf is available in the market. It can also be grown in our kitchen garden. It is a long green leaf with pointed ends. It has a pleasant smell. Wash about 50 turmeric leaves and keep ready for use later.

2. Popped Rice (Laji or Layi) is also available in the market. Whole Layi as well as powdered Layi is required. About 2 table spoonfuls of powdered Layi and about 50 grams of whole Layi.

3. Jaggery, ordinary kind (one half measure= 100 grams). Jaggery is needed to prepare the Chooran, and to add to the rice batter. About 25 grams to the batter and 75 grams to the Chooran.

4. Cardamom powder (one half teaspoonful) is available in the market. It can be prepared at home using the cardamom pods.

5. White rice 200 grams. Wash the rice and soak in double quantity of water for 1 hour.

6. Shredded coconut 100 grams, fresh preferable.

7. Preparation of Chooran: (Jaggery+powdered Layi+Shredded coconut+cardamom powder) Take 75 grams of jaggery and break into small pieces in a tray. Add the powdered Layi (2 tablespoonfuls) and mix. Add 50 grams of shredded coconut and mix well. Add cardamom powder to make Chooran.

8. Put the soaked rice (drained) in the mixie-grinder and add a little water. Add 50 grams of the shredded coconut and grind for 1 minute. Now add 50 grams of whole Layi and grind to a smooth batter (2-3 minutes). Add salt to taste. Add jaggery 25 grams and grind further. The batter should be of the dossa (pan-cake)  batter consistency.

9. Keep the steam-cooker on the lighted stove and add water to the bottom compartment. Keep the perforated tray in the upper compartment. Prepare Patholi by thinly spreading the batter on the leaf along its length and placing the Chooran on the batter along its center from end to end, Fold the leaf to trap the Chooran inside the batter. Place the folded Patholi on the perforated tray in the steam-cooker. Similarly prepare Patholi with all the leaves, and place them side-by-side in a row. Place a piece of banana leaf or cellophane paper over the first row. Arrange the next row and then place a banana leaf/cellophane paper over it. Place all the fifty Patholi(s) stacked up as described. Close the lid of the steam-cooker and let it cook for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes remove the lid and take out one Patholi and see if it is done.

If it is done, the batter turns into a soft cake and the Chooran stays firmly inside the cake.

Patholi is eaten as a snack or served during the feast of Ganesha festival.

Modak Recipe
Modak is said to be the favourite of Lord Ganesha.

1. One ripe banana is squeezed with 2-tablespoonful sugar and 4 tablespoonfuls Maida flour (or all-purpose-flour) and kneaded well to prepare dough. The dough is divided into as many small balls as possible.

2. Place a deep-frying pan on the stove and pour ghee in it to about half its height. Heat ghee until it steams lightly. Add the dough balls carefully one by one in the ghee. Add as many balls as the ghee accommodates for proper cooking. Fry until the balls turn reddish brown and remove using a perforated ladle. Touch the edge of the ladle to drain excess ghee. Place the fried balls on an absorbent paper kept on a plate. The Modak balls are ready. Modak balls are served during the feast of Ganesha festival.

Both Patholi and Modak are to be first offered to Lord Ganesha during the Puja and then only served during the feast.
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