Tag Archives: Festivals

Of Chacha Nehru and Chacha Deepak

Jawaharlal Nehru, whose fondness for children earned him the affectionate title of Chacha Nehru, did not distinguish between children of different classes, religions or nationalities. Once, while visiting an exhibition of pictures and cartoons, Nehru was delighted at the performance of the children. He expressed his delight thus: "As I looked at the pictures I thought of the vast army of children all over the world, outwardly different in many ways, speaking different languages wearing different kinds of clothes and yet so very like one another. If you bring them together they play or quarrel. But even their quarrel is some kind of play. They do not think of differences of class, colour or status." A wonderful and accurate observation that only a truly great man can make.

The manner in which Garden School at Cherai celebrates Children’s Day is a fitting tribute to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The Garden School invites marginalised children from different sections of the society to the school and organises an entertainment programme for them. This year, on Saturday November 13, the school invited 18 girls from Divya Prabha, a home for street girls at Vartak Nagar, to its school premises, who along with the students of Garden School, enjoyed a special programme celebrating Diwali and Children’s Day together.

The children were divided into two batches. At 7 pm, the first batch, consisting of nursery students attended the programme. Later, it was the turn of slightly older students, (aged 4 to 10 years) from the Enrichment Class of Garden School. These older children were grouped with the girls from Divya Prabha. A magic show by city-based magician Shukesh Kumar was a big hit with the older children. Because the show was interactive (the children were made to participate in the magic), they thoroughly enjoyed the magic show. After the magic show, the children were served snacks. As they settled down, the highlight of the day, Chacha Deepak, made his entry. A unique personality, not unlike Santa Claus, Chacha Deepak was dressed somewhat like the Air-India Maharaja, complete with a turban, a colourful outfit and a long white beard on his face. Chacha Deepak regaled the children by his mere presence. He went around meeting all children, shaking their hands, playing with them, making a human train and generally entertaining them. Later Chacha Deepak (Deepak stands for Light) stand lit up sparklers along with children to celebrate the festival of lights.  

Anand Turakia, the man who became Chacha Deepak, is father of an ex-student of Garden School. He regularly involves himself with activities of the School and he played an important role in organising this programme as well. "I enjoy playing the role of Chacha Deepak. Many children try to pull out my beard out of curiosity. They want to know who is the person behind all the heavy make up and beard."

The street children enjoyed the programme as much as the school children. Before they left, Chacha Deepak presented them with a stainless steel glass filled with Diwali sweets. This gift is procured with the money collected throughout the year from the regular students of Garden School. Every week, these children contribute two rupees for marginalised children. In August, on the occasion of Independence Day, the school distributed fruits among children the remand home. The gifts may be small in value, but the thoughts of sharing and togetherness make them invaluable indeed.

Festival of Lights
On Monday, about 225 women   and children, who have no one to depend on, celebrated Diwali with enthusiasm and love, thanks to the   volunteers of the Council of Catholic Women of India’s Thane unit. For more than 10 years now, volunteers from the Council of Catholic Women of India have been celebrating Diwali with the inhabitants of Premdan, Mother Teresa’s Home for the destitute at Airoli.

The volunteers of the council spent an entire day with the inmates, creating rangolis, playing the guitar, singing songs, and dancing merrily to the popular Hindi songs. Firecrackers delighted the children and women equally and there was much happiness in the air. One of the volunteers Sharon Scott, who brought along with her people of different   faiths, sponsored Chicken Biryani for all 225 women and children – needless to say, everyone relished it. It truly was a festival of lights for the deprived women and children, because the love and affection the volunteers distributed lit up their hearts and souls.

Dancing to ancient tunes

Residents of Thane are known for their enthusiasm for festivals. And from August to November, there is a string of festivals, one after the other, which Thaneites celebrate with fervour. The ten-day Navratri festival, culminating in Dassera, is one of the big celebrations, with several mini-events gilding the main event. One such mini event is called the Bhondla dance. In the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, when the sun moves to the thirteenth constellation of the zodiac called "Hasta" (Elephant), unmarried and newly married girls perform a dance known as "Bhondla" or "Hadga" and sing specially composed Hadga or "Bhulabai" songs. Bhondla begins with the installation of the deity’s idol and ends on the ninth day of Navratri. Like every year, this year too, hundreds of girls of all ages, and from across the city, were seen celebrating Bhondla by singing special Bhondla songs and performing dances throughout the nine day period.

