Lord Ganesh sits quietly at the entrance of every Dishoom. The guardian of the door to Parvati’s bath, our much-loved Hindu deity is as brave as he is kind. A remover of obstacles, a giver of good fortune, we pray to him at the start of any new venture, so that he might watch over us and keep us in good stead.
5th September is the start of Ganesh Chaturthi – a festival celebrating the birth and greatness of Lord Ganesh. Every year, families and communities across the globe devote themselves to worshipping this most powerful deity.
The celebrations have their roots in the home. Families make clay idols of Ganesh and install them in shrines for 10 days. The idol is worshipped morning and night, before being immersed in a body of water. It is said that during those 10 days, Ganesh will listen to the prayers and requests of his devotees, and then return to his heavenly abode; the act of submersion, a ritual send-off for this journey home.
It was the great Lokmanya Tilak who reshaped this festival from humble household worshipping of Ganesh into the grand public event that it is today. A true visionary and member of the Indian independence movement, he worked tirelessly to free India of colonial rule during the early 20th century.
Tilak felt strongly that independence called for India to be united in herself, rather than separated by narrow domestic walls of class and status. Recognising that Ganesh was and is the “god for Everyman”, Tilak saw an opportunity to unite Indian society through worship.
He chose Ganesh as a rallying point for Indian protest, and in doing so moulded Ganesh Chaturthi from a modest family celebration into one that folk from all walks of life could celebrate together. The festivities would now take to the streets with several days of processions, music, dance, poetry and (of course) food – which all the community could participate in. And so Ganesh Chaturthi became a joyous meeting point for all people.
Tilak’s efforts meant that with the independence of India in 1947, Ganesh Chaturthi was proclaimed a national festival. Today – 5th September in 2016 – it is celebrated with true fervour and devotion.
In Bombay, the festivities take place on every street and in almost every home. The build-up is filled with excitement and expectation as artisans vie with each other to make bigger and better sculptures of Ganesh – some up to 20 metres in height! These incredible spectacles are installed in beautifully decorated shrines for people to visit and pay homage to the beloved Ganesh for 10 days.
Once the worship is complete, the statues of Ganesh – both great and small – are carried on adorned floats to be immersed in the sea. Thousands of Bombayites will join together in processions and the holy Ganesh will be submersed amidst the dancing, singing and excitement of crowds of people.
This is the true essence of Ganesh Chaturthi – the oneness of a city bound by faith, respect and devotion.
We wish you a very happy Ganesh Chaturthi. May Ganesh remove all the obstacles that stand in your path and bring you good luck and prosperity.
IT HAS BEEN an annual December habit of mine, these past ten years since we embarked upon this restaurant business, to sit alone, with myself, and reflect on the year gone by. I am grateful to be here in the Permit Room in our restaurant in Shoreditch scribbling and writing, the oddly enjoyable taste of splintering wood from my chewed up pencil smoothed by my decently strong drink.
These are the last few days, the dregs of 2019. It’s my habit to sit here in the Permit Room at this time. I am the be-stubbled and dishevelled regular, cherishing his precious drink at the end of the bar. Weary, I sit here pondering the year, attempting to figure out what it was trying to teach me. What wisdom can I glean from it?
I love to truly understand and appreciate the origins of a dish, and learn how communities have adapted a recipe over time to make that dish unique to them.
We have arrived at a very sad, but inevitable and clear choice. As of now, all Dishooms are now closed to diners.