India is a land of diversity in terms of religions, ethnicities, cultures, foods, festivals and so much more. And this is exactly what makes the country so beautiful. Personally, it’s the festivals and everything around these happy occasions that are my favourite times to be alive. Be it the twinkling lights of Diwali, the colourful day of Holi or even the delicious food we get around Eid. Another festival that is widely celebrated in parts of our country is Ganesh Utsav and we’re going to break down everything you need to know about it.
Ganesh Chaturthi is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chavithi, it is a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Ganesha. It falls in the months of August and September according to the Gregorian calendar. It is marked with the installation of Ganesha clay idols both at homes for private puja and publically in elaborate pandals or temporary stages. There is chanting of hymns from the vedas and prayers are offered to the God as well as fasts are kept to mark the auspicious day. Offerings and prasad from the prayers are distributed among the community and at home and this mainly includes sweets like modaks which is believed to be Lord Ganesha’s favourite. The festival lasts for ten days and ends with a public procession with music and chanting after which the idol is immersed into a water body nearby. The statistics say that in Mumbai alone, 150,000 statues are immersed annually. After the idol dissolves it is believed that Ganesha returns to Kailash Parvat to Parvati and Shiva who are his parents. This year, Ganesh Chaturthi falls on Monday, 2nd September 2019.
Ganesha is known by eighteen different names and is proclaimed as the God of arts and sciences and considered to be the divine power of wisdom. He is also prayed to and honoured at the start of ceremonies and is even considered to be the God of beginnings. Ganesha is also called Vinayak and Ganpati endearingly.
So Ganesh Utsav is celebrated to mark the day of Lord Ganesh’s birth and is considered to be one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar. There are two different versions about his birth and the first one is that it is believed that Goddess Parvati created Ganesha out of dirt from her own body while having a bath and set him to guard the door while she finishes her bath. Shiva who had gone out returned just then but because Ganesha didn’t know anything about him, stopped him from entering the area. After a combat between the two, an angry Lord Shiva presented his head to Parvati. She was enraged and he promised to bring Ganesha back to life again. The devas went in search of a head facing north of a dead person but could only find that of an elephant. Shiva fixed it on the body of the child and brought him back to life. The other legend says that Ganesha was created by Shiva and Parvati on the request of the devtas to become a vighnakartaa or an obstacle creator in the paths of the rakshasas or demons and a vighnahartaa or obstacle averter to help the devtas. This is the reason why Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with much joy and happiness.
There are many ways to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi and the sthapana of the idol or the mounting of the idol starts on the first day of the festival. He was believed to have been born at the Madhyahna Kala which according to the Hindu calendar denotes midday and therefore the Ganesh pooja preferably happens around that time. They say the best time to place the idol is between 12:30 pm to 1 pm. Devotees perform Shodashopachara Ganapati pooja, which is a detailed and sixteen step ritualistic pooja of the elephant-headed God.
The place where the idol is to be placed is to be chosen very wisely so as to ensure that people can come to worship it at almost all times of the day. Before keeping the idol at the set place it is essential that the area is cleaned thoroughly, a cloth is laid, most times red in colour and some rice is spread on it. Thereafter, you can place the idol on the cloth. After this, the idol is decorated with flowers and garlands. Lord’s feet are also washed with holy water and it is offered water and is even given a bath by panchamrita snaman.
Then offerings are presented in front of God like modaks, jaggery, coconut and flowers. Aartis are performed with pundits and hymns are chanted in the mornings and evenings with friends and family. Some popular mantras sung are Ganesh Shubh Labh mantra, Ganesha Gayatri mantra and Vakratunda Ganesha mantra.
The ten-day long festival ends with a visarjan or an immersion of the idol. On the last day, the idol is carried by the family or the community along with a procession with music and chanting. It is finally immersed in a water body like the sea, a pond, river, lake or ocean where the clay dissolves. A special prayer is chanted to finally end the celebration and send Lord Ganesha back to his parents.
The history of Ganesh festival is very interesting. The festival finds its origin in the Maratha reign. Though it is unclear when the festival started it is said that it was heavily sponsored during Chhatrapati Shivaji’s time in power. It was first publicly celebrated in Pune but lost its vigour after the British came to power. It was later renewed by the freedom fighter and social activist Lokmanya Tilak to instil a level of community among Indians and used it as a platform to spread across the message of azadi.
In India, the festival is mostly celebrated at home and publicly by local community groups in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha. One of the prominent temples is the Varasidhi Vinayaka Swamy Temple in Andhra Pradesh where it is celebrated for 21 days. In Mumbai, the most famous pandal is put up in Lalbaugcha area where people from all across the country come to seek the blessings of the elephant-headed God. Indian communities all across the world also get together and celebrate the festival and immerse the idol in their local area’s water body. It is very popular in UK, Philadelphia, Mauritius and Singapore. Even in France and Sri Lanka, Ganesh Utsav is marked as an auspicious day amongst Hindus.