Manjiri Deo, the veteran dance teacher, who has been teaching Kathak in Thane for 28 long years and has trained thousands of students, organises Bhondla for her students every year since she began coaching. This year was no different, as her students and their parents celebrated bhondla on Sunday, complete songs, dance and sharing of Khirapat. Deo says, "In Kolhapur, where I spent my childhood, Hadga (as it is known there) would go on for 16 days, and little girls would handpick different fruits from their garden, to make a garland which they would then offer to the devi. But in the urban setting, it’s difficult to spare so much time and so we organise Bhondla only for one day. This helps the new generation to learn about the age old tradition and also keep it going."

Another city-based institution that strives to uphold the cultural tradition is the Sarawati Mandir Trust’s pre-primary section in Naupada. The school instils the seeds of cultural heritage in the young by celebrating all the important Indian festivals in school. On Tuesday, 19 October, as many as 200 kindergarten children participated in the bhondla event organised by the school. Preparation for the event began a few days ago when the teachers taught the toddlers the words and tunes of Bhondla songs. On the chosen day, little girls sang and danced along with their teachers, while the little boys cheered them. Everyone, including teachers, was dressed in traditional outfits. In the classrooms, the blackboards exhibited the drawings of the devi and the elephant, and the relevance of the same was explained to the students. For children, the most enjoyable part of the Bhondla tradition is the making of khirapat, which is usually a surprise. This year the kids were asked to bring different ingredients that go into the making of Misal, the spicy, delectable Maharashtrian dish. So while the children brought onions, tomatoes and potatoes, teachers got farsan and usal, the spicy gravy that forms the base of Misal. Before the children could relish Misal, teachers taught them how the dish is prepared.

The enthusiasm of Thaneites is contagious and it travels places, literally and figuratively, as is evident from the way one group of women celebrated Bhondla. These 16 women travel to work every day in the 9.11 am CST bound Thane local and board the ladies first class in Thane and Mulund. Anagha Chitale, one of the group members, initiated the practice of celebrating Bhondla in train four years ago and since then the group celebrates it every year. So on Tuesday, all members came draped in saris, and were welcomed with the customary Haldi Kumkum and Ittar. One of the group members, Gauri, had brought Gajras, which she distributed to everyone, even passengers who were not part of the group. Then the women sang bhondla songs throughout the journey and shared Khirapat, which included a variety of items like dry fruit Samosas, kachoris and even chocolates.

In today’s pop culture, Bhondla may have lost out to Garba in the commercial sense, but those who value culture and tradition strive to uphold this ancient tradition by celebrating it in its true essence. It is in the hearts of such citizens that the rich Indian heritage lives.

Discovering your talent

"Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade," said the great American statesman and inventor, Benjamin Franklin. Talent, if rearranged, spells "latent". It is said that that each of us possess some talent, which is often latent until discovered. And the best time to discover your talents is during childhood, because then you have a lifetime opportunity to hone and employ your talent.

Last week, students of Sulochana Devi Singhania High School participated in the "cultural week" celebrations, an annual event that offers opportunities to discover and stimulate talent in various disciplines. The event is celebrated across all classes, from Junior KG to class X and throughout the duration of the event, hundreds of competitions are held. It culminates with the youth festival that is being celebrated today (October 02).

As in many schools, all students belong to one of the four houses: Vindya, Himachal, Yamuna, Ganga. Every time, a student wins, points are awarded to the house they represent. At the end of the festival, the house with maximum points is awarded the trophy.

While competitions for the higher classes are tougher and more competitive, those for the smaller children are designed to encourage them to discover their talents and then build their confidence in using them. Students of Kindergarten participated in recitation, drawing, fancy dress, handwriting and storytelling contests. Handwriting and storytelling was open only to Senior KG students and the latter turned out to be quite tough. "Only 30 students out of the 330 could be in the finals, and it was indeed difficult to decide, because all children were so good," says Sangita Pitale, Coordinator for the pre-primary section.

