Hey guys, happy Tuesday :-)
Today I’m going to introduce you all to one of India’s most popular and lively festivals, celebrated across the country and by Hindus around the world: The Ganesh Chaturthi Festival.
Ganesh Chaturthi Festival (popularly known as Ganesh Utsav, is a spectacular ten day festival (which sometimes lasts for eleven days depending upon the Hindu calendar) is held in honour of the cutest and most lovable Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, knowledge, prosperity and good fortune.https://www.facebook.com/LordGanesha/photos/a.133301174526. 105887.106957584526/10151833674429527/?type=3&theater
As most of you all may know, Lord Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva (The God of Destruction in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) and Goddess Parvati (Shiva’s consort). He is invoked at the beginning of ceremonies, new ventures and travel and worshipped first among all the gods in the Hindu pantheon.
Ganesha Chaturthi is the major and the most popular festival of the state of Maharashtra and is celebrated with pomp and splendour in my home city, Mumbai.
Ganesha is my favourite god :-) I was seventeen when I made a beautiful 5-6 inches small Ganesha idol which I would repaint every year a week before the arrival of Ganesh Chaturthi. But after twelve years or so, the idol had to be immersed as it had got slightly damaged.
Before I go on, enjoy this melodious song Omkar Swarupa a beautiful hymn with my name in it :-)
ॐ गणेशाय नमः
|| Vakratunda Mahakaya Surya Koti Samaprabha Nirvighnam Kurume Deva Sarva Karyeshu Sarvada ||
The meaning of the above Sanskrit chant:
“O lord Ganesha we salute you thy supreme. O mighty lord who posses the curved trunk (vakratunda) and holy divine with mighty physique (mahakaya), Praise to thy who glitter like a zillion burning star like sun (surya koti) yet who bestows bliss to every body (samaprabha). Hail to the God of million Gods (kurume deva); help me fight all my hindrance with faith that you will be there to protect me (nirvighnam) like you have been guiding me always (sarva) and I have faith in you my Lord that you will be protecting me from all the evil forever and ever (karyeshu sarvada).
Praying to Lord Ganesha (affectionately called Ganapati) leads to fulfillment of wishes and desires. His blessing removes all the obstacles from life and destroys the evil forces. Ganesha is worshipped for any auspicious beginning, be it for a newlywed couple or a house warming ceremony or a new business venture. All festivals and rituals in Hindu religion begin with the invocation to Ganesha.
So guys, now you know whom to approach in difficult as well as happy times ;-)
Ganesha Chaturthi, which is the birthday of Lord Ganesha, falls on the fourth day of the month of Bhadrapada (August/September), the sixth month of the Hindu lunar calendar. The celebration of this festival is followed according to the Hindu calendar and hence the month in the English calendar varies every year sometime between August 20 and September 15. This year, it was August 29. Today is the fifth day of the festival.
Here’s a bit about the origins of the public celebrations…
The Ganesh Chaturthi festivities were a family affair till the late 19th century when the Indian struggle for independence from the ruling British Empire started in the nascent stage. In 1893, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a leading social reformer and freedom fighter from Maharashtra, reshaped the annual Ganesh festival from private family celebrations into a grand public event. Lord Ganesha was worshipped by the rich as well as the poor. So Tilak started organizing the Ganesh Chaturthi festivities as a social and religious function to get rid of the caste differences and bring together all the social classes against British. He initiated the tradition of installation of large idols of Ganesha in pavilions and their immersion on the tenth (or eleventh) day. This festival brought in a feeling of unity and togetherness in Indians that helped in revival of their patriotic spirit. It served as a meeting place for common people of all castes and communities, at a time when all social and political gatherings were banned by the British Empire. The festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of learned discourses, dance dramas, poetry recital, musical concerts, debates, etc. Since then, Ganesh Chaturthi has been celebrated throughout Maharashtra as well as in other states with great community enthusiasm and participation. When India gained independence in 1947, it was declared a national festival.
Today, almost each neighbourhood in Maharashtra celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi festival with full zest and vigour. Preparations for the festival begin months in advance. Each local community pools together resources to build an elaborately decorated outdoor tent called mandapa or pandal. The pandals often showcase social issues or current events through tableaux, paintings and decorations. The artisans who make the idols of Ganesh vie with each other to make bigger and better sculptures. The sizes of the relatively larger ones range anywhere from 10 meters to 30 meters in height.
