Saturday, 29 September 2007

Dancing Ganesh

“Ganesh”, Lingaraj Temple (c. 1000), Bhuvaneshwar, Orissa:
Graphic by Remigius de Souza, Pencil on paper (7.00” x 10.00”)

Dancing Ganesh

Ganesh in this graphic is of a deep relief carved in stone, on the side wall of Lingaraj Temple. He is larger than full (human) size. While watching the sculpture I was so moved that for a moment I felt Ganesh was moving: I called him “Dancing Ganesh”.

There, of course, are number of dancing Ganesh statues in metals, stone, ivory, wood, glass, and now mass produced in synthetic materials. The folk artists have made them in clay in great numbers. For the annual Ganesh festivals, the folk artists make the clay idols for generations that may count in thousands of tens of thousand.

This very action, of making an idols in clay by pouring their soul, heart and labour by the folk artist, bringing the idols home by the devotees, living with Ganesh, bidding farewell chanting ‘O, Ganesh, come next year soon’, and finally the immersion of the idols in water, is like singing and dancing in eternity. One can’t catch the mystery of this action in words or reproduction in a movie.

The whole action described above is not like a copy in CD/DVD of dance and music or on a cinema or TV screen. The original graphic is in pencil on paper, which after decades has yellowed, shall crumble. What we see on the monitor screen is not the real one; it’s dead; it’s magic.

This action dates back in antiquity. In the backyard of Mumbai, the Warli tribe worships their “Vaghdev” – tiger god, where the older idol is replaced every generation (See: Warli Housing and Art). Strange it may seem to compare with the ancient traditions of Ganesh or Vaghdev with the peasants’ action in farming: they prepare an entire year for the season to sow seeds, care and cultivate the farm, and then comes harvesting. Then the next cycle begins. The three are synonymous, which is beyond and above faith, belief or religion.

Dancing Devotees

VATSALA BHOJANE, a young daughter of Janaki-mami and Zilu-mama, was my neighbour next door at my native village. She was called Vachcha. Every Ganesh festival she would sing and dance before Sri Ganesh at another neighbour’s house. She would lead other women, and they danced in circle. We children huddled around against walls of “Majghar” – living room. Women and girls also played “Fugadi”, “Zimma”, “Kombada”, which are vigorous dances, before Ganesh.

These have been my memorable nights, and days. There was no electricity then. In the quiet light of the vegetable oil lamps, along with the dancing women, their shadows also danced on the lime washed mud walls. Vatsala’s melodious voice would filter through the adobe abodes and plants in the neighbourhood in the quiet of the night. We never realised when the midnights passed.

Vatsala, in her songs, recited mythological stories of Damayanti–Nal, Shankuntala–Dushyant, and Raja Harishchandra etc. I don’t know from whom, from where she got these songs, or whether she composed them on the spot, which is likely, like the thousands of folk artists all over the country. There were no books of these songs.

Her voice has been the most melodious I ever heard. I don’t compare the popular and celebrated singer Lata Mangeshkar, because I have heard her only on the loudspeakers and electronic gadgets. She, being a woman from the elite class, has her own place. I heard the late Pundit Kumar Gandharv live (without loudspeaker). Kumar Gandharv and Vatsala, both are unique. Kumar Gandharv has acknowledged her status, though indirectly, by listening to the folk singers of Malava for years, when he was forbidden to sing.

Like Vatsala’s voice, her skin had lustrous healthy shine on dark tan colour. I have often heard her singing popular Marathi songs from plays and cinemas. But she never sang those pop songs before the deity. Well, there was no radio or gramophone in our village then. Once in a year or two a passing circus or touring talkies or a touring theatre group would camp near a market place, when we heard the records of songs on their loudspeakers run on a generator.

Does Vatsala continue to sing at her ripe age? Though I don’t know, I am sure she does wherever she is. It is intrinsic in her nature to sing and dance. Do her children or grand children inherit her gift? Or are they caught up in the dragnet of Bollywood–Indipop music album pop-songs like those in the cities?

