By C. R. Samboo, Guruji Gunnoo and H. K. Samboo
The Gondhal is an important religious ceremony for the Maharastrian community. It is usually performed in honour of and dedicated to Mother Bhawani during the night of the marriage of the eldest and/or of the youngest son of most families of the Marathi community.
Shivaji Maharaj gave an innovative impetus to its celebration and thereby enhanced its importance in all spheres of life of the members of the Marathi community by having this special ceremony performed to celebrate his first conquest of a Moghul fort in 1645 under the inspiration of Mother Bhawani. That was the beginning of the end of the Moghul empire in India.
Nowadays, the ceremony is celebrated on any special occasion to express gratitude to Mother Bhawani for the fulfilment of one’s prayers and success in one’s educational, professional and any other field of activities.
For the ceremony itself, sugar cane stalks are tied together to give them the shape of a tent structure — a mandhab — decorated with flowers, flags and mango leaves. The pointed top is meant to attract the celestial energy. The mandhab in its final form is quite colourful.
To start the ritual, the Gondlis (those executing the rituals) accompany the newly married couple or those giving the offerings, to go around receiving alms in the form of rice, sugar and other ingredients from at least five families. The purpose of this ritual is to make the couple understand that they always owe something to the community and should keep it as a debt for life.
These offerings are then prepared as kheer and purees and offered to Mother Bhawani in front of the mandhab. A decorated kalash with a coconut is placed inside the mandhab. A big wick lamp is lighted and placed on one side of the mandhab. The lamp is kept lighted throughout the ceremony (by pouring oil continuously on it); this symbolises the elimination of our ego and the destruction of all ill omens.
The ceremony around the mandhab starts with the Gondlis leading the newlyweds or any other couple and family members of the groom. They carry the murthi of Mother Bhawani from the house shrine and place it in the centre of the mandhab. All along Gondhal songs are chanted to invoke Mother Bhawani to take her place in the mandhab to bless the couple and all those in attendance.
Five pre-selected married women, who had to fast for a week, go round the mandhab in a clockwise direction singing and chanting devotional prayers and songs. The women are chosen for their virtuousness, and will thus transfer their virtues to the new couple. This ritual is the initiation for the newlyweds to start their householder life. Afterwards all other family members will join in and go round the mandhab making offerings and adding oil to the lamp. Gondhal is a moment of joy for the family and those attending.
In olden days it used to be celebrated the whole night starting at sunset and ending before sunrise on the following morning when the maha aarti is sung by all. In India a buffalo was sacrificed and here in Mauritius a billy goat with a beard was offered in front of the mandhab. The invitees were then served a substantial non-vegetarian meal. With time it has been found that the animal sacrifice should not form part of the ceremony and instead a batwa (popularly known as Chinese calabash) is offered. Thus a purely vegetarian meal is now served.
This part of the ceremony of the offer of the batwa is carried out by many families with all seriousness at it is considered to be very important and sacred.
When the ceremony ends, the Gondlis lead the newlyweds and family members to place back the Bhawani murthi in the house shrine.
Throughout the whole ceremony, all the attendees chant loud and proud devotional songs and prayers in honour of Mother Bhawani. At that moment one gets to understand why the ceremony is called Gondhal – it means clamour.
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All Marathi cultural organisations celebrating the Doorga Pooja are organising the Gondhal Ceremony on Saturday afternoon October 20. The Vinayak Mandir, Beau Bassin, is holding the ceremony for the seventh time with Guruji Roopajee Gunnoo officiating.
The Mauritius Marathi Mandali Federation in collaboration with the Mauritius Marathi Cultural Centre Trust will perform its annual “Gondhal” ceremony on Sunday 21th October 2012 as from 09.00 am at the seat of Maharashtra Bhawan, Moka.
* Published in print edition on 19 October 2012