There is a lot more to the Gauri-Gan­pati fes­ti­val fare than just modaks and moti­choor ladoos. And, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily sweet and veg­e­tar­ian

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Sumedha Raikar-Mha­tre tracks sea­sonal dishes that make it to Ma­ha­rash­trian plates dur­ing the Gan­pati fest, rang­ing from unique rhi­zomes to jump­ing creek fish

MA­HA­RASH­TRA’S 11-day Gan­pati fes­ti­val can be ex­pe­ri­enced through mul­ti­ple prisms — Jhin­gat DJ mu­sic, dhol-tasha bands in the neigh­bour­hood, Konkan-bound ST buses, school-col­lege breaks, dec­o­rated pan­dals, clay idol work­shops, de­signer back­drops, sa­ree sales, mehendi combo dis­counts. But, if one were to rank-or­der the prime con­texts char­ac­ter­is­ing the fes­ti­val in art, text, myth and ritual, the food cooked in the name of the Bappa and mother Gauri tops the chart. Food is en­ergy and the most revered el­e­ment of the col­lec­tive wor­ship when the favoured de­ity is a pot-bellied, elephant-headed, ro­tund dancer. When he is not danc­ing, he is re­clin­ing against a pil­low, with a loaded plate — he has to re­move ob­sta­cles, ini­ti­ate new be­gin­nings, sup­port aca­demic ad­vance­ment, and pa­tro­n­ise the arts. No play be­gins with­out his in­vo­ca­tion. Nat­u­rally, all this needs en­ergy, lots of it. So, the Lord is happy to wal­lop 21 modaks (lest you for­get that mod in modak de­notes joy) at one go. He is no body wor­rier, prid­ing on hyped-up six packs, but a su­per clever “dis­penser of magic, sur­prise and laugh­ter” (to quote cul­ture critic Lee Siegel) whose girth is not to be con­cealed. As the myth goes, once the Moon laughed at his bulging belly and then paid a price for a life­time. The an­gry Lord broke off one of his tusks and hurled it at the moon, which be­gan wax­ing and wan­ing ever since.

Thank­fully, in Ma­ha­rash­tra, no such mis­takes have been made. There is ad­e­quate clar­ity about what the icon sig­ni­fies, what he le­git­imises and the al­lowances he makes. In fact, there is a hu­man bond with the re­laxed foodie half-hu­man form as seen in three all-time pop­u­lar songs: Tashacha Awaz Tararara Zala Ani Gan­pati Maza Nachat Aala; Ghun­grachya Talavar Bappa Nache; Ala Nachat Gan­raj. Which God comes, stays for 11 days, and then goes danc­ing ev­ery year with un­fail­ing reg­u­lar­ity, turn­ing the Max­i­mum City into a dis­cotheque? Ob­vi­ously, good food of­fer­ings — bhog, an­nam, prasadam or naivedya play a pri­mal part in the 16 up­acha­ras or modes of wor­ship in In­dian tra­di­tion — re­main key to the wel­come for such an egal­i­tar­ian, all-em­brac­ing de­ity. Mithai gift­ing speaks for the blan­ket ac­cep­tance of con­fec­tionar­ies (kaju modak, amba modak, steamed modak, choco­late modaks, mava peda) as a com­mu­nity-build­ing medium in the sea­son. Sweet­meats dur­ing meals is also a norm, as ar­tic­u­lated in the fa­mous Pral­had Shinde num­ber — Hoto Var­shane Ekda Harsh, Goad An­nacha Hoto Re Sparsh. It’s such a telling com­ment on the eco­nom­i­cally weaker sec­tions of Ma­ha­rash­tra which look for­ward to Gan­pati as a right­ful ac­cess to sugar-based joys.

But, mere con­fec­tionar­ies do not de­fine the Lord’s eclec­tic taste. He also revels in the green fo­liage, which is re­flected in the com­merce re­volv­ing around veg­eta­bles. The sea­son wit­nesses a unique Ranbhaji fes­ti­val in the tribal belt of Jawhar and ad­join­ing vil­lages where farm­ers show­case 20-odd recipes, made from un­heard of tu­bers, ker­nels, wild fruits, flow­er­ing stalks, rhi­zomes, whose pop­u­lar English names don’t ex­ist be­cause they never make it to the ur­ban In­di­ans’ plate. An NGO called Vayam or­gan­ises the Ranbhaji taste fest merely to cel­e­brate the nu­tri­tional rich­ness of the leafy flora, which com­bats mal­nu­tri­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, even in ur­ban ar­eas, cer­tain veg­eta­bles gain promi­nence only in the fes­tive patch — like the poor man’s kan­toli (teasel gourd), pendhra (tamil­na­dia ulig­i­nosa), kadu kand (dioscorea balb­ifera), am­badi (gongura) and bam­boo shoots.

