Observed during the Hindu month of Bhadra which normally falls between mid- August to mid-September, (on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada ) Ganesha Chaturthi, also known as ‘Vinayak Chaturthi‘ or ‘Vinayaka Chavithi’ is celebrated with great pomp and fervor across the country and globe by Hindus as the birthday of the beloved Lord Ganesha.
Considered as the most engaging form of all Hindu deities, and worshipped as the God of knowledge, prosperity, wisdom, wealth and fortune, Ganesha is one of the five main Hindu deities, others being Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga.
Son of Shiva and Parvati, one can find many an interesting myth and legend associated with this elephant god,the story of how he acquired an elephant head being one of them. Mythology (the Shiva Purana) says Ganesha was created by Goddess Parvati out of the mud of her own body and was assigned the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom while she bathed. However Lord Shiva on his return was upset on finding a stranger refusing him access into the house, and struck him, severing his head.
On later realizing that he had struck off the head of his own son, Lord Shiva ordered his squad (gana) to bring back a head on any being that was sleeping facing north. The gana returned home with a head of an elephant that they found sleeping facing north, the same was attached to the body of the boy and Shiva restored the boy’s life, after which the boy was declared the leader (pati) of the ‘gana’, thus the name ‘Ganapati’.
Another story about his birth, though not as popular as the previous one, can be found in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana. It is said that when a son was born to Lord Shiva and Parvati, all the gods and goddesses assembled to greet the couple. However Lord Shani; the son of the Sun God (Surya) refused to look at the infant. When asked about his behavior, Shani told her that his glare was too strong for the baby. On Parvati’s insistence, Shani looked at the baby, but his glare being very strong, the infant’s head was instantly severed. Seeing this Lord Vishnu immediately rushed to the banks of the River Pushpabhadra and brought back the head of a young elephant calf which was attached to the baby’s body, thus reviving it.
Legends also claim that this was the day Lord Shiva declared Ganesha the most superior amongst other gods, explaining why Ganesha’s blessings are invoked before venturing on any new journey.
One of India’s most fascinating festivals, some of the rituals normally followed include the priest symbolically invoking life into the statue by chanting mantras, (a ritual called Pranapratishhtha), following which another ritual called Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) is followed, where offerings of coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva blades of grass and red flowers are offered to the statue and the statue is then anointed with red unguent (made of kumkum & sandalwood paste) amidst vedic hymns.
A festival celebrated across the country, celebrations can best be enjoyed in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, with magnificent and majestic clay idols of Lord Ganesha ranging anywhere from 10 cm to 30 m in height installed on glamorous pandals across cities. Celebrations usually vary from a day to 10 days all depending on family traditions. Statues or murtis of Lord Ganesha are installed in houses and various street corners after intricate arrangements are made and ‘pandals’ or canopied tents set up. Poojas are performed daily with the final day of the festival witnessing processions of thousands of devotees gathering to carry out the idol and immersing it in the sea or river (symbolizing Lord Ganesha’s journey towards his abode in Mt. Kailash taking with him the misfortunes of his devotees) amongstdrum- beats, devotional songs and dancing.
While immersions are normally carried out on the first, third, fifth, seventh and tenth day, the most magnificent and biggest idols are immersed on the tenth day amidst great fanfare; a day also known as Ananta Chaturdasi day.
A ritual known as Ganesh Visarjan in Maharashtra and Vinayaka Nimarjana or Vinayaka Nimajjanam in Telugu, this public immersion amidst chants ”Ganapati Bappa Morya, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya” in Maharastra and “Ganesh Maha Raj ku, Jai” in Andhra Pradesh was first started by Lokmanya Tilak a freedom fighter who played a vital role in India’s freedom struggle. Whilst earlier, celebrations were restricted to temples and homes; it was during the struggle for independence that Tilak arranged for a public festival, in an attempt to broadcast his political message of freedom for India, a tradition that has stayed on.
With today idols and celebrations getting bigger and more elaborate, some of the most famous mandals/ idols are the Lalbaughcha Raja, theMumbaicha Raja in Ganesh Galli, the Maratha Mitra Mandal in Karol Bagh & many more!
A eleven day carnival of sorts accompanied by modaks (dumplings made from rice flour/wheat flour stuffed with fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and other condiments) and other popular sweet dishes, what may have started as a movement to evoke nationalism at a time when social/ political gatherings were forbidden by the British Rule has today turned into one of India’s most interesting festivals, looked forward to by one and all!