The Ganesh Festival – a Family Tradition

Swarnima and her mom

The Ganesh festival has been celebrated in India since the 1600s and was modified to become a more public and social festival in the late 1800s. During this 10-day festival, families also celebrate a three-day pooja, dedicated to the Gauri, the goddess representing health, wealth, happiness and prosperity, and sister of Lord Ganesh.

The idols of Goddess Gauri are brought into the home in pairs, decorated, and worshipped. These represent the sisters of Lord Ganesh, returning home to visit their brother and spend time with family. This occasion is meant to provide all the daughters in a family an opportunity to take time off from their daily routines and visit their own mother’s home.

Swarnima and group of women standing in front of the idols

Goddess Gauri who comes in search of Lord Ganesh is believed to bring auspiciousness and prosperity.  The Haldi-Kumkum ceremony is a social gathering that takes place in which married women exchange haldi (turmeric) and kumkum (vermilion powder) as a symbol of their married status and wishing for their husbands’ long lives. This is one of the most popular rituals performed by married women in my home state of Maharashtra, in India. Women from all around the neighborhood get together and pray for the prosperity of their families.

I remember visiting my grandmother’s home when I was little. At that time, it was all about getting to eat delicious food and sweets. When my mom took over the tradition, my sisters and I got a chance to see it up close. The preparations involving decorating the house with flowers, arranging the mandap (a place for the pooja), and learning to cook a variety of dishes created an exciting festive atmosphere in our home for three joyful days. 

After my dad passed away, my mom requested that I, being the eldest daughter, carry this custom forward. It has been a privilege, as well as an opportunity, to bring this age-old tradition into my home away from home across oceans.

Pooja setting two different themes

Keeping with the traditions and adjusting to the surroundings, I now decorate the pooja setting with a different theme each year. Last year (left), I had used a Warli art theme which is an example of folk and tribal paintings from rural Maharashtra. This year (right) was a more of a fall colors theme. Return gifts are given to the ladies at the end of the ceremony and I usually plan those based on each year’s theme. For example, we have offered Warli art trivets, fall leaf bouquets, etc.

Goddess Gauri dolls and the food offerings

The food, which is all homemade, is traditional Maharashtrian food and includes dishes incorporating the use of 16 different vegetables, sweets, rice preparations, and a variety of fruits. Since the sisters of Lord Ganesh are visiting their Mother’s home, the custom is to feed them with all their favorite dishes before they go back to their own households where they are busy taking care of others. My sisters currently live in Vancouver, Canada and Boston and visit during these 3 days whenever possible. This year was truly special because my mom was also visiting from India.

Being primarily an event for women, my friends here in Seattle really look forward to attending this each year. We get together, dressed up in our ethnic clothing which may include a saree, an unstitched long piece of cloth, usually 6 yards long, worn with a blouse (also known as a choli) with a waist-to-floor length skirt called a parkar underneath. We gather to eat various savory treats and sweets and sing songs. Most of all, we enjoy the connection to our culture.

Swarnima and a group of women

About the Author

Swarnima

Swarnima is the Leader Impact Specialist at PEPS, focused on strengthening the Group Leader recruitment, training and engagement processes, growing meaningful new partnerships with diverse communities, and contribute towards nurturing the vision of inclusivity and equity. Outside of PEPS, Swarnima enjoys traveling with her family and learning about new places and cultures. She likes hiking and enjoys listening to music. She continues her other volunteer efforts as a board member on the Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition and as the Science Club chair at her son’s middle school.

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