Ganesha Chaturthi or Ganesha Festival is a day on which Lord Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati, resurrected to life on earth with the head of elephant. It is celebrated as it is the birthday of Lord Ganesha.. It is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chavithi in Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, Chavath in Konkani and as Chathaa in Nepal Bhasa.
This festival is observed in the lunar month of bhadrapada (a Hindu month), shukla paksha chathurthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period), madhyahana vyapini purvaviddha. Typically, the day falls sometime between August and September . The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi.
Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is the supreme god of knowledge, wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. He is the Lord who is first worshipped before any holy occasion or puja.
Lord Vinayaka is revered as the preserver of all good things and prevents Vigna (meaning obstruction/bad omen). His motto is Shubh-Laabh (good prospect and good prosperity).
Significance of Ganesha Festival
According to the Holy Hindu scriptures, Lord Ganesha or Ganapati (the names mean “Lord of Ganas”, Ganas are the worshipers of Lord Shiva. According to the legend, Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of resolution, was away at a war. Pavarti, his wife wanted to bathe. She had no one to guard the door to her house, she conceived of the idea of creating a son who could guard her. Parvati created Ganesha out of the sandalwood paste that she used for her bath and breathed life into the figure. She then set him to stand guard at her door and instructed him not to let anyone enter. In the meantime, Lord Shiva returned from the battle.
Ganesha and Shiva did not know each other. Ganesha stopped Shiva from entering Parvati’s chamber. Shiva, enraged by Ganesh’s impudence, took his trident (Trishul) and cut off Ganesha’s head. Pavarti emerged to find Ganesha decapitated and flew into a rage. She took on the form of the Goddess Kali and threatened destruction to the three worlds of Heaven, Earth and the subterranean earth.
Fearing the inevitable, the other Gods implore Shiva to pacify Parvati. Shiva sent out his ganas, or hordes, to bring the head of the first living being with his head towards the north (the auspicious direction associated with wisdom). They came across was an elephant. So they brought the head of this elephant and Shiva placed it on the trunk of Parvati’s son and breathed life into him. Parvati was overjoyed and embraced her son, the elephant-headed boy whom Shiva named Ganesha, the lord of his ganas.
There are many stories related to Lord Ganesha, on Ganesha Chaturthi, one should not see the Moon. It is said that Ganesha fond of Modakas ate too many of them. His stomach was so big he was unable to walk. He picked up a snake on the way and tied it to his stomach as a belt. The Moon or Chandra found it hilarious and laughed at Ganesha. Ganesha was furious and his cursed him that any who sees the Moon on his birthday would be cursed.
Ganesha has a mouse as his Vahana (vehicle). Once Narada meets Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi in Kailash. He offers them a mango. Ganesha and Subramanya, who happened to be there fight for the mango. Hence a race is set to around all the world thrice, who ever comes first is the winner, would get the mango. Subramanya on his peacock, set out to win the race. But Ganesha, went circling round Shiva and Parvati three times, as he considered them as the world. Thus Shiva blessed him as the most knowledgeable and the winner of the race.
History of Ganesha Festival
In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak, an Indian nationalist, social reformer and freedom fighter Tilak chose Ganesha as a rallying point for Indian protest against British rule because of his wide appeal as “the god for Everyman”.
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.
Celebrations During Ganesh Chaturthi
Potters and their clan plan the making of Ganesh Idols, 2-3 months prior to Ganesh Chaturthi, life-like clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sold by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated & depict Lord Ganesh in various poses, colours themes. The size of these statues may vary from 3/4th of an inch to over 25 feet.
While celebrated all over India, it is most elaborate in Maharashtra, Goa ( 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 by Newars in Nepal.
Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colorfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures mantapas (pandals) in every locality. The mantapas are decorated specially for the festival, either by using decorative items like flower garlands, small banana saplings, lights, etc or are theme based decorations, which depict religious themes or current events.
The statues are worshiped with families and friends. The priest, usually clad in red silk dhoti and shawl, then invokes life into the statue amidst the chanting of mantras. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the ritual called as Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) follows.
The offerings include 21 durva (trefoil) blades of grass, red flowers, coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas. The statue is anointed with Kumkum & Sandalwood paste. Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and the Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted.
Along with Ganesha, Gouri idol is also placed in South Indian families and worshipped. Gouri Vrata is performed as “Mangala Gauri” by women for good life and prosperity.
The celebrations go on for 10 days, from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi. On the 11th day, the statue is taken in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, and fanfare through the streets to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash and taking away with him the misfortunes of his devotees.
“Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukar ya” (O father Ganesha, come again early next year) is the slogan sang while immersing the idol. After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor are made, people carry the statue to the river to immerse it.
Ganesha loves food, his favourite is Modak, hence is the main sweet dish during the festival. It is called modakam in South India. A modak is a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments. It is either steam-cooked or fried.
Another popular sweet dish is the karanji (karjikaiin Kannada) which is similar to the modak in composition and taste but has a semicircular shape.
This festival are widely popular, with local communities (mandalas) vying with each other to put up the biggest statue & the best pandal. The festival is also the time for cultural activities like songs, dramas and orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, charity for the poor, etc.
It has become a very critical and important economic activity for Maharashtra. Many artists, industries, and businesses survive on this mega-event. Ganesh Festival also provides a stage for budding artists to present their art to the public.
Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrations Outside of India
The festival is similarly celebrated in many locations across the world. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA, an organisation of Hindus based in the US celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi by organizing many cultural programs.
In the UK, the migrant Hindu population celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi through a Southall based organization such as, The Hindu culture and Heritage Society, UK at The Vishwa Hindu Temple. The Idol was immersed in the river Thames at Putney Pier.
Over the years the festival gained such popularity on the island that Mauritian government has attributed a public holiday for that day.
The most serious impact of the Ganesh festival on the natural environment is due to the immersion of idols made of Plaster of Paris into lakes, rivers and the sea. .It takes much longer to dissolve and in the process of dissolution releases toxic elements into the water . The chemical paints used to adorn these plaster idols, themselves contain heavy metals like mercury and cadmium.
On the final day of the Ganesh festival thousands of plaster idols are immersed into water bodies by devotees. These increase the level of acidity in the water and the content of heavy metals. The day after the immersion, shoals of dead fish can be seen floating on the surface of the water as a result of this sudden increase.
Several non governmental and governmental bodies have been addressing this issue. Amongst the solutions proposed by various groups some are as follows:
- Recycling of plaster idols to repaint them and use them again the following year.
- Return to the traditional use of natural clay idols and immerse the idol in a bucket of water at home.
- Use of a permanent idol made of stone and brass, used every year and a symbolic immersion only.
- Ban on the immersion of plaster idols into lakes, rivers and the sea.
- Use of biodegradable materials such as paper mache to create Ganesh idols.
- Encouraging people to immerse the idols in tanks of water rather than in natural water bodies.