Baroda royalty’s Ganesh festivities

Baroda comes alive each year with the tradition of a royal Ganesh Chaturthi helmed by the Gaekwad family. The Maharani recounts how the ten days unfold.

Ganesh Chaturthi is possibly the most endearing of the many celebrations that define our family’s tradition. A mystical, magical ten days that bring such joy to our home. Also, one of the rare moments when we open the doors of the palace to the residents of Baroda and the entire city flocks for darshan with rows waiting outside at the time of aarti. Except this year is totally quiet and sadly, for the first time no visitors have been brought in.

Our Ganpati has been the same for the last 80 years, same expression, costume, colour and adornments. And also created by the same family of murtikars for generations. It’s made of mud, symbolising our connect with the earth. The present generation of the family is educated at the JJ School of art and is proudly keeping the tradition alive. It’s a celebration that continues unflinchingly. The lord is brought in with much fanfare, in a procession. He sits inside a silver palanquin that has been in the family for years. A string of musicians playing the shehnai accompany the entourage. My husband leads the procession. Ganpatiji is received on the doors of the durbar hall by drums and bugles played by the Holar musicians in unison with the shehnai. An elaborate ceremony ensues for his sthapna. He is placed on a stage under a mandap and in front of a carved silver door, a row of elephants, mounted with mahouts and sculpted in silver standing by his side.

 A lot of the palace art objects are brought out and decorated all over the hall. The most precious being the 51 lacquer finished toys from the Sawantwadi collection that are over a hundred years old and were originally bought by Maharaja Sayaji Rao. The family of Sawantwadi is related to us, two of their daughter in laws being Gaekwads. And we are proud of this prized collection of toys. Only a few of them remain in museums like V&A. Even the artisans who made these toys have perished.

Each day a thaali is decorated for his bhog, puran poli and Varan bhaat amongst the many other delicacies that are prepared for him. Modaks being the most important in the menu. Our modaks are steamed, soft and yummy. Ever since I came into the family nothing has changed. Touch wood. I might have added some decorated corners, done the flowers that surround Ganpati with a personal touch. I never miss a single aarti and love every moment when He is home. Even his send off is so beautiful. A procession with my husband leading it travels to the Sur Saagar pond in the heart of the city where he is placed on a boat that has a collapsible bottom. He is gently, lovingly and elegantly released into the water and as he melts into its waters, the wait begins for his next arrival. In the same form, same style and same adulation.