Fasts and Feasts from Childhood: Ganesha and Samvatsari

Posted on September 11, 2010


This day has such a deep connection to childhood for me.

I was born to a Gujarati Jain mother and a Saraswat Brahmin (Konkani) father. Eight or nine days before Ganesh Chaturthi would begin “Paryushan“. For eight days my mother would abstain from cooking green leafy thingies (Yayyy) and no onions, garlic, potatoes and the works. As a child, I’d always try to do “Chauviyar” or the practice of eating before sunset and after sunrise. Of course my mother would bend the rules a little bit for me and allow me to drink water after sunset.

For me, it wasn’t so much the religious or health implication of the whole thing; it was more about fitting in with my maternal cousins. However, I gave up within a few years. I’d always feel hungry at 8PM, which was our regular dinner time and there was no point in me pretending like I could control my stomach pangs.

At the culmination of this week fell “Samvatsari”, the holiest day for all Jains. They congregated at the temples or the “upashrayas*” and prayed for forgiveness for all their doings – knowingly and unknowingly. Of course I accompanied my mom to the upashraya. But I found it way too stuffy and boring and would end up spending most of the time outside with one of my male cousins my age. We’d spent time chasing frogs and stamping on ants! Yea, the irony of it all is not lost on me. Still, these memories are priceless and trigger a smile even today. And I loved saying “Micchami Dukhdam” which basically means “May all the ill I have done to you be forgiven.” Of course I had no idea what it meant till I was may be 10 or 12 even, but just loved the sound of how these two words sounded in my ears.

Sometimes, Ganesh Chaturthi and Samvatsari would fall on the same day. Sometimes, they would be one day after the other. But the result was always the same. The fasts were followed by the feasts. My paternal grandmother, Ammama**, was the world’s best cook (for all Konkani food, which I don’t care for, AT ALL) and she made the best kheer and laddoos. Idlis, sambhar, chutneys, paatras, suran kachumar and the list goes on. But not before waking up early and helping my father decorate the temple. All the Gods were adorned in yellow and orange marigolds, roses at their feet, special incense creating an ambiance of peace and serenity. Devotional songs would be played on a slightly higher volume to commemorate the birth of Ganesha. And the aarti would have all our family members and long ago, even neighbours, all coming to our house and singing the “Ganesh Stotra“. As I type, I can still hear, “Sukh karta, dukh harta, varta vignyachi, nurvi, poorvi prem, krupa jayanchi….” ringing in my ears.

The fondest Ganesh Chaturthi memory I have is of sitting and trying mug up the entire aarti so that I could sing louder than anybody else when the pooja started. And that day, my cousin, Payal and I…we ate by half the sambhar made for 25 people, between the two of us. My grandmother had to make more, but she just smiled as she put up some more dal to boil!

We have not celebrated such a Ganapati at my house in Ahmedabad since 1998. My mother was diagnosed with AD in Jan 1997 and my grandmother’s health took a bad turn in late 1999. There was no more reason to celebrate.

I don’t know why, but today I feel like saying that there will be at least one more Ganapati going to be celebrated like this…I don’t know how and when this is ever going to happen…but just feel it inside.

Micchami Dukhdam and Happy Ganapati to all those who read this post.

* Upashraya: The place where Jain maharaj sahebs and masatijis stay in separate chambers. This is also the place where “sthanakvasi” or the Jains who don’t follow idol worship go to pray

** Ammama: Literally means mother’s mother – I called my father’s mother “Ammama” because he was the only son and all his siblings’ children called her Ammama.

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