One of Vatsala’s brothers played flute. Vatsala, her sisters and brothers have been literate and like their parents, hardworking peasants. They cultivated their small farm holding. The yard and the live hedge around their house were full of various flower, fruit and medicinal plants, like other peasants.

There are millions like Vatsala, who are gifted in various arts and crafts, who enrich the living of the community members with such joys and comforts, far away from the market. Would they survive the onslaught of the parasite that is market? How long could they resist it?

Vatsala, perhaps, is the last link of the chain of meme pool – the mother’s mother, her mother’s, and her mother’s… legacy – from where she received her talent and the songs! I remember the “African Eve” hypothesis.
The change, which is taking place to convert the cohesive community to decadent modern mass society, is neither Darwinian Evolution nor the Supreme being’s Creation but Market Explosion grafted by the ruling minority of the First World India, and their colonial masters – the British baniyas, and the neo-colonial masters. It obviously spreads from urban centres to rural areas.

Ganesh festival, like Durga Puja in Bengal (now West Bengal), comes at the end of monsoon, when it is time for harvest. Indian festivals coincide with seasons. These are days for leisure for the peasants in Indian agrarian society, who work hard throughout the year. They rejuvenate the peasants’ strength and courage for the new beginning. People follow lunar calendar, not Gregorian calendar, which though is officially recognised.

Benevolent Sri Ganesh

People in Konkan, my native place, have faith, which does not deny effort, in Sri Ganesh. For example, a woman, who has no child, invokes Ganesh, ‘if blessed with a child she will dance naked before him’. Romantic may it sound, it means shed entire ego. The peasants, however, worked hard instead of waiting for the boon – of child or harvest. A Marathi movie “Navara maza navasacha” – literally “My husband born blessed” (by Sri Ganesh of Ganapatipule, a pilgrim place in Konkan) – is produced based on this faith. Isn’t it better to have faith in a deity rather than even a most trusted leader or authority in politics, religion, statesmanship, science, technology, economy etc.?

Whatever, Evolution or Creation, the modern scientists may believe, Sri Ganesh is super real. He is neither reality in the society nor virtual reality of the animated computer games. When the modern scientists create a clone, Dolly, it is merely magic.

There are many legends, myths, and stories about Sri Ganesh. One of them goes thus:
Sage Vyas wanted a writer to take dictation of epic Mahabharata. Someone suggested about Sri Ganesh. He agreed on a condition that the sage must dictate non-stop. Vyas put a counter condition that Ganesh must not write anything without absorbing the meaning or without understanding it.

Epic Mahabharata is timeless. The myths have enduring meanings for all ages, whether one believes in this God or that God or does not believe in God except the Dogmas that mushroom now and then fade away.

The above myth has a message even for this age of information bombardment and fanaticism of every kind – religious, secular, scientific and technological, regional or territorial chauvinism; for every occupation and profession, experts and specialists. There is no superior or inferior culture. Peasants, who cultivate their farms, do so at highest risk, know better without being verbose about it: the reasons may be their way of living is holistic way with the element of contemplation. It also tells that people – peasants or prime ministers – must absorb and understand before accepting any theory or hypotheses or nuclear energy or whatever, without faith or belief.


In the mid-1950s when I came to Mumbai, there were public Ganesh festivals. Tilak initiated them during the Independence Movement to motivate people to take the public platform. I saw, then, besides “Bhajans” and “Kirtans”, there used to be plays, poetry reading, music recitals, mock parliament etc. Lata Mangeshkar used give a recital at her former house at Nana Chowk.

Now in fifty years it has all changed. Now the records or CDs of devotional – Indipop – pop-cinema songs are constantly relayed on loudspeakers throughout the day until 10.00 pm. No Bhajans. No Kirtans. No Fugadi. No Zimma. Now there are mass produced Plaster Of Paris (POP) Ganesh idols. Now there are more and more public festivals, and more and more new communities /people join the traditional devotees. Now there are sponsors from trade-market-industrial houses, besides the residents of the neighbourhood. More and more commercialisation!

Mumbai (30-09-2007)
Remigius de Souza
Post Mail: 69-243 S. B. Marg, Mumbai 400028, INDIA

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