The Lord and Gauri mata are usu­ally greeted with a no­table rushi pan­chami veg-mix, served on the day af­ter Ganesh Chaturthi. Yam, pump­kin, okra, snake gourd, ridge gourd, sponge gourd cooked with aloo (colo­ca­sia) and math (ama­ranth) leaves is a po­tent as­sort­ment, livened up by tamarind, chilies and des­ic­cated co­conut. The veg­gie won­ders ex­pand be­yond imag­i­na­tion across castes and com­mu­ni­ties, named dif­fer­ently in var­ied re­gions like nau any­achi bhaji in Thane or ekvis bha­janchy­cha bhog in Nasik. The naivedya of­fer­ings in Vi­darbha in­clude the fa­mous sola bha­jyanchi bhaji which is pre­pared in hon­our of the Ma­ha­lak­sh­mis — another form of Gauri who sym­bol­ises the mar­ried girls of the fam­ily who are to be served good food. As Nag­pur-based Devyani Sandip Joshi, 45, ob­serves, the 16 con­stituent veg­gies in the curry — pep­pers, gourds, spinach, pota­toes, pa­paya, fava beans, and raw ba­nanas, (the mix changes as per taste, but elim­i­nat­ing tomato, radish and egg­plant) — is “a fes­ti­val in it­self” which puts en­joy­able pres­sure on the Varhadi kitchens. In fact, a sorted bun­dle of 16 veg­gies is now vended in cities like Nag­pur, so that women don’t have to scout for greens. Need­less to add, Bappa’s cui­sine ad­justs to the ex­i­gen­cies of city life as well as re­gion-spe­cific crop pat­terns. For ex­am­ple, the tangy jowar flour coolant am­bil served as naivedya in Vi­darbha is made of rice or ragi in Konkan.

Naivedya of­fer­ings also adapt to chang­ing so­cial mores, as ev­i­dent in the vadi made in pre­dom­i­nantly Vaishya Vani homes. Thane-based Neha Ni­tish Bhusari, 46, re­calls it as a de­light pre­pared, in large por­tions, dur­ing Gauri im­mer­sion. Soaked and melded gram flour sparkles to

RANBHAJI fes­ti­val in the tribal belt of Jawhar and ad­join­ing vil­lages where farm­ers show­case 20-odd recipes, made from un­heard of tu­bers, ker­nels, wild fruits, flow­er­ing stalks, rhi­zomes, whose pop­u­lar English names don’t ex­ist be­cause they never make it to the ur­ban In­dian’s plate

a post-tadka green life gar­nished with turmeric, mus­tard seeds, and curry leaves. “An army of my kakis and aa­jis, along with two dozen chil­dren, used to carry the idol along with a huge steel con­tainer of Vadi Prasad to Wada’s river­side. Af­ter the cer­e­mo­nial pooja and im­mer­sion, we would ex­change the vadi with other wom­en­folk.” There were slight vari­a­tions in each fam­i­lies’ Vadi de­liv­ery. Some added sliced cu­cum­ber and raw ba­nana, to bring in the ex­tra crunch. But what it es­sen­tially aimed and achieved was the fun-re­union of women and chil­dren. Af­ter mar­riage, Bhusari con­tin­ues the Vadi tra­di­tion, on a smaller scale, as a fes­tive stand­alone snack for her chil­dren and neigh­bours.

Un­like Bappa, who is usu­ally served a veg­e­tar­ian naivedya, god­dess Gauri en­ter­tains ‘meatier’ ex­per­i­ments too. I vis­ited two kitchens where sea food was part of the Gauri poo­jan prep. And­heri-based Smita Deepak Chaud­hari, 48, be­long­ing to the Som­vashi Ksha­triya Sa­maj (an­ces­tral roots in Thane and Pal­ghar) shopped for fresh prawns to be cooked in a spicy curry of blended onions, gin­ger-gar­lic paste, asafetida, scraped dry cononut, and colo­ca­sia stems. She says her god­dess thrives on spice. “She also sym­bol­ises the ma­her­vashin guest for us, the pam­pered mar­ried girl vis­it­ing her mother’s home,” chuck­les Chaud­hari. Many within her com­mu­nity give a twist to the same curry by wrap­ping-steam­ing the prawn in aloo leaves.

Thane-based Drau­padi Har­ishchan­dra Koli, 70, is at­tuned to a dif­fer­ent rou­tine for her Gauri. The Koli fam­ily, ear­lier op­er­at­ing from Chen­dani Koli­wada, keeps a close watch on the mud flap­pers (Nivti) which can be spot­ted only in lowtide muddy wa­ters and sea creeks. She in­sists on the nivtiche kalvan, the spicy tamarind-tem­pered curry whose thick­ness comes from aloo leaves and stems. “How­ever dif­fi­cult it is to spot nivtis, it is a joy we look for­ward to,” she adds. Rich in cal­cium and high on taste, nivtis are usu­ally caught alive. Of­ten, the flut­ter­ing nivtis dan­gle out of shop­ping bags; some are so re­silient that they spring to life even af­ter be­ing cut and placed on the pan. Like the Ko­lis, the Pathare Prab­hus, the Chan­draseniya Kayastha Prab­hus, the Agris, and the Kasars also of­fer fish, mut­ton and chicken del­i­ca­cies to the god­dess.

Ho­mogenised or niche, pro­le­tar­ian or white-col­lar, sweet or savoury, large-scale or home-based, steamed or sautéed, Brah­mini­cal or Bhan­dari — Bappa and Gauri ac­cept var­ied cuisines as devo­tees’ labour. The devo­tees ‘savour’ the labour.


Smita Deepak Chaud­hari, from the Som­vashi Ksha­triya Sa­maj, shops for fresh prawns ahead of the fes­ti­val. This, she cooks in a spicy curry (left), say­ing her god­dess, who sym­bol­ises the pam­pered mar­ried daugh­ter vis­it­ing her mother’s home, thrives on spice.

A veg thali from the Ranbhaji fes­ti­val


Thane res­i­dent Neha Ni­tish Bhusari re­mem­bers Gauri im­mer­sion back in her vil­lage for the naivedya of vadi made of soaked and melded gram flour, gar­nished with turmeric, mus­tard seeds and curry leaves. Af­ter the im­mer­sion, she says, the fam­i­lies would ex­change the vadi with other wom­en­folk.

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