Lord Ganesh, the patron deity is the God of wisdom. Come August, preparations to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi – the auspicious day when Lord Ganesh was born – begin with great enthusiasm all over the state. The 11-day festival begins with the installation of beautifully sculpted Ganesha idols in homes and mandaps (large tents), colourfully decorated, depicting religious themes or current events. The Ganesh idols are worshipped with families and friends. Many cultural events are organised and people participate in them with keen interest. After ten exciting days comes the time to bid farewell to the beloved God.
Each locality makes its own special pandal. People attribute considerable social significance to the pandals as communities compete with each other to put up a more outstanding one.
Each pandal has a different priest. Amidst much fanfare and revelry, the priest
installs the idol of Ganesha in the locality to the chanting of shlokas (Sanskrit holy verses). Special prasad and food (cooked without onions and garlic) are prepared to mark the first day of the puja.
Aarti (a ritualistic puja with hymns) is performed twice a day – in the morning and in the evening. Most people of the community attend the evening aarti. They actually rush home from work to take part in the festivities and gather around the brightly-lit Ganesha. People offer prasad of modaks or peras (a type of sweetmeat), coconut, hibiscus or any other red flower, sheaves of grass, vermilion, turmeric powder and rice.
The prasad can be bought from the little stalls or puja shops all over town. During Ganesh Chaturthi, in most parts of the country people offer prasad to the image of Ganesha in their mini temples at home. The entire family wears fresh and clean clothes and assembles in the sacrosanct area. As they sing hymns, everyone is given some flowers and rice in their hands. These are later showered on Ganesha.
Sometimes a few families get together in someone’s house for the aarti. Each ceremony is rounded off with people tucking in toothsome modaks, in keeping with Ganesha’s style. Hindu mythology has a story to tell even about Ganesha’s modaks. It is said that Ganesha loved modaks and simply could not stop himself from eating them. In fact he devoured them by the hundreds. Amused by Ganesha’s obsession with modaks, once the beautiful moon made fun of the chubby God.
Ganesha was so furious with the moon that he cursed him, saying that his beauty would never remain constant. Since that day, way back in time, the moon reveals itself in all its magnificence only once in 28 days. Only a few people observe a fast on this festival as, for the most part, the general feeling is that Ganesha’s birthday should be an occasion for pigging out and not for fasting. The few who do keep a fast are allowed to eat various sweets like til ka ladoo (a round sweetmeat made of sesame, flour and sugar), gajak, rewari (sweets made of jaggery and nuts), along with tea and coffee.
In Rajasthan, people place a garlanded idol of Ganesha smeared with vermilion, right outside their homes. If front of the image they keep a plate with somevermilion and turmeric powder so each passerby can put a pinch of the sacred powder on his forehead and feel blessed by Ganesha. The festival comes to an end on the day of Anant Chaudas.
On this day, the idols of Ganesha are taken from various pandals, doorsteps, localities
and puja rooms for a truly royal ride. The streets of Mumbai are packed with multitudes as each locality comes out on the streets with its Ganesha. Amidst shouts of ‘Ganpati Bappa Moriya Pudhchya Varshi Lavkarya’ (Marathi for – Oh Ganpati My Lord, return soon next year), a sea of humanity carries the idols to the waters of the Arabian Sea.
Firecrackers announce the arrival of the procession that halts every now and then for people to get a last glimpse of their favourite God and seek his blessings, for he is the remover of all obstacles. The idols are carried into the holy waters, and face the direction of the local community centres they started their journey from, till their visarjan, or immersion. In other towns and villages, folks carry the idols to the local river or tank for the visarjan ceremony.
As dusk takes charge of the skies, people return to their localities and homes, awaiting Ganesha’s return the following year. Artists and sculptors start imagining how they will make an even nicer Ganesha next year. Housewives fret about making better modaks and pedas than Mrs X. The community at large thinks of superior and more elaborate pandals and processions, on there way back home and to work. In this country of almost a billion people, Ganesha plays his part. He generates work, adds meaning to their life and gives them hope.
Ganesh Chaturthi or “Vinayak Chaturthi” is one of the major traditional festivals celebrated by the Hindu community. It is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). Typically the day falls sometime between August 20 and September 15. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi, and is traditionally celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha.
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha is the son of Shiva (The God of Destruction in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) and Parvati (Shiva’s consort).
The cutest and most lovable Indian God, Ganesha or Ganpati has the head of an elephant on which rests an elegant tiara, four podgy hands joined to a sizeable belly with each hand holding its own symbolic object – a trishul or a trident in one, an ankush or goad (made from his very own broken tooth) in another, a lotus in the third and a rosary (which is sometimes replaced by modaks, his favourite sweet) in the fourth. Revered as the deity of auspiciousness and wisdom, Lord Ganesha is also famous for being a trickster and for his profound sense of humour.
It is believed that Lord Ganesh was born on a fourth day (chaturthi) of the bright fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Magh. Since then, an association between Ganesh and chaturthi has been established. Thus the festival dedicated to the worship of Lord Ganesha on this chaturthi day is named as Ganesh Chaturthi.
