Shreesh Palekar, Director IT, Raymond Limited, tells us about the traditions surrounding the festival and the meaning it holds for him. By Satyaki Sarkar
For Shreesh Palekar, festivals provide a great opportunity to hit pause on the every increase pace of life. It’s a chance to spend time with family and loved ones, and take part in the revelry. Gudi Padwa, the Maharashtrian New Year, is one such festival that is very close to his heart. No matter how busy he is, Shreesh makes it a point to take part in the festivities and relive old traditions.
The story behind the festival
“At the core of any festival celebration is rejoicing; it’s supposed to make you happy. Gudi Padwa is no different for me. It’s celebrated on the first day of the Hindu calendar, and it marks the start of the Chaitra month and so the beginning of a new year. While in Maharashtra it has a very unique significance and meaning, in other states the festival is also celebrated with great fervour, albeit under different names and with different connotations.
“India is an agrarian economy, so Gudi Padwa is primarily a harvesting festival, as it is celebrated exactly when one season ends and another starts. But there’s another story associated with the origin of this festival. When Lord Ram was returning home with Sita after defeating Ravana in battle, the entire population of Ayodhya came out in a procession to commemorate and rejoice in his victory, and the vanquishing of evil. This was the start of the festival. Another story that is also popular says that the Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji started the tradition of ‘raising the Gudi’ to invite success and good fortune into Marathi households.”
“On the day of the festival, we have a bath early in the morning, wear new clothes specially bought for the occasion, ideally traditional attire, and then get started on the festivities. In a city like Mumbai, however, celebrations mostly mean quickly getting it over with as fast as possible before running off to work; as we are so busy with our individual lives. So it has been a while since we have been able to have a grand celebration of any kind. During my school days me looked forward to the festival as it meant a holiday and a day of complete enjoyment with friends. We’d play cricket the entire day and I could basically do whatever I wished with my friends.
“Around 30-40 years ago, Maharashtrian culture and tradition was a lot more prevalent in Mumbai. People would visit each other homes and celebrate the occasion together. However, nowadays celebrations have become a lot more private and closed off. During my school days a couple of places in Vile Parle would play Lezim, a peculiar traditional musical instrument. It would be played while people engaged in a number of physical feats. A chain of people would dance with the instrument in hand and it was an absolute treat to watch. Although it’s probably difficult to spot in Mumbai now, you’ll find this tradition still being followed in Thane and cities like Pune and Nashik.”
Lip-smacking food and other traditions
“Gudi Padwa is famous for the sweets associated with the festival, primarily the Shrikhand Puri, which is the main dish, and the Puran Poli, although the latter is more synonymous with Holi. Every year, even if I have work and do not get a day off for the festival, the tradition of making Shrikhand Puri is still carried on at home. There is also a potato preparation that is served with rice and Varan, a plain lentil dal with ghee. This is part of a traditional Maharashtrian thali that is very popular during this festival. Apart from this, the ritual of raising the Gudi is something we always follow. The entire process is quite precise, and you have to get all the details right, such as draping the Gudi in bright clothes, with sugar crystals sprinkled on top along with fresh Neem leaves, garlands, and a copper or silver pot on top. Once that is done, it is placed near a window or on the roof of a house, out in the open.
“However, there’s one particular tradition that I am not so fond of. It involves consuming small, newly formed Neem leaves, which are indescribably bitter. So I always try to find excuses to not eat them each year. As healthy as it is supposed to be, it is not something I look forward to. When I am unable to avoid it, I try to get done with it as soon as possible, and quickly have some sweets to counteract the bitter taste!”
An opportunity to take a step back
“What I really look forward to is the change in pace/routine the festival brings. At this stage in my career, my days usually have a set of clear, routine activities. This festival brings a break and release from that monotony, while also serving as an opportunity to spend time with my family. Even if I am working on Gudi Padwa, I either try to leave a little late for work, after taking part in the celebrations and enjoying a heavy breakfast with family, or I take a half day, and leave office early, so I can come back home and celebrate. The festival brings forth a positive attitude, and is like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise monotonous cycle.”