Traditionally, the idols are supposed to be made of clay. The immersion of idols made of Plaster of Paris, chemical paints, heavy metals and other non-degradable substances leads to water pollution and damage to the environment and the aqua wildlife. So most local communities nowadays celebrate the festival in an eco-friendly manner which includes installing eco-friendly idols of Lord Ganesha.
On the first day of the festival i.e. Ganesh Chaturthi day, the life-like idol of Lord Ganesha is installed on a raised platform in the pandal (or mandapa). Priests clad in a silk red or white dhoti and shawl, imbue life into the idol by chanting some hymns and mantras. The duration of the Lord’s stay varies in each home and neighbourhood. The idol may be kept for 1½ or 2½ or 5 or 7 or 10 (or 11) days after its installation, depending upon the family tradition and organizers respectively.
People gather to offer prayers and celebrate and conduct cultural programmes every day. Often fairs and exhibitions serve as an added mode of celebration, enhancing the festive mood further.
After a period of 1½ or 2½ or 5 or 7 or 10 (or 11) days, the idol is immersed in a nearby river, lake, well or sea after a traditional farewell ceremony. The immersion ceremony is called Visarjan.
The manner of worshipping Ganesha differs among different states, communities and homes across India. Diversity in celebrations and rituals among devotees while maintaining the sanctity of rituals and traditions is the beauty of Hindu religion which practices tolerance and piousness.
Colourfully decorated idols of Lord Ganesha are installed in most households in Maharashtra. Family members and relatives get together to celebrate the occasion and offer their prayers.
Few days before the festival, the place where the Ganesha idol is to be placed is cleaned and decorated. The clay idols are either bought or made at home. They are carried with their faces covered with a saffron cloth amidst chants and the sound of cymbals and loud beating of drums. The Lord is worshipped with great devotion. His idol is garlanded with flowers, especially his favourite red Jaswand (Hibiscus flower), and Durva (Bermuda or Bahama Grass). Prayer services are performed twice a day. Devotional chants are sung to the accompaniment of cymbals, bells and rhythmic clapping. Burning agarbatti (aromatic incense sticks) fill the air with fragrance. Sweets and savouries, especially prepared for the occasion are offered to the Lord along with a variety of fruits. Modak (a pear shaped yellow sweet) is the favourite of Ganesha. So is Ukdiche Modak (Steamed Modak), a sweet dumpling made of rice flour with a stuffing of grated coconut, jaggery and cardamom.
A photo of my Ukdiche Modak…
After blissful days of festivities, the time comes to bid farewell to the Lord. There are no strict rules for the Ganesh Visarjan (immersion) ceremony. Symbolically, Lord Ganesha visits the home on Ganesh Chaturthi day and it is for the family to decide when they want to give him a farewell.
During the festival, another deity who is worshipped at home is Goddess Gauri (or Parvati), the mother of Lord Ganesha. Her idol is brought home on a particular day according to the Hindu Calendar during the festival.
Goddess Gauri is considered to be one of the many forms of Shakti, the Mother of the Universe with tremendous power. She is a symbol of fertility and motherhood and of the victory of good over evil.
The duration of Goddess Gauri’s stay at home is for 2½ days. The first day is the day of welcome. The second day is devoted to rituals, prayers and traditional celebrations. A special meal is cooked for the Goddess and offered to her along with sweets and fruits. This offering is called Naivedya. On the third day, the idol is immersed in a nearby river, lake, well or sea after a traditional farewell.
Households that install both, the idols of Lord Ganesha as well as Goddess Gauri, immerse both the idols together.
This year, the first day of Goddess Gauri’s stay is today.
The Final Day – Anant Chaturdashi
The final day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival is called Anant Chaturdashi. It is the main Visarjan day when all the ten (or eleven) day idols of Lord Ganesha are carried on decorated floats in serpentine processions to be immersed in the sea.
In Mumbai, this event is a colossal celebration and perhaps the world’s largest religion-inspired beach party. Tourists from all over the world come to witness this wonderful event on the city beaches. Girgaum Chowpatty is the famous immersion place. Heavy security arrangements are arranged to counter any violence or terrorist threat.
