Ganesh Chaturthi

The very echo of “Ganapati Bappa Moraya”, chanted by devotees, would remind even a child in India of the festival of Lord Ganesh, son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. Also known as Vinayak or Pillayar, Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birthday of Lord Ganesh, the elephant headed God. This special day falls on the fourth day (Chaturthi) of the Shukla Paksh (waxing moon) of luni-solar month of Bhadrapada.

The legendary story of his birth is a very interesting one. One day Goddess Parvathi desired to take a long bath while her husband Lord Shiva and his attendants, the Ganas were away hunting. She therefore created this child, Vinayak, out of sandal and turmeric and asked him to guard the entrance of the house, forbidding him to let no one enter until she was done. Unfortunately, that very day, Lord Shiva returns and tries to enter the house when he was stopped by the child Ganesh. Despite explaining to him that he was the husband of Goddess Parvati, Ganesh vehemently refused him entry. The obstinacy of Lord Ganesh, who was resolute in adhering to his mother’s orders outraged Lord Shiva and he ultimately severed Ganesh’s head. Witnessing this sight, Goddess Parvati was enraged and Lord Shiva soon realized the grave mistake he had committed. He asked one of his Ganas to bring the head of the first animal he saw sleeping with its head facing north, which turned out to be an elephant, hence the elephant headed God. All of these events happened on the same Chaturthi thithi of the Bhadrapada month. Ganesh Chaturthi is therefore celebrated to commemorate this event.

The grand festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi that we see today have been influenced by the prominent freedom fighter, Lokmanya Tilak. Primarily a private festival celebrated at home, Ganesh Chaturthi, which begins with the purchase and the ceremonial installation of a clay murti at the pooja room, was transformed into sa large-scale public festival in 1857 by Lokmanya Tilak taking inspiration from Chatrapathi Shivaji, who celebrated this event as a public festival to promote culture and nationalism in the past. However, the aim for Lokmanya Tilak was to unite the Brahmins and non-Brahmins during the Sepoy Mutiny to oppose British colonial rule. It was also a hidden means for political activism, intellectual discourse, poetry recitals, plays, concerts and folk dances. He was the first to install large public images of Ganesha in pavilions in Bombay Presidency (a former province of British India). Since then and till today Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated throughout Maharashtra elaborately with great community enthusiasm and participation.

Considered to be the God of good fortune, wisdom, prosperity and wealth, Lord Ganesha’s idols are prepared in various sizes by artisans who start a few weeks before the festival. At public venues, the statues are installed in pandals, followed by the ritual Prana Pratishtha after which 16 different ways of prayer called Shhodashopachara are offered. Finally on the tenth day, Uttarpuja, a ritual to bid farewell is done followed by the Ganpati Visarjan, the process of immersing the statue in a water body.

In Maharahstra, particularly in Mumbai, grand arrangements are made with regards to lighting, decoration, mirrors and flowers for the pandals and during the festival days, the Lord is worshipped with great devotion and prayer services are performed daily. Depending on the place, the duration of the Lord’s stay varies from one, three, five, seven and ten days. On Ananta Chaturdashi, the 10th day of the festival, the most impressive procession of the idols takes place accompanied by dancing, drum-beats, devotional songs and firecrackers followed by the immersing of the idol in water.