Every year, as the rains wane, many families across Maharashtra bring the image of the Goddess as Gauri into their homes to sit alongside Ganesha, who is brought in a few days earlier. She comes dressed in fabric and bangles as green as the countryside. All rituals of Gauri are conducted by women. It is they who carry her around, bedeck her, feed her, dance and play around her to make her happy. The idea being that the Goddess has come to her mother’s house (maher, in Marathi) to have some ‘me time’. A similar theme underlies the Durga puja in Bengal, Odisha and Assam, held a few weeks later.
Gauri is seen as a milder form of Kali, which is why she wears a saree and ties her hair with a string of flowers. Sometimes, she comes as a single woman, and sometimes in a pair: the Jyestha Gauri (elder Gauri) and Kanishtha Gauri (younger Gauri), who are identified sometimes as Ganesha’s mothers or Ganesha’s sisters, or just friends. They are occasionally identified as Mahalakshmi, who is not so much Vishnu’s wife but rather a local form of Durga, who is Shiva’s wife. These rather untidy myriad oral explanations indicate that the ritual is locally rooted and organic to the community; a ceremonial household expression of emotion, not based on any particular scriptural injunction.
This ceremony is also conducted by the fisherfolk of Mumbai, the Kolis, one of the oldest inhabitants of the islands that make up this city. What is unique about the Koli celebration is that they offer Gauri her favourite food, and theirs: fish and prawns and crab, the best of their catch, cooked in rich spices. This is not offered to Ganesha, Gauri’s son, who is generally seen as a vegetarian god.