Loudspeakers blast popular songs as farewell processions from all over Mumbai fill the streets on the way to the immersion place. Chants of ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’ resound all around.
The farewell processions are accompanied by dance, sound of drum-beats and exploding firecrackers. People come to the streets to celebrate and have a blast. Others watch the amazing scene from the windows and balconies of the surrounding buildings.
The air is filled with the sounds of drum-beats. Drummers start practising their different beats a month in advance to prepare themselves to beat the drums nonstop for hours on this grand day.
Loud chants of Ganpati Bappa Morya! Pudhachya Varshi Lavkar Ya! hailing the lord and requesting him to arrive early the next year echo everywhere. The surroundings are sprayed with a shower of red gulal powder and marigold petals, adding to the happiness and excitement around. It is as if the entire city is on streets to see off their favourite deity.
At the immersion place, after the final prayers, the idols are carried to the sea and immersed. Boats carry the larger idols deep into the river.
Watch these videos of last year’s Anant Chaturadashi celebrations:
Experiencing the Festival
When it comes to the magnificence of worshipping Lord Ganesha, Mumbai tops the list of all the other cities in the country. It is not only well known for its huge Ganesha idols but also for the different kinds of materials used in making the Ganesha idol. For example, coconuts, vegetables, fruits, flowers, grains, pulses, etc.
Here is a Ganesha idol made of roses…
During the festival, Mumbai and the neighbouring city of Pune attract numerous visitors from outside, Indian as well as international. The community pandals and the Visarjan ceremony provide a wonderful opportunity to experience the festivities.
In Mumbai, among the five famous community Ganesh pandals, the one which attracts maximum visitors is the Lalbaugcha Raja.
Located in central Mumbai, this pandal has the most famous Ganesha idol and has been the most visited community pandal since eight decades. The idol remains the same each year. It is believed that the idol fulfills all the wishes of the people who come and pray here. Every day, on an average almost a million devotees line up in a queue stretching up to five kilometres, waiting for almost 20 hours to get a close view of the deity. Over the years, this pandal has been receiving high-profile celebrity visits.
Watch this video of the Lalbaugcha Raja:
Here’s a video of Mumbai Ganesh Festival Tour:
The neighbouring city of Pune celebrates the festival in a more traditional manner. The Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Sarvajanik Ganapati is the richest and most visited community Ganesha pandal in the city.
On Tuesdays, the Lord’s day, this pandal attracts the maximum crowd. During the festival, the organizers put up a massive decor theme for the Ganesha idol with amazing illuminations for the night, attracting thousands of devotees from all over the city as well as from outside.
Watch this video of the Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Sarvajanik Ganapati:
The Visarjan (immersion) procession begins on the completion of the aarti (religious prayers) of the Kasba Ganpati, the first amongst the five Ganpatis of Honour in Pune. The Ganpatis of Honour are traditionally entitled to lead the procession.
Cultural events are planned for each day of the festival. Lord Ganesh is an ardent lover of the arts. So promoting fine arts through various activities like exhibitions and competitions, music concerts, traditional dances, drama, etc. is a form of service to the deity.
Besides fun and cultural activities, the organizers of the pandals also put up blood-donation camps and campaigns that promote social welfare and green environment.
Watch this video of Pune’s community Ganesh pandals:
Pune has a sizeable international youth population. So during the Visarjan ceremony, you will find not only local devotees but also international visitors dressed in traditional Maharashtrian clothes, complete with ethnic jewellery and make-up participating in the procession and rituals performed prior to bidding adieu to the deity.
Besides Mumbai and Pune, Ganesh Chaturthi is getting celebrated on a large scale in many other cities of India too. In the 21st century, with the world turning fast into a global village, Ganesh Chaturthi is now celebrated all over the world, wherever there is a presence of a Hindu community.
The unique feature of Ganesh Chaturthi festival is that it creates a platform for various social and cultural gatherings, bringing the public together, enhancing the sense of belongingness and togetherness.
Amazing, isn’t it? :-)
Guys, I hope you enjoyed reading this post. I tremendously enjoyed writing it :-)
Thank you very much for visiting my blog :-) While you are here, you can read all about Mexico and my adventures across this beautiful ancient land. Check out my three e-books available for sale on this blog:
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See you soon, take care :-)