There is a curiously interesting tale about the birth of Ganesha. It is believed that once while Parvati was bathing, she created a human figure from some unguent and balm, gave him life and asked him to guard the door while she bathed. After a long period of meditation on Mountain Kailash (Lord Shiva’s abode), Shiva chose that very moment to drop by to see his better half, but was abruptly stopped by the man-god Parvati had posted at the door. Outraged by the cheek of this stranger, Shiva cut off his head only to
discover moments later that he had killed Parvati’s son! For fear of enraging his wife, Shiva immediately dispatched his ganas (attendants) to get him the head of the first living creature they could find. Well, the first living creature happened to be an elephant. As instructed, the head was chopped off and brought back to Shiva, who placed it on
Parvati’s son’s body, bringing him back to life. This elephant-headed god was welcomed into the first family of the Hindu heavens and named Ganesha or Ganapati, which literally means the chief of the ganas, or the attendants of Shiva. Ganesha is the foremost god of the Hindu pantheon. This brave guardian of the door to Parvati’s bath is beheld today as the most auspicious God of new beginnings. He is worshipped during every festival and before people undertake a journey or embark upon a new venture. You will also see him carefully guarding entrances to temples and homes, peeping out of calendars and happily gracing marriages and other such occasions.
It is not known when and how Ganesh Chaturthi was first celebrated. But according to the historian Shri Rajwade, the earliest Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations can be traced
back to the times of the reigns of dynasties as Satavahana, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya. Historical records reveal that Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations were initiated in Maharashtra by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaja, the great Maratha ruler, to promote culture and nationalism. And it had continued ever since. There are also references in history to similar celebrations during Peshwa times. It is believed that Lord Ganapati was the family deity of the Peshwas. After the end of Peshwa rule, Ganesh Chaturthi remained a family affair in Maharashtra from the period of 1818 to 1892.
1857 was a landmark year for India and moreso in the context of Indian freedom. It was the year of Sepoy Mutiny, an armed rebellion against the ruling British Empire by the Indian soldiers. This was the first war that India waged to gain back her independence from her white rulers. Though unsuccesful, this battle marked the beginning of the Indian struggle for independence. Many orators, leaders and freedom fighters all over India teamed to put up a united resistance to the British domination. One of these eminent leaders was Bal Gangadhar Tilak, an Indian nationalist, social reformer and freedom fighter. Greatly esteemed by the Indian people, especially of Maharashtra, Tilak was commonly referred to as “Lokmanya” or “he who is regarded by the people”. It was Tilak, who brought back the
tradition of Ganesh Chaturthi and reshaped the annual Ganesh festival from private family celebrations into a grand public event.
Lokamanya saw how Lord Ganesha was worshipped by the upper stratum as well as the
rank and file of India. The visionary that he was, Tilak realized the cultural importance of this deity and popularised Ganesha Chaturthi as a National Festival “to bridge the gap between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins and find an appropriate context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them” in his nationalistic strivings against the British in Maharashtra. He knew that India couldn’t fight herrulers until she solved the differences within her own. Hence, to unite all social classes Tilak chose Ganesha as a rallying point for Indian protest against British rule because of his wide appeal as “the god for Everyman”.
It was around 1893, during the nascent stages of Indian nationalism, that Tilak began to organize the Ganesh Utsav as a social and religious function. He was the first to put in large public images of Ganesha in pavilions and establish the tradition of their immersion on the tenth day. The festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of learned discourses, dance dramas, poetry recital, musical concerts, debates, etc. It served as a meeting place for common people of all castes and communities, at a time when all social and political gatherings were forbidden by the British Empire for fear of conspiracies to be hatched against them. An important festival during the Peshwa era, Ganesha Chaturthi acquired at this time a more organized form all over India largely due to
Since then, Ganesh Chaturthi has been celebrated throughout Maharashtra as also in other states with great community enthusiasm and participation. With the independence of India in 1947, it was proclaimed to be a national festival.
Today, Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and many other parts of India. The festival is so popular that the preparations begin months in advance. Days before the actual worship, homes are cleaned and marquees erected at street corners to house the idols of the Lord. Elaborate arrangements are made for lighting, decoration, mirrors and flowers. The artisans who make the idols of Ganesh vie with each other to make bigger and better sculptures. The sizes of the relatively larger ones range anywhere from 10 meters to 30 meters in height. These are installed in marquees and in homes prior to the Puja (worship). During
the festival days, the Lord is worshipped with great devotion and prayer services are performed daily. The duration of the Lord’s stay varies from place to place; once the worship is complete, the statues are carried on decorated floats to be immersed in the sea after one, three, five, seven and ten days. Thousands of processions converge on
the beaches to immerse the holy idols in the sea. This procession and immersion is accompanied with dancing and the sound of exciting drum-beats, devotional songs and exploding firecrackers. As the idol is immersed amidst loud chants of “Ganesh Maharaj Ki Jai!” (Hail Lord Ganesh), the festival comes to an end with pleas to the Lord to return
the next year with chants of “Ganpati bappa morya, pudcha varshi laukar ya” (Hail Lord Ganesh, return again soon next year). Tourists from all over the world come to witness this wonderful event in the sun kissed beaches of Goa and Mumbai.
While celebrated all over India, Ganesh Chaturthi festivities are most elaborate in states like Maharashtra, Goa (It is the biggest festival for Konkani people all over the world), Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and other areas which were former states of the Maratha Empire. Outside India, it is celebrated in Nepal by the Newars.
In the 21st century, with the world turning fast into a global village, Ganesh Chaturthi is now celebrated all over the world, wherever there is a presence of a Hindu community.