Come Ganesha Chaturthi, and one can see the Mumbai-Karnataka region soaking in festive joy. The 11-day mega cultural fest attracts people from across the country. While mandals house idols of the elephant-headed God in public, individuals have Ganesha idols in their homes. Apart from this, there are a few homes in Hubballi-Dharwad and Belagavi whose festival presentations draw huge crowds.
For instance, the Ganesha Chaturthi celebration at Chabbi, a sleepy village 16 km from Hubballi, is unique. The Kulkarni family of the village installs Ganesha idols with minimal decorations, but this attracts up to three lakh devotees every year from Karnataka, Maharashtra and other places. The speciality? These Ganesha idols are all-red in colour. The right hand of the idol has a broken trunk, the left hand an Eshwara linga, and the two other hands carry weapons. This Ganesha is believed to fulfill people’s long-cherished wishes. The tradition of worshipping the idols in Chabbi began in 1827. Krishnendra Swamiji, a seer who was on his way to Hubballi from Naganur in Kalghatgi taluk, was pleased with the hospitality offered by the Shanbhag family (now the Kulkarni family) of Chabbi, and blessed them. The seer asked the family head Shanbag Tammappa to worship those particular idols to obtain prosperity.
Tammappa began the tradition and it’s followed even now by the sixth generation of the family. Today, as many as seven houses of the same family install the idols ritualistically during the chandrodaya on Chaturthi Day. It’s open to the public for three days. Another distinctive feature of the celebration is that the idols draw people from other religions, fostering harmony.
Lane of attraction
There is a tucked-away street, Raitha Galli, in Vadgaon of Belagavi, famous for its Ganesha idols and art installations. In fact, this line of houses carries the dynamic cultural identity of the city. Such community celebrations in Raitha Galli began in 1995 with Raju Yashwant Marave, a farmer, taking the lead. Inspired by the grand Ganesha idols across the city in pandals, he too began lodging Ganesha idols at home. But there was a twist. His first Ganesha idol had attractive fountains with greenery. Then his idols began to represent social and agrarian problems. These themes not only drew crowds but also the attention of the administration. Pollution, farm encroachment, farmers’ distress are central themes now; mythological themes are included, too. ‘Bappa’, as Lord Ganesha is fondly known here, is depicted as Hanuman; art installations resemble famous temples like the one in Tirupathi. Raju Yashwant Marave’s enthusiasm has inspired other farmers in the same lane to follow suit. Now, of the 30 houses in Raitha Galli, 15 families have themed Ganesha festival.
The families ensure there is no repetition of theme and each house has a different story to tell. “It takes days of hard work to make these art installations. Unlike the Ganesha pandals made by professionals, our artwork is made by us. Once we fix the theme, we explain to the idol-maker about it,” says Raju. According to him, farmers in the lane are not wealthy and have just a few swathes of land. Every year, they spend around Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 for the festival. But the satisfaction they get by participating in such creative work is unmatched. During the 11-day fest, family members take turns to host the visiting devotees throughout the day. Raju added that this year, his Ganesha idol and art installation talk about a bypass (Halaga Bypass), which has become a bone of contention between the district administration and the farmers. Though the recent floods have forced the farmers to scale down expenditure for the festival, their devotion and enthusiasm remain uncompromised. Today, we can see scores of people from Karwar, Ranebennur, Chitradurga, Bengaluru, Mysuru, Goa and Maharashtra lining in front of these houses to glimpse at Mini Belagavi’s mega festival.