Lord Ganesha, the ‘elephant-headed God’, is also known as the God of wealth, knowledge, prosperity, wisdom, and sciences. Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chaturthi marks the Lord’s descent from Mount Kailasa or the Kailash Parvat to Earth, along with his mother, Devi Parvati. This event also upholds the austerity and piousness of the holy birth of Lord Ganesha. Some parts of mythology also attach the day of Ganesh Chaturthi as that auspicious day when Lord Shiva had announced Ganesha superior to all other Gods.
The earliest community worship of the Ganesh Chaturthi traces back to the era of the 1630s-80s, when the great Maratha ruler, Shivaji popularised it to promote nationalist sentiments to fight against the devious Mughals. The celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthia also played a historic role in India’s freedom struggle. In 1893, Bal Gangadhar Tilak revived the spirit of the Ganeshotsava celebrations across Maharashtra to unite the Indians with their religious sentiments, and ensure pious, nationalist spirit to stand against the British Raj.
This festival commences on the day of Shukla Chaturdashi or the fourth day of the month of Bhadra in the Indian calendar, which corresponds from mid-august to mid-September. Upholding the festive spirits, the devotees worship Lord Ganesha to alleviate their minds off their sins, to attain the fulfilment of their desires, and to free their path off the obstacles, as the blessings of Lord Ganesha pave the way to piousness and glory.
Ganesh Chaturthi is a glorious event, celebrated with great grandeur for ten days. Prior to the celebrations, devotees clean and decorate their homes and streets. Devotees need to abstain from looking at the moon during the first night of the festival, as it is considered a bad omen.
The ten-day celebration starts with the rituals of ‘Deep-Prajwalan’, and ‘Sankalpa’. Simultaneously, Sanskrit mantras are invoked which invites the idol of the deity to be placed within the premises of the house, or the pandals. Next, the rituals involved with ‘Avahana’, and ‘Pran Pratishtha’ are followed. These rituals infuse life into the clay idol of the deity and begin his life-cycle on earth for the speculated period.
These rituals are followed by the ‘Shodashopachara’, the ritual which involves sixteen steps. Shodashopachara comes from the Sanskrit word, ‘Shodasha’ which means sixteen, and ‘upachara’, meaning ‘making offerings to the lord devoutly’. After the establishment of the idol, the feet of the deity is washed with ‘Gang-jal’, and the ritual of ‘panchamrit snan’ is followed which involves bathing in the five constituents-milk, ghee, curd, honey, and sugar. Offerings of new clothes, unbroken rice grains, flowers, sindoor(vermilion), garlands, and chandan(sandalwood) are made to the deity. Modaks, the favourite sweets of Lord Ganesha is decked up with incense sticks and diyas.
These rituals are followed with the ‘Uttarpuja’, which is performed before the ritual of ‘Visarjan’. Devotees are at their jovial best, and express their gaiety of spirit by singing, dancing, organising cultural functions, etc. It is the final event in which the deity is worshipped. This ritual is marked by ‘Niranjan Aarti’, ‘Pushpanjali Arpan’, and ‘Pradakshina’. ‘Ganesh Visarjan’ is the last ritual in which the life is taken back from the idol, and is immersed in the holy water of the Ganges.
Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in India and Globally
Different states of India introduce different traditional fervour to the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi. Maharashtra is known for endowing pandals with huge, extravagant idols. Delhi, on the contrary experiences a calmer puja, with more emphasis on the rituals. The temple priests also perform on Upanishads, and Vedas besides the usual rituals of the Ganesh Chaturthi.
In Tamil Nadu, the celebration of Gowri or Gauri Habba takes place, on a day prior to the Ganesh Chaturthi. The rituals involve worshipping the Goddess Gauri, the mother of Lord Ganesha, who is welcomed at homes before God. Karnataka follows the very same ritualistic regime like that of Tamil Nadu, and installs mother Gauri in every household, prior to the installation of Lord Ganesha.
Besides the gaiety of the Indian states, the event of Ganesh Chaturthi is observed globally all across the nations of Canada, Mauritius, Thailand, Singapore, Burma, the US, The UK, and Fiji. Also, the governments of the said nations observe the day as a public holiday. Since 1982, Mauritius observes the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi with great pomp and show. This is mostly due to a large percentage of the Hindus living there. Devotees, along with the brothers following other faiths take ‘Prasad’ after the ‘Visarjan’ together.
The USA experiences a large import of Ganapati idols from Mumbai each year. This clearly indicates the importance of the festival in the country. Generally, big idols are daunted at Hindu colony premises, followed by traditional food, aartis, and cultural functions. It is said that the town of Hounslow, in London, welcomes more than 5000 devotees each year. The most important idol is placed at the Laxmi Narayan Temple, which marks the festival with aartis, traditional food, and dress, cultural functions, etc. The event of Visarjan takes place in the river Thames, where more than 4000 devotees participate in the procession.
Farewell processions are perhaps the most entertaining and joyous part of the ten-day-long festival. This is so because it involves the togetherness among all people, as they either carry the idol in their shoulders to be immersed at the Ganges. ‘Ganesh Visarjan’ refers to the event in which idols are immersed at the nearest water body, from their place of installation. Very often, owing to the metropolitan city outlook, the idol gets immersed in small water bodies or water tanks. The farewell proceedings or Ganesh Visarjan involves loud devotional music, bhajans, and thousands of devotees dancing together in the same tune. Chanting gets louder as the idol is to be immersed. Distribution of Prasad and flowers is followed thereafter.
Legends associated with Ganesh Chaturthi
Several legends are associated to the festivity of Ganesh Chaturthi. But the most popular version is intertwined with the birth of the Elephant-God. Ancient sculptures mention that Goddess Parvati carved an idol of a boy out of turmeric powder and breathed life into it.
Once Lord Parvati asked the young Lord to guard the house while she was away to take bath. After some time, Lord Shiva came back to his house and he was not aware of the birth of Ganesha. Lord Shiva was fuming with anger on being restricted to enter his home. In the heat of the moment, he chopped off Lord Ganesha’s head with his Trisul. When Devi Parvati returned after her birth, she was crestfallen to see the body of her son and was inconsolable. Then, Lord Shiva asked the Gods to find any head of a child lying north, or the head of the first living creature. Lord Brahma found the head of an elephant which was rejuvenated from the body, thus gaining life.
In another version of the legend, it is suggested that Lord Ganesha was created by both Lord Shiva and Parvati, on felicitating the request of the Devas so that the Elephant-God becomes the ‘Vignakartaa’ or the ‘obstacle creator’ in the path of the demons and rakshash. Simultaneously, he would also be commemorated as the ‘Vignahartaa’ or the ‘obstacle-breaker’ for the devotees and the Gods.