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Celebration Of Online Ganesh Festival In Shrewsbury, MA

Priya Vaidya and Sarita Deshpande

Celebration of online Ganesh festival in Shrewsbury MA

The India Society of Worcester (ISW) has been celebrating the cultural festival of Ganesh Pooja in the Shrewsbury area for the past nine years. It is mainly celebrated in Maharashtra, where its public festival form was first introduced by the leading freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak. With the spread of Marathi speakers across India, the Ganesh festival is now celebrated outside Maharashtra too. People celebrate and follow the tradition fondly. Given its popularity in India, all the indians residing in the United states also celebrate this event with a lot of enthusiasm in many states and towns 
One of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic we are facing today, is in the way festivals are celebrated this year. Given the restriction all events are virtual and so was our ganeshotsav. "Bappa", as he is fondly called, goes online this year! The team started planning for the event a few months in advance, and given the gravity of the pandemic the decision for an online event was made early on. The planning began in full swing and the team was able to line a series of pre-recorded entertainment sections. Few dry runs were done to streamline the execution on the final day.

On Sunday August 30, the program started sharply at 2 pm. The pooja happened religiously and with perfection at the Manjrekar residence. The decoration and the preparations showcased the Bappa in his ever cheerful grandiose look. The video streaming of the event on facebook and zoom was shared with ISW family and friends to participate in it virtually. The ritual of performing aarti (holy chanting of hymns) also happened online with several of the community families participating one at a time and the rest joining them from their respective homes. The virtual darshan (or online sighting) of the ganesha seemed a very different experience for many of us, yet it was better than not having it at all.

Immediately following the pooja was the entertainment program, based on the Theme: Retro to Metro  (1980 - 2020). Focus was on Hindi and Marathi movies that have contributed remarkably to the entertainment industry during that era. The local amateur artists enthusiastically practiced various skits. The team lined up Sachin Pilgaonkar, PL Deshapande, latest movie Sairat as the marathi contributions and for hindi the evergreen "Sholay", "Maine Pyar Kiya", "Three Idiots" made it to the list. The response was tremendous, everyone within the comfort of their homes, enjoyed their own friends taking to the stage and becoming the star of the event! The dances, dialogues and the creativity in choosing the background and the locations was mesmerizing. Use of available resources to create the props, video editing and effects made it even more enjoyable. Some of the characters were so effectively showcased that it reminded us instantly of the originals, like "masi" from "sholay", "antubarva" from "vyakt and valli" and "Manjula" from "Ti phularani".  

Added benefit of this event being online was that a lot of artists and famous personalities from India sent in their best wishes in video format which was broadcasted live during the event. It added a nice surprise element to the show. Dr. Salil Kulkarni, Sudheer Gadgil and Marathi Bana fame Ashok Hande recorded their lovely wishes for us with some of their own songs and anecdotes. The team also pulled together an online interview with famous hindi and marathi movie writer and director Abhijeet Deshpande. His seamless style, various experiences and back of the stage stories with GOD like personalities aka Amitabh Bacchan kept the audience engaged through the interview. A short video clip of a one of the past isw ganeshotsav events was also broadcasted early on in the show which everyone nostalgic. The compering for the show was precise and effective. Ah! and there was a very vibrant, foot-tapping dance by the teenager girls crew which made the audience dance in their own homes. The girls were agile and graceful in their presentation. Thus, the entire show turned out to be a balanced mix of skits, music, dance and speeches. 

Given the situation we are in today worldwide, each one of us wants to help each other, stay positive, healthy and engaged; but there is this "black hole" of worry sucking us now and then.... Amidst of such unprecedented times, ISW ganeshostav turned out to be a mirage of hope and positivity for all of us. The teamwork and the uplifting spirit of the presenters and audience outgrew the anxiety and cheerfulness prevailed for sometime.

Overall, it was a great show, a virtual event indeed, yet it left all of us longing for the usual in-person celebrations with all the dress-up and decorations and the noise. We are certain, next year we will celebrate this event in all its glory and grandeur and in person at the new ISW building in our very own shrewsbury. Until then, गणपती बाप्पा मोरया. 

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