Like Deity Like Devotee
Ganapati is Pune’s favourite deity and my inquisitive mind asked, ‘why’? There were reasons like ‘the Peshwas, Pune’s administrators, worshipped the deity’ to others like, ‘Pune had various temples dedicated to the God and most Ashtavinayakas are located in Pune district or close to it’. However, those answers did not suffice my quest for information. And then, a crazy thought entered my mind; Punekars are so much like their favourite deity! On occasion of Ganeshotsav, here’s a special story on the various similarities between us Punekars and our beloved Lord Ganesha. Read up on!
Ganesha’s love for the modaks is legendary and so is a Punekar’s love for a wide array of Maharashtrian dishes. And, we have a huge appetite, don’t we? Much like our God. According to a mythological story, Kubera, treasurer of the Gods, went to Mount Kailash to invite Shiva to his city Alakapuri, to show off his wealth. Shiva explained his inability to visit but promised Kubera his son Ganesha would visit in his stead. He also warned Kubera of his son’s appetite, which Kubera casually dismissed. On the day of the feast, Ganesha arrived and began devouring everything that was put in front of him. Soon, all the food in Alakapuri was over, and Ganesha began eating the decorations too, warning Kubera, “If you do not give me something to eat, I’ll eat you as well.” A frightened Kubera ran to Shiva for help, and was given some roasted rice. Kubera doubted it would satiate the lord’s appetite, to which Shiva replied, “If offered with humility and love, even a handful of roasted rice will suffice.”
Punekars are quite like Ganesha in this aspect. We may embrace biryanis, shawarmas, tandooris, noodles, nachos, quesadillas, bruschettas and other dishes with tongue twisters for names. But, in the end, we love the ‘gharatla jevan’ (homemade food). So it’s no wonder that the best food is always homemade, prepared by our loving mom or grandma. No matter how spicy, tangy or tasty outside food is, puran poli, waran bhat tup with limbu, dahi bhat, kadhi khichdi, sabudana khichdi, pithla bhakri, shrikhanda/amrakhanda puri, the various bhaajis (vegetables, not to be mixed with kanda bhaji), pohe (and not poha as most pronounce it) and other homemade dishes remain our favourite. Most of the dishes I just mentioned are also prepared during Ganesh Chaturthi, and offered as naivaidya to the Lord along with his favourite, modaks!
Ganesha is the ‘God of Wisdom’ and Punekars love this attribute of him, and themselves. More than intelligence, it is important to be wise, for only the wise can think of smart ways to deal with their problems. As another mythological story goes, Ganesha and his brother Kartikeya challenge each other to complete a pradakshina or an orbit of the world. The confident Kartikeya was sure of his win, for the rat (Ganesha’s vahana) was no match to his peacock when it came to speed. While Kartikeya got a head start and went about his journey, Ganesha calmly walked a full circle around his parents. When Kartikeya completed his journey and came back, he was aghast to see Ganesha there. When he asked if his brother had completed the challenge, Ganesha explained how ‘the world is contained within Lord Shiva’ and also stating ‘that parents are the world to a child’. Kartikeya was displeased and asked his parents to be the judge. Their mother Parvati agreed with Ganesha and left her younger son enraged. The episode shares an important message, ‘shakti peksha yukti shreshtha’ (ideas overpower physical strength).
Vighnahartas (Problem Solvers)
Although, we cannot really attribute Punekars to be ‘the Destroyer of Obstacles’ like Ganesha, we can be helpful. Punekars take pride in themselves and are happy to give suggestions and solutions to people, regardless of whether they asked for it. However, there’s one quality about Punekars that can go against this statement; our inability to give directions properly! But as I have come to understand; there are two types of Punekars:
The confident bunch. Ask them for a patta and they’ll direct you in detail. They’ll use pathetic landmarks like napping dogs, a line of beggars, overgrown banyan trees, etc. to explain the address. The left-right will be replaced by ‘var’ (up) and ‘khali’ (down) and even if you follow his/her instructions obediently, you’ll surely be lost!
The relaxed ones. If you wish to be ushered to your desti- nation properly, these are the guys you should be ques- tioning. No matter how far you want to go, be it going to Chinchwad from Kothrud or going to Nal Stop from Mhatre Bridge, their answer will be the same. They’ll point in a particular direction and say, “ithun saral”. To know your road further, you’re expected to bother the next Punekar you meet. Annoying it may be, but you definitely won’t be lost or confused!
Ganapati is much like the second Punekars. Pray to him for help and he won’t take you by the hand to your desired destination, but he will definitely point you in the right direction. Hence, while singing the aarti to the lord, we use the words, ‘Sankati pavave’ (not Sankashti pavave) to convey the lord to be with us when we’re in trouble.
Prosperity over Richness
Punekars are not really known to show-off money. That’s something people from Delhi and Mumbai are known for (yea, yea, stereotypes. Well, whatever!). Nor are we seen chasing money and trying to be rich without thinking of the consequences of our actions. Go to the bus- iest shopping destinations of the city, and the Punekar will promptly close shop in the afternoon, to enjoy his siesta or afternoon nap! Puneri shopkeepers will rarely be seen handing out discounts (and Puneri women will never settle unless they get some. It’s an epic battle!). The shopkeepers will seldom resort to deceiving advertising to bring in more customers. Riches may be lost in a while but prosperity stays with you forever. Punekars focus on quality of work and are extremely particular of the way things are done. It is such qualities that make our bakarwadis and missals perfect, and it is the reason why various shops and restaurants around the city have been in business for generations!
Prosperity is also about learning, for prosperity brings happiness. Ganesha is known to be a consort of the arts, and though the sitting idol of Ganesha is the most pop- ular, there are various others that depict him dancing, singing and writing. Ganesha was a scribe to the Vyasa and is said to have written down the Mahabharata as narrated by the sage. It shows his love for poems, for the sacred text is written in a poetic form and narrated likewise. There are also paintings that show Ganesha playing a tanpura, and thus, like most Punekars, Ganesha surely is an art lover (which is why I doubt he really enjoys the sounds of loudspeakers compared to that of the dholtasha).
There might be many other attributes that link us to our God, and though Punekars refrain from comparisons, especially with a God, it’s crazy how many similarities we have. Don’t you think?