The fancy dress contest of the pre-primary section was a rather interesting event. Gone are the days when children would dress up as historical figures, cartoon characters or celebrities. Approximately 600 kids, 300 each from Junior and Senior KG, appeared on the stage – most of them dressed as inanimate and devise objects or intangible ideas. So there was an ambulance, complete with flashing lights, a Lotus flower, a scarecrow, spider with deadly legs, a silkworm, who actually crawled on to the stage, a mobile phone, a butterfly who came out of cocoon, pollution control, and even a messenger of peace. Of course there were also some who turned up as Pokemon characters like Picachio.

The various competitions got over on September 29. Of course, only a handful of children were declared winners, while the rest of them silently vowed to try harder next time. But it is not winning or losing that counts. It is discovering and using your talent. Like Leo Buscaglia said, "Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God." These children are in a process of unwrapping God’s gifts. Someday they will offer their own gift to God.

God of all ages
Hanuman Vyayamshala, the city’s 81-year old sports association, celebrated its 80th year of Ganpati celebrations. The enthusiasm of the students, ex-students and instructors of this institute is rather contagious. Each year, the students of the institute participate in organizing the Ganpati celebration right from the beginning. What’s interesting is that many ex-students of the association are now senior citizens. And the current members are usually school students. So on 27 September, hundreds of students, ex-students, parents and instructors got together at the institute to participate in the visarjan by playing lezim. It was a sight to see as Ganesha brought together the oldest and the youngest of his devotees, as they danced away merrily to songs sung in praise of the Lord.

Eco Designs on Ganesha

In Maharashtra, creative expression is at its peak during Ganpati festival. Such is the enthusiasm that surrounds the Big G’s arrival that year after year, devotees get transformed into artists as they decorate Ganpati’s ten-day habitat in the most beautiful and innovative manner with socially relevant themes. So we have had themes like modern medicine and AIDS awareness, evolution of humankind and the beginning of the Universe and evolution of religion. Pokhran Blasts, Kargil War, KBC, cricket match-fixing and 9/11 were prominently used themes due to their topicality. In the last few years, environment consciousness has also taken centre stage and many people are now putting together Ganesha’s dwelling out of eco-friendly stuff.

Let’s take the example of the Ganpati decoration at Prasad Birjee’s home at Ram Maruti Road, Thane. For two consecutive years, Birjee’s Ganpati decor won awards for the most eco-friendly Ganpati. Birjees have been celebrating Ganpati for the last 70 years, a tradition started by Prasad’s great grandfather.

The prize-winning decorations are put together by Prasad with the help of his family members, especially his mother and wife. Although an engineer by profession, 35-year-old Prasad is extremely creative when it comes to decorating the abode of Lord Ganesha. Prasad got started with this idea of innovative decoration in 1986 when he was made in-charge of decorating the pandal by his sports club Hanuman Vyayamshala, a 75-year old sports club that celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi with vigour. That year he made a miniature model of the Dadoji Kondeo Stadium, which was appreciated by everyone. It was then that he realised that he could be very creative when it came to decorating Ganesh pandals.
 
What’s impressive is that as a mark of respect for the environment, they stopped immersing their Ganpati idol 14 years ago, when they brought in an idol made out of fibre, and which they now install every year. "As a symbolic farewell, we immerse Beetle leaves and Supaari (Beetle nuts), which are equally revered according to tradition," says Prasad. Now, since the last four years, Prasad uses only paper for decorations. A couple of years ago, he made a banyan tree out of paper, complete with roots hanging out of its trunks. It won him the first prize in "the most eco-friendly Ganpati decoration contest" organised by the Jidnyasa Trust.

Last year, the family spent two full months making more than 200 Hibiscus paper flowers of different colours and six large flower pots, also made of paper. This year the theme is the significance Satyanarayan Puja in Hindu tradition. Lord Ganesha is sitting blissfully in the midst of Banana Trees acting like pillars. Once again, the five-feet-or-so tall banana trees and the big banana leaves have been made entirely out of paper. The rest of the stuff used in decoration is mostly made from items found at home. This makes the decoration not only eco-friendly but also low cost.  

There is no better way to please the Lord than to care for His creation and preserve this environment. Blessed are those who use Ganesh Chaturthi as an opportunity to celebrate the ecosystem we inhabit.

