Ganesha Chaturthi is the Hindu festival celebrated in honour of the god Ganesha, the elephant-headed, remover of obstacles and the god of beginnings and wisdom. The festival, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between 19 August and 20 September. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi.
The modern festival involves installing clay images of Ganesha in public pandals (temporary shrines), which are worshipped for ten days with different variety of herbal leaves, plants. These are immersed at the end of the festival in a body of water such as a lake, along with the Idol. After adding herbal and medicated plants and leaves in lakes, the water in the lake becomes purified. This was in practice because, in early days people used to drink lake water, and to protect people from infections and viral diseases especially in this season, this tradition was introduced. Some Hindus also install the clay images of Ganesha in their homes. It is believed that Ganesha bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees during this festival. The festival was celebrated as a public event since the days of Shivaji (1630–1680). However, the public festival as celebrated in Maharashtra today was introduced by Nationalist Leader Lokmanya Tilak (1856-1920).
While celebrated all over India, it is grandest and most elaborate of them especially in Maharastra, Karnataka and Telangana which lasts for 10 days, ending on the day Anant Chaturdashi. And in other parts of Western India and Southern India it is celebrated. Outside India, it is celebrated widely in Terai region of Nepal and by Hindus in the United States, Canada, Mauritius, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Fiji, New Zealand, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana.
Traditional Ganesha Hindu stories tell of Lord Ganesha, son of goddess Private, who is consort of Shiva. Parvati created Ganesha out of sandalwood paste that she used for her bath and breathed life into the figure. She then set him the task of guarding her door while she bathed. Lord Shiva, who had gone out, returned and as Ganesha didn’t know him, didn’t allow him to enter. Lord Shiva became enraged by this and asked his follower Ganas to teach the child some manners. Ganesha who was very powerful, being born of Parvati, the embodiment of Shakti, defeated Shiva’s followers and declared that nobody was allowed to enter while his mother was bathing. The sage of heavens, Narada along with the Saptarishis sensed the growing turmoil and went to appease the boy with no results. Angered, the king of Gods, Indra attacked the boy with his entire heavenly army but even they didn’t stand a chance. By then, this issue had become a matter of pride for Shiva. Angry Shiva severed the head of the child. Parvati seeing this became enraged. Seeing Parvati in anger Shiva promised that her son will be alive again. The devas searched for the head of dead person facing North, but they found only the head of a dead elephant. They brought the head of the elephant and Shiva fixed it on the child’s body and brought him back to life. Lord Shiva also declared that from this day the boy would be called Ganesha.
According to the Linga Purana, Ganesha was created by Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati at the request of the Devas for being a Vighnakartaa (obstacle-creator) in the path of Rakshasas, and a Vighnahartaa (obstacle-averter) to help the Devas achieve fruits of their hard work.
The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi, the fourth lunar day of the waxing moon fortnight. The date usually falls between 20 August and 20 September. The festival lasts for 10 to 12 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi.
Celebration, rituals and tradition
Weeks or even months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated and depict Lord Ganesh in vivid poses. The size of these statues may vary from 3/4 of an inch to over 70 feet Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colorfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures mandapas (pandals) in every locality. The pandals are erected by the people or a specific society or locality or group by collecting monetary contributions. The pandals are decorated specially for the festival, either by using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc. or are theme based decorations, which depict religious themes or current events.
The priest, usually clad in red or white dhoti and uttariyam (Shawl), then with the chanting of mantras invokes the presence of Ganesha using the statue as a channel, or body for his energy. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the ritual called as Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, modaks, durva (trefoil) blades of grass and red flowers are offered. The statue is anointed with red unguent, typically made of kumkum and sandalwood paste. Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and the Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted. There are certain methods on how to celebrate the festival including how to perform the Ganpati Staphna (Idol Installation), perform the Ganesh Visarjan (Immersion) and other rituals and traditions which should make a part of your festivity.
It is not known when and how Ganesh Chaturthi was first celebrated. Ganesh Chaturthi was being celebrated as a public event in Pune since the times of Shivaji (1630–1680), the founder of the Maratha Empire. The Peshwas, the de facto hereditary administrators of the Empire from 1749 till its end in 1818, encouraged the celebrations in their administrative seat Pune as Ganesha was their family deity (Kuladevata).With the fall of the Peshwas, Ganesh Chaturthi lost state patronage and became a private family celebration again till its revival by Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak.
In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual domestic festival into a large, well-organized public event. Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesha as “the god for everybody”, and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order “to bridge the gap between Brahmins and ‘non-Brahmins’ and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them”, and generate nationalistic fervour among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule. Tilak was the first to install large public images of Ganesh in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in rivers, sea, or other pools of water all public images of the deity on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi.
Under Tilak’s encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performances of plays, musical concerts, and folk dances. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in times when, in order to exercise control over the population, the British discouraged social and political gatherings.