Ganesh Chaturthi across the borders

Melburnians from different cultures, communities unite to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi.

By Eshan Arya

In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak, a well-known Koknasta-Brahmin social reformist from India, began the trend of celebrating domestic festivals into large public festivals. His aim was to bring together all sections of the people and to create a nationalistic fervour against the British rule. Although these festivals had Hindu roots, their celebrations encouraged peaceful mutual co-existence of the incredibly diverse Indian society. The British have long left India but the tradition of celebration continues. And Ganesh Chaturthi is one such festival.

Ganesh Chaturthi marks the birth of Lord Ganesha and this peaceful festival united the Indians for more than a century. Different parts of India have different rituals but the core of the festival is the belief that Ganesh is the destroyer of all hindrance and will bring prosperity. This message of love and unity has spread to Australia with the increasing Indian migrations in the last decade. Here in temples and in homes and as in many other countries too where Indians have long settled, it is the time to worship Ganesh, the elephant-headed, many-armed deity who is believed to remove obstacles.

In harmony with the changing multicultural society, the Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre in Preston has been hosting Ganesh Chaturthi since 2004. This year not only marked 10 years of the multicultural celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi at Preston but also marked 10 years of bringing Indian and Australian communities closer to each other. The festival has witnessed significant attendance of Chinese, Nepali, Mauritian and Australian nationals in addition to many other nationalities from across the world.

Darebin Council stated that it is proud to support the Hindu community and the council recognises their contribution to the cultural and economic development of Darebin city. Various programs such as Bharatnatyam dances, singing of Bhajans and playing of musical instruments such as tabla by children and adults form part of the cultural show. The prayer ceremony is conducted by qualified ‘Purohit’ Makarand Bhagwat. According to Bhagwat, who has been performing religious ceremonies in Melbourne for over 12 years, performing the prayers for Ganesh Chaturthi gives him immense happiness and a sense of content and fulfilment. He is also involved with the Ganesh Chaturthi at Seaford by the famous Gokhale family who made this festival so popular in the suburb that over 300 people attend it every year.

Interestingly, Dr Mandar Gokhale’s family came to Australia in the 1970s. Hailing from Maharashtra they have been celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi since the 1980s at Seaford making the idol at home with clay themselves. “Generally, on the last day we have a function at the Seaford community hall inviting all our friends and their families and it has slowly grown to be a big thing very year,” says Dr Mandar, adding, “At the Seaford beach we immerse the idol. It is a week-long festival but some years it is longer depending on the year. This year we started last Friday and the immersion will be on Saturday.”

Darebin members have completed the immersion of Lord Ganesha’s idol on Saturday. It was carried by devotees to the East Preston Tram Depot and transported on the specially sponsored Yarra Tram to Bundoora Park. After the final prayers, the immersion of the idol took place in the evening at the Bundoora Park Lake with assistance from volunteers of State Emergency Service (SES) as well as the officers from City of Darebin and Victoria Police. It was a heart-warming sight to see the group leader of SES – an Anglo Saxon man – chanting “Ganapati Bappa Morya” on the megaphone. Amused families and children at the park joined in the parade and some looked thrilled at the spectacle. The place exuded a certain fervour and energy.

The Indian Students’ Club from La Trobe University was also seen joining the event and many recently arrived students from India assisted in carrying the ‘Rath’ with Lord Ganesha’s idol. Gaurang Kulkarni, who recently arrived here, said taking part in the festival felt like home away from home. He was honoured to be given an opportunity to help out and although it was a religious thing, he was happy at being able to interact with a lot of people. Wearing the orange safety jacket, he walked on the road assisting fellow devotees in transporting the idol from Preston to Bundoora. For this new generation of devotee, it was a way to balance two different lives.

The celebration of this mega Indian festival has clearly created an increased understanding of Indian culture among Australians and one man deserves a huge credit for bridging the cultural gap between Indians and Australians. For Australian artist Ken Evans, Ganesh clearly seems to be his favourite God. For the past ten years he has been sculpting an eco-friendly Ganesha idol. Evans describes how joyful he feels to see the smiles on the people after worshipping Ganesha and he is humbled by the love and support he received in creating this eco-friendly idol. The idol is entirely bio degradable and hence safe for immersion at the local lake. Evans has become a local celebrity among the Indian community owing to his humble attitude and contribution to the festival.

Ganesh Chaturthi is also being celebrated at many Indian homes in Melbourne. Once such home is that of university student Rohan Joshi, Aniket Nalawade, Priyanka Rajendra, Kinjal Patel and Prajakta Uplane. Although most of these students do not have a permanent house, they have been celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi at each other’s rental houses for the past two years. According to Joshi, on the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, devotees take ritual bath and get ready to perform the Vinayaka Chaturthi Prayer. Then, the Ganesha idol is welcomed to the house with the face covered with a saffron cloth. An establishment prayer to invoke Lord Ganesha takes place with the idol on the ‘makhar’. The ritual that is undertaken back home is recreated here.

Like Christmas, Eid and Diwali, people across all religions come together to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. Tolerance and love is seen at its best at these festivals and they provide a ray of hope for all violent disputes around the world to cease and for communities to live in peace and celebrate each other’s festivals. Such festivals promote awareness and respect for one another’s cultural background. The individuals mentioned in this article are the ones who look forward to participate in diverse cultures and also share a common thought of evolving as a society, rather than the murderous individuals we see on news channels who are filled with excessive pride and blinded by their unfortunate brain-washing by people filled with hatred.