Heal and hearty

Every year, at this time of the year, devotees numbering in hundreds of thousands, participate in a procession called Ashadi Ekadashi yatra, which is one of the oldest and also among the single largest processions in the world. Also called the Wari procession, it starts at Alandi and culminates with the darshan of Lord Vithal and Rukmini in Pandharpur on the Ashadhi Ekadashi day, which fell on June 29 this year. The procession lasts for 21 days and covers a distance of about 250 km with devotees walking barefoot through the hilly path.

With a procession of such large magnitude, eventualities of various kinds can be expected, medical contingencies being on the top of the list. To deal with these medical problems, Thane-based NGO Sahayadri Manav Seva Manch (SMSM) has been organising medical camps for the benefit of the devotees. 20 km after traversing the Ghats, when the procession reaches a place called Saswad on June 14, about two dozen selfless volunteers from SMSM greet them. This year too, a team of seven city doctors and 15 para-medicos conducted a free medical camp, from 9 am to 6 pm, which included free medical check up and free medicine. The procession spent around 24 to 36 hours at Saswad and during this time, SMSM volunteers examined and treated close to 3,000 patients. "As usual, most of the complaints were due to over-exertion, exhaustion, dehydration, malnutrition and so on. Some cases required minor surgeries too, which were performed by qualified surgeons," says Avinash Korde from SMSM.

Once again on June 22, the volunteers left Thane for Pandharpur, to hold camps at various sites along the path of the procession. For four days, the team of doctors and para-medicos from SMSM treated patients and distributed free medicine to those who required them, making the devotional expedition of thousands of people free of discomfort. In lieu of fees, the volunteers happily accepted the blessings of the devotees.

Work is worship
While lakhs of people were marching towards Pandharpur, little devotees from Saraswati Mandir Trust’s Pre-Primary School at Naupada took out their own little procession outside the school. Two children, a girl and a boy, were dressed up as Vithal and Rakhumabai, and the remaining students (numbering approximately 400) formed a procession similar to the one in Pandhardpur, and danced and sang praises of Lord Vithal as they marched towards the school.

The school dedicated the day to Lord Vithoba as teachers explained to the tots from junior and senior KG, the significance and historical perspective of Ashadi Ekadashi and why it is celebrated. The children learnt how Vithal, fondly called Vithoba, accompanied by his wife Rakhumabai, has been worshipped for centuries throughout Maharashtra, and why great saints like Tukaram, Mirabai and Janabai worshipped Lord Vithal. The children learnt important lessons from the stories narrated to them. For instance, from the story of Saint-Poet Tukaram, who was Lord Vithal’s devotee, and believed that work is worship, the children learnt that worshiping God does not mean leaving all worldly duties and heading off to the Himalayas – it means doing whatever you do, with love and complete concentration.

Hungry Kya?

The success of Gurinder Chadda’s "Bend it like Beckham" made Aloo Gobi one of the most popular Indian dishes around the world. A friend who is in the US reveals that ever since the release of the film, she is asked for an Aloo Gobi recipe more than any other recipe. On a more serious note, the last decade or so has seen Indian cuisine gaining prominence around the world. I am told that regular US grocery stores have started to carry Indian spices and other dry shelf ingredients and also ready to eat Indian dishes.

One reason for the growing importance of Indian recipes can be attributed to its multiplicity: delectable regional fare like Punjabi, South Indian, Malwani, Sindhi, Maharashtrian Bengali, Gujarati, Rajastani and many more. Just like last year, Thane residents will be able to experience the grand concoction of cuisines from around India at the Food Fiesta 2004. The one-of-its-kind food exhibition will be held between April 30 and May 02, 2004 at Ghantali Grounds. Organised by Thane-based Renaissance Corporation, the exhibition will display an assortment of recipes, with special focus on "Child and Nutrition."

Tushar Pitale, founder of Renaissance, says, "Food Fiesta 2004 is a food festival and like any other festival, it’s an occasion for people to come together to enjoy. In our country, food habits vary geographically as well as demographically, and this exhibition will bring together this diversity under one roof."

