By Kanika Sikka

Mumbai‘s favourite god made a grand entrance this year with his graceful trunk, stunning jewellery and alluring avatar. Meet the person who added enthusiasm to this fervour by invoking lord Ganesha into these idols- Sapre Guruji.

Performing religious ceremonies since childhood, guruji took this up as a full-time profession in 1989 after undergoing a proper training. Ganesh Chaturthi, being one of the most important day for almost all Mumbaiites, is an essential day for guruji, who performs the Ganesha puja in various houses in Thane area of Mumbai.

His day on Ganesh Chaturthi starts like any other day. “I get up at 5 in the morning, finish the daily puja in my house and then get done with the chores,” he said. Guruji, who visits just five to six houses on the day, sets out for performing puja by about 7am.

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the busiest day for all those priests who perform the Ganesha puja, it is obvious that overshooting time, starting late, etc is faced by almost all households who wait for the priest to perform the ceremonial puja and invoke life into their charming idols. Sapre guruji, however, says that none of his hosts (yajman, as he calls them) has to wait for him. He reaches every house at promised timing.

Impossible, you may think. But guruji explains that he promises to visit only 6-7 houses in a day and performs a one-hour- long puja for each house. He does not move out of his area, which helps him save on his travel time. “A proper ceremony for me, takes about an hour.It follows the various procedures of the Ganesha puja. So my day happens to pass like that while I travel from one house to another with an hour’s puja in each house,” he says.

The priests are often seen in a hurry, which forces them to cut down on their time for puja, but Sapre guruji says he does not compromise on his quality of puja. “I’d rather perform a quality puja and satisfy the devotees so that they have a peaceful and joyous Ganesh Chaturthi. There is no point in holding 15 minutes services and running away. It disappoints the devotees and does not give me any peace of mind either,” says guruji, who wraps up his day by 1pm.

Speaking about the procedure followed in the Ganesh Chaturthi puja, guruji explains the process of bringing life to Ganesh idols.

“You start by praying to Lord Ganesha and recite mantras or bhajans dedicated to Lord Ganesha. In these mantras, we recall as to what we are doing at that moment and why we are doing so,” says guruji.

“Various prayers are said during this process. Following which, all the equipments used in the puja are cleaned and purified. After this, the idol is brought to life through pran-prathishta. Lord Ganesha is hence invoked to add soul to the idol. This is followed by shhodashopachara, which are the 16 ways of paying tribute to lord Ganesha. This includes panchamrit puja i.e. Ganesha’s idol is washed with 5 essential things- milk, curd, ghee, honey and sugar; the atharvashirsha is then recited.”

“The idol is then dressed up with royal clothes in the process called janeu dharna and decked up with jewellery, after which it is anointed with red unguent or sandal paste,” guruji explains.

After this, each body part of the idol is then prayed to, which is called angapuja. “Patripuja is where lord is offered 21 of his favourite leaves. Bhirgaraj, tulsi, karaveera, machi, are the most common type of these leaves,” says guruji.

These ceremonies are followed by the mantras which call upon Lord Ganesha saying, “Like each year, I invite you to my house. If any of us has made any mistakes, please excuse us and please give us a good sense and guide us into the right direction in life.”

For the 10 days following Ganesh Chaturthi, guruji does other pujas in various homes across the city. Not only homes, guruji also performs the ceremonies for mandals or community Ganesha.

Though most of the priests prefer not to go and perform the Ganeshchaturthi puja for any of the Ganpati mandals, Sapre guruji differs in his views. Most of the priests feel that there is no respect when it comes to a community ganpati. It is usually observed that for such mandals, the 11 days of Ganpati is merely a competition or an excuse for celebration, with the religious meaning of the festival taking a back-seat.

However, guruji feels it is not so in every case. Unlike most other priests, each year, guruji performs the ganesh chathurthi puja for Highland Residency, a housing complex in Thane. The building reunites as one big family while guruji performs the ceremony on the day they bring ganpati to their building.

Being the man who actually gets idols to life, guruji accepts that these 11 days are his busiest day of the year.

The horror of the recent terror attacks may have settled in the minds of the people during Janamashtmi, which saw less enthusiasm this year, Ganeshotsav is all set to get people out of their fears and reunite as everyone shouts ‘ganpati bappa moriya‘. As guruji says, Ganesha is the ‘vignaharta‘, he will not let any problem touch his followers.