A non- native’s perspective on Goan ‘Chovoth’

Ganesh Chaturthi is also popularly known as ‘Chovoth’ in Goa. Every year the festival brings life in the state to a standstill. Majority of the population being Hindu (about 60%), the whole state is engulfed in a celebratory mood. This is article speaks about what a Goan not native to the land has observed.

Ancestral houses and family worship

Goans migrate within Goa for various reasons (usually work and education are the primary reason). However geography of the land has allowed them to reside in close proximity of their native villages. Hence, very often they travel to their native villages to celebrate Ganesh chaturthi or chovoth.

The entire clan or family gathers in the ancestral house. It may not be surprising if you find 3-4 generations coming together to celebrate Chovoth. The number of days for the Ganapati idols to be kept in the house is usually pre-determined and may change every year.

Options being one and a half day, three days, five days but rarely does one see family celebrations going to 7, 11 and 21 days. As required a Bhat (Priest) is invited to perform rituals and a matoli (canopy made of fruits) is hung above the idols.

Nuclear families in the state celebrate the festival in much pomp and gaiety. They too bring Ganesh idols to their homes and on a chosen day take them for immersion. All Hindu Goans celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi adhere to a strict vegetarian diet for the duration. However, some youngster might indulge in non-vegetarian food on the quiet.

A famous Goan singer once mentioned that the day the Ganesh idol is supposed to leaves the house for immersion, some members of the family would have already purchased fish in advance to eat after coming from idol immersion. One of the reasons for the temptation is the fact that most of the Goan populace is used to eating non – vegetarian food almost everyday.

Matoli bazaars and decorations

The Goan families also indulge in a practice of foraging in the forest to search for items to decorate the matoli. The knowledge of this practice is often passed down from one generation to the other.

“In places like Sanguem, Sattari, Quepem and Canacona, matoli items include more wild varieties. This is because these areas are a part of the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats where there is availability of various indigenous wild fruits, roots, shoots. Additionally, in these places traditional practices are maintained”, says author and former member-secretary of Kala Academy, Pandurang Phaldessai, in a NT report.

In a situation where the family cannot go into the forest, Matoli bazaars set up right before the festival come to the rescue. They are a great place to purchase the forest produce for matoli decorations.

Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav mandals

Unlike the private family affair these types of Ganapati idols are set up in public places for the people of the locality and public to view and worship. Usually a group takes the initiative and collects money for the expenses or a prominent person (usually a politician or a businessman) arranges for the funds.

These Ganapati idols are built on different concepts. E. g. Ganesh idols in the town of Marcel are usually built on an eco-friendly theme. These Ganesh idols are kept for a longer duration then the domestic ones. Most of them go for immersion on the 11th or 21st days.

Beyond politics

Ganesh chaturthi is a big hit among politicians who use it to their full advantage. Many politicians use the occasion to distribute goods in a packet which are used to celebrate the festival. The packets contain food grains and edible oil. Origins of the practice are not known well, but seems to have picked up pace over the past decade. The festival has also led to many political parties taking a break from political campaigning for a few days.

Socialising

Ganesh chaturthi also encourages socialising. Visiting a friend’s house for Ganesh becomes a priority among state’s youngsters. This allows in breaking many ices and destroying any enmity that exits. This is a time to relax from all the worries of life and spend time with family (even those you always seem to avoid).

The festival provides much relief from the troubles of life. It also helps in bringing peace to the land. As the festival steps into its second day, this writers intends to gorge on modaks and neurios as his friend’s place. Happy Ganesh chaturthi to all!

Image credit – www.Indiamike.com

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