The exhibition will also include stalls on modern cooking appliances, kitchen sets and everything else related to food and cooking. Pitale explains, "Modern appliances and equipment have become necessity in today’s fast life and Food Fiesta will provide a platform to display such products."

To give the exhibition a holistic appeal, several supporting events have been organised. For instance, there is a Healthy Baby Contest on cards. Then there is a cooking competition for mothers – their entries will be judged on the nutritious value it offers to the children. To encourage participation, entry fees to the contests have been kept very nominal. The three-day agenda also includes counselling sessions by paediatricians and dieticians, which will be free to attend and will offer a wealth of wisdom. Garnishing the main course would be events like Kids’ Fashion Parade, Cookery Demonstrations, lucky draws and so on.

In line with its theme of "Child and Nutrition," the exhibition will be inaugurated by celebrity children from Thane – those who have achieved recognition in the spheres of academic, cultural and sports. These children will also be felicitated on the occasion.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food’" said George Bernard Shaw. Whether you are a foody as described by Shaw, a parent who wishes to provide nutritious food to his child or simply a health-conscious individual, Food Fiesta is worth a visit. Entry to the exhibition is free.

For more information on food stalls, counselling sessions and other details of the exhibition, readers may contact Tushar Pitale on 25400399.

A Celebration of Unity in Diversity

With most Hindu new years falling in the months of March/April, it is only appropriate that we celebrate it together. For the third consecutive year, the city residents, regardless of their cast and creed, will come together to celebrate the Indian New Year by participating in the Bharatiya Nava Varsha Swagat Yatra, an apolitical procession organised by Shri Kopaneshwar Mandir Trust and supported by city-based educational institutes, social and religious trusts, and NGO’s.

The celebrations will begin this evening at 7pm with Deepotsav. It will be a sight to behold and savour, as the city of Thane will light up with thousands of residents stepping out of their homes, candles and diyas in their hands, to mark the end of the old year and the beginning of a fresh, New Year. While last year, it was only the Masunda lake that was lit up in this fashion, this year as many as 11 major areas across the city, both East and West, will radiate the new year’s glow. Later in the evening at 8.30 pm, non-polluting fireworks will illuminate the skies too.

Tomorrow at 7 am, the main procession will begin from the Kopeneshwar Temple and travel through Talao Pali, Ram Maruti, Gokhale Road and Petrol Pump and back to the temple, covering a distance of three km. VIPs and dignitaries and hundreds of residents will join the procession as it travels from one place to another. This year there will also be four mini-processions in far-flung locations, also being organised under the aegis of the Kopeneshwar Trust. These areas are: Thane East, Brahmand, Vasant Vihar and Kalwa. This is being done to provide an opportunity to residents living in far-away locations as they too are in integral part of the city.

In true Indian spirit, non-Hindus like Jews, Catholics, Parsis and Muslims will also participate. The Sikh community have participated with their float from the very first procession and like previous years, they will make arrangements for dinking water for everyone – a noble undertaking, especially on hot days.
 
Several dozen floats with cultural, educational and social themes will be seen in the procession. Ideal School from Rabodi will participate with its float and so will St. John the Baptist High School, which will celebrate its hundredth in 2005, and will display miniature models of its buildings. Jidnyasa Trust will display their Science Laboratory called Exploratory.

Almost 300 housing societies in the city have agreed to display common Gudis on their premises, to reinforce the atmosphere of togetherness. Three large-than-life Rangolis will adorn the city. The one at Gavdevi Maidan will be 15000 sq feet in size and watching towers will be put up for people to see it. The other two places to be decorated with Rangoli are New English School and Kalwa, both measuring about 60 feet in diameter.

The Bharatiya Nava Varsha Swagat Yatra marks the celebration of Gudi Padwa (Marathi), Ugadi (Malayali), Cheti Chand (Sindhi) Poila Baishakh (Bengali), Baisakhi (Punjabi) and many more Hindu New Years, all together. With such strong thrust on social integration, Thane city is emerging as a strong cultural hub, not just of Maharashtra, but of the entire India. The sheer intensity with which the city celebrates cultural festivals is representative of the true Indian spirit of "Unity in Diversity."   We wish all residents of Thane a Very Happy, Prosperous and Peaceful New Year.

