Everything in Mumbai is ‘Maha’ (grand) in size and stature. Be it the buildings, the vast expanse of sea, the industries, the heart of its citizens or the way they live their ‘larger than life’ despite the several personal and professional demons they struggle with everyday.
Mumbaikars never skip an opportunity to celebrate their life extraordinarily. And most of Mumbai’s celebrations spill on its roads and streets! Yes, Mumbai knows how to celebrate life on roads! Apart from Dahi Handi and Ganeshotsav, one major festival which is close to every Mumbaikar’s heart is Gudi Padwa. Gudi Padwa marks the beginning of the new year as per the Hindu calendar co-inciding with the harvesting season. The first day of the Chaitra month of Hindu calender is celebrated as new year amongst the Maharashtrian community.
A Gudi is hung aloft in homes, shops, temples etc to mark the festival. A Gudi is
enthusiastically made by family members. A long bamboo stick is washed, dried
and its one end is covered with brightly colored and neatly tied zari Saris. Neem leaves, mango leaves, sugar crystals (gaathi) and Marigold flower garlands are also tied alongwith it. The top of the tied sari is covered with an inverted copper vessel called ‘lota’. The gudi is hung high to announce the universal theme of triumph of good over evil. It is also supposed to bring in good luck and prosperity. The preparations of the festival starts a day or two earlier with spring cleaning of the house. On the day of the festival, very early in the morning, the women and children of the house make ornate and colorful ‘Rangolis’ on the ground! However, the Rangoli is removed late evening on the same day.
People scrub themselves clean early morning, women smell of gajra (a fragrant flower garland tied on hair!) and wear new traditional clothes on this day. Men wear white ‘Dhoti’ and brightly colored (mostly saffron) ‘kurta’. The look is completed with saffron colored ‘pheta’ aka ‘patka’, the traditional Maharashtrian turban. While the women adorn themselves in brightly colored traditional 9 yard saaree and a short sleeved blouse. It’s complimented with flowers and jewelries especially the traditional ‘Kolhapuri Saaz’. A small pooja (ritual) is performed after launching the gudi.
Now its time for the dieters to let loose and allow themselves to give in to the gastronomic indulgence, mostly sweet dishes. Strangely, the first thing the family member eat on this auspicious day is an odd bittersweet mixture of coarsely ground bitter Neem leaves, ‘gud’ (jaggery), and dhana (coriander powder). The highly medicinal properties of Neem strengthens the immune system and purifies the body while the sweet jaggery offsets the bitter taste of Neem. A wide range of sweets such as Shrikhand, Poori , Sanna, Basundi, Kheer, Jalebi, and most importantly Pooran Poli ( A kind of sweet lentil paratha) is cooked at home.
Once the celebrations at home wraps up, the festive fervor spills with full vigor on the narrow streets and roads of Mumbai. The ever busy and infamous traffic of Mumbai comes at an abrupt halt as the city witnesses multiple ‘jhaanki’/ ‘Rath Yatras’ / parades in different localities of Mumbai. However, the parade in Dombivali steals the show with its grandeur, pomp and show. It attracts the maximum audiences, photographers, media, politicians , the usual suspects! And for good reason!
Dombivali based Ganesh Mandir Sansthan’s Nav Varsha Swagat Shobha Yatra Sanyojak organises the annual procession better known as Shobha Yatra every year. Contrary to the popular belief, the tradition of taking a Shobha Yatra , much carnival like, is a recent phenomenon. It was started in the late 1990s and has inspired similar procession not only in Mumbai but all of Maharashtra. The tradition is not only entertaining but also displays the cultural and religious richness of Maharashtra in its full glory. And in the process it unites the citizens by instilling in them a sense of belongingness, cultural and ethnic unity and brotherhood. The bonhomie, goodwill, geniality and camaraderie amongst complete strangers here is to be seen to be believed.
You can expect to see myriad themes and performances in the parade. At one moment you will be treated with a power packed and well synchronized dhol performance then at other you will be amused to see dogs dressed up as dolls and sitting pretty on moving motorbikes. And then the next minute you go ‘wow’ when kids as young as 10 years old flex their agile bodies and perform ‘Mallakhambh’ as if it was actually a ‘child play’. Lavani perfomances are also big attraction and so are the participants dressed up as mythological characters on horse driven ‘raths’ (chariots). Maharashtrian celebrities also throng the parade and add more glamour to the festive milieu.
Volunteers are appointed every few meters to offer free water and ‘sherbets’ (Refreshing sweet drink) to not only the performers but also the audiences.
Where else you can have so much fun and not spend a single rupee? Only in Mumbai!
(Oh come on, you can afford that local train ticket!)
P. S. I was accompanied by my good Maharashtrian friends and colleagues, who were also the volunteers in the processions. Ankita Gawade, Manjiri Joshi (She is a fab Tabla Player) and Sameer Naik enriched my experience by giving me the local’s perspective. This blog is based on conversations with them. I thank them for inviting me to see the festival in all its glory. If you want to see the processions live, Dombivali carnival I have been told are the best. I went in April, 2013. More pictures here :
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