Sowing the Seeds of Peace

Mahatma Gandhi said, "An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind." But if the recent turn of events is any indication, the Mahatma’s words of wisdom have been long forgotten. Violence in the name of religion is perhaps the biggest threat to our world today. The origins of most acts of terrorism can be traced to religious affiliations. The strategy to combat terrorism on a global scale requires a commitment of a different kind than has been shown by present-day politicians and religious leaders across the continents. It requires an approach that acknowledges the deep-rooted source of the problem – that the seeds of hatred are planted early in life and it is most difficult to change the attitudes of adults by reasoning with them about the futility of religious conflicts. The only antidote to hatred is love. And therefore the only way out this dreadful state of affairs is to begin by planting the seeds love in children.

Parents play the most important role in shaping the psychological development of a child. It is therefore imperative that parents themselves acknowledge the urgent importance of peace and harmony for the survival of our planet.

On the occasion of the First Day of Navratri, the Garden School at Cherai was filled not with students but their parents. These parents had gathered there for a unique inter-religious prayer meeting. The prayer meeting lasted for about an hour. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and Parsis were all there with one mission – to learn and spread the message of love, peace and harmony. Extracts from the various holy books were read and their meanings explained. The Holy Quran, The Bhagavad Geeta, The Bible and the Guru Granth Sahib were all referred to – and all of them advocated the same thing – that there is nothing greater than love.

13-year-old Ameya Gawand, an ex-student of the school was also present. Ameya owes a lot to the school and it’s Principal Bernadette Pimenta who helped him tremendously during his early childhood which was marked by severe physical challenges. He emerged triumphant through them all. While addressing the parents assembled, he gave many examples of religious myths that can be easily done away with, in these modern times.

To reinforce the idea of peace and harmony, Pimenta led the assemblage of parents to take a pledge against war, mutual conflict, thefts, murders, bomb blasts and other crimes. A two-minute silence was observed in the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace.

Later candles were lit by parents and teachers accompanied by a song that urged people to light the flame of peace in their hearts. Other popular songs of powerful messages were also sung.

Before we belong to any religion or any country, we belong to humanity. As Mother Teresa said, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." The prayer meeting held at the Garden School may seem too trivial an effort towards world peace; nevertheless it can have far reaching consequences. If all schools across the world begin to hold such inter-faith meetings, peace will be inevitable.

Ganpati for Peace and Harmony

While for most people Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival to be celebrated with vigour, for the Pitale family, it is an opportunity to educate, enlighten and send a forceful and socially relevant message to the community. Every year during Ganpati, the living room of the Pitale residence at Cherai gets transformed into a mini theatre which exhibits a special show with an unusual theme. In the past they’ve had themes like the secret behind the rainbow, the solar eclipse phenomenon and even the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe. Each show is well planned, complete with appropriate light and sound effects.

This year the Pitales chose "Evolution of Religion" as the theme. In these days of heightened communal tension, the subject is highly relevant. The messages are powerful and visitors who become spectators come out with a feeling of deep contemplation. The 10-minute long show begins with a voiceover as follows:

"I am a Hindu, I am a Christian, I am a Muslim.
But why?
Because my father belonged to that religion.
But, what about primitive man? Was he a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim or any other religion?
He had no religion. He was just a human being – albeit one with more intelligence than other animals. He created religion for his convenience."

And thus begins a compelling journey of evolution that covers all the stages of progression of religions. It covers the lifestyle of the primitive man, and how, for the purpose of security, he lived in groups. "This is how", the voice proclaims, "the first seeds of religion were planted."

The show goes on to discuss the early phases and transitions of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam with references to the Vedas, the Bhagwad Geeta, the Bible and the Quran. Throughout the show, the background changes to echo the respective religion.

The show emphatically puts across the point that at the core we are all humans, and that religion exists to facilitate our existence in a collaborative manner. At one point, as we stare at the beautifully decorated stand and the lovely Ganesha idol, the voice says, "The rituals of naming a child differ from one religion to another but the innocence reflected in the child’s laughter is the same. Just as the tears in the bride’s eyes, as she bids adieu to her parents, are also the same, be it a Shaadi, a Wedding or a Nikhah.

Tushar Pitale, an engineer from IIT, and one of the brains behind these annual shows, reveals some rather interesting encounters he had while researching for the script of the show. He says, "I met so many Hindus, Christians and Muslims – and all of them knew about Ganpati’s relevance. Not only that; all the people I met, regardless of religion, subscribed to the idea of harmony. In fact I met a couple if Muslims who knew more about ancient Hindu literature than so many Hindus do."

The show ends with a thought provoking statement, "Call Him Bhagwan, Lord Almighty or Allah, the power which keeps this Universe moving is One; that power is formless; it is something beyond our imagination. Let us find that light within us and spread its glow all around and then one day we will find Krishna, Jesus and Mohammed, Paigamber amongst us."

We are sure Ganpati would be pleased with the Pitales. After all, is there better form of worshipping the Elephant God than spreading the message of peace and harmony?

Bridging the Gap

Urbanisation, modernisation, computerisation and globalisation – the results of advancement in standards of living have both good sides and bad. One of negative manifestations of modern day living is that it is causing a downfall in the popularity of many customs and rituals that have been adhered to for centuries. While some of these rituals have their basis in myths, some others have meaningful motives behind them. Thankfully, there are some among us who do all they can to keep these rituals alive, if only for the sake of keep the history alive.

Around the month of Shravan, Hindus perform many different pujas and ceremonies. One such ceremonial is called Mangala Gauri when newly married Hindu girls perform the worship of Goddess Gauri successively for the first five years, on every Tuesday, in the month of Shravan, one of the months of the Hindu calendar. While Mangala denotes Tuesday, Gauri stands for promoting happiness, success and good fortune. To ensure immunity of widowhood and to pray for the well being of their husbands, newly wed women observe vrata (fast) and perform an aarti of Goddess Gauri. After the prayers, the girls sing and dance to traditional folk songs the whole night to celebrate the occasion.

On August 19, 2003, many Marathi women from Thane city danced merrily – they played games and sang traditional folk songs. In an attempt to bring back the lost glory of the Mangala Gauri, a ceremony was organised by women of the Rotary Club of Thane at Sahyog Mandir premises. While urban women hardly remember the ancient songs, dances and games, it was a folk dance troop from Vile Parle called Japurja Mandal, who managed to pump in the spirit by putting life back into an age old tradition. The troop, comprising mostly of middle-aged women, strive hard to keep the many ancient Hindu traditions alive.

The 20-odd women from Japurja Mandal did a fantastic job at Sahyog Mandir. They sang songs and enacted age-old parodies that had the attendees in splits: fights between mother- and daughter-in-law, a little boy bickering with his mom, small skits from the life of Lord Krishna. The women also mimicked the posture and gait of animals like peacock, tortoise and rabbit. According to them, ancient women used such occasions to unwind physically and mentally and these little games gave them the much needed work out. There was a session of ukhana where women would bring up the name of their respective husbands, but in a poetic manner, which was almost always humorous.

In the opinion of Dilip Doman, former president of the Rotary Club of Thane, "Some of the dances and acts performed by the troop were easier said than done. In spite of a regular exercise routine, I doubt if anyone of us could do those backbreaking, neck-straining moves with such grace."

In olden times, early marriage would deprive a girl of her friends and loved ones. Occasions such as Mangala Gauri would give them an opportunity to visit her parents and meet her childhood chums. "The song and dance ritual was a celebration of meeting up with childhood friends. Even older women enjoyed such occasions as they had little by way of social life otherwise," explained Ashwini Tambe, first lady of Rotary Club of Thane, who also participated in the Ukhana by mentioning her husband’s name in a humorous and poetic, albeit appreciating manner. "For us, the celebration was refreshing in the sense that it brought back memories of childhood and also revived the many legendary stories like those of Lord Krishna and his life" she added.

In the olden days, Mangala Gauri was a strictly women-only affair, but these days many men join the celebrations too – most of them do so for understanding of the ancient rituals so that they can enlighten their own kids.

The women of Japurja Mandal are invited by many tradition-loving-but-extremely-busy urban people who have lost touch with the ancient customs and rituals. These women remember every ancient song, dance or ritual that is associated with occasions such as Mangala Gauri and as such are doing a fine job of bridging the gap between the past, the present and the future.