Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chaturthi is a Hindu festival celebrated all over India and worldwide by Hindus and devotees of Lord Ganesha. It is a festival that commemorates the arrival of Ganesh along with her mother Gauri also called Goddess Parvati. There are many deities in Hinduism, and Ganesha is among the most worshipped and adored ones.
Lord Ganesha is called by many names like Ganapati or Vinayaka and is a Hindu pantheon worshipped in many countries other than India. While traveling around the world one can find his image, statues, and even temples in many regions that have large ethnic Indian populations like, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Nepal, Fiji, Bali, Bangladesh, Trinidad, and Tobago. In Hindu mythology and scriptures, Lord Ganesha is considered as the eliminator of difficulties and a provider of great wisdom. Before starting any kind of ceremony or rites, devotees of Ganesha always initiate it by praying to him for guidance and luck. Not only in Hinduism, but Lord Ganesha’s devotion is also seen in people following Jainism or Buddhism. These factors reflect that Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated globally by a very large population. The festival gives a fresh start to people as it symbolizes new beginnings and obstacles free start. The celebrations are done with the utmost zeal, enthusiasm, and joy. The rich diversity of India and love towards tradition reflects that there are distinguishable ways in which each state celebrates the arrival and departure of Lord Ganesh every year between 22 August and 20 September (according to Gregorian calendar).
History of Ganesh Chaturthi
The history behind the first initiation of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations is quite unclear. According to various old scriptures and sources, the very first celebrations were carried out during the reign of the Maratha Empire under Shivaji (from 1630 to 1680). This means that the first foundations of this festival were established publicly in Pune, India. Although after the British invasion the festival lost its mass festivities and was just celebrated privately by the Indian population. However, Lokmanya Tilak, a social reformer and freedom fighter revived the mass celebrations by mentioning its importance in the newspaper, Kesari. He also devoted his efforts to make the annual processions of Ganesha’s arrival and departure into large, well-organized public events. According to Raminder Kaur, the popular author of “Performative politics and the cultures of Hinduism: Public uses of religion in western India”, the mass celebrations were re-initiated by Bhausaheb Laxman Javale when he placed a Ganesha idol in Pune for the public.
Tilak reflected majorly on the fact that Lord Ganesha is “the god for everybody”. He considered that since Ganesha was the most beloved Lord, He can be used to unite or bridge the gap that evidently existed between Brahmins and non-Brahmins in India. His reflections were true as Lord Ganesha has indeed been worshipped by almost all Hindus. It’s believed that Ganesha originated when Goddess Parvati made a life-like turmeric statue and breathed life into it. He was just a boy guarding his mother while taking a bath when Lord Shiva (Parvati’s husband) returned and Ganesha stopped him from entering. Unaware of each other’s identity both Shiva and Ganesha misunderstood each other and this led to Shiva’s furious reciprocation. He beheaded the boy and Parvati was devastated seeing this. She made him realize that he has killed his own ward and both were filled with remorse. With his powers, Shiva brought back Ganesha to life by attaching an elephant’s head to his trunk. All the Gods bestowed Ganesha with powerful boons. Since then Lord Ganesha is prayed before the beginning of any ritual.
Significance of Ganesh Chaturthi
The celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi holds a special significance in the hearts of all Ganesha’s devotees. There are four important rituals contributing to the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. The first ritual Pranapratishhtha marks the initiation of the 10-day long festival. During Pranapratishhtha, priests chant mantras in front of the beautifully decorated Ganesha deities and invoke life in it. After this Shhodashopachara is carried out during which prayers are offered by devotees to the idol. Ganesha stays inside households or pandals (temporary tents) for a few days and then people get together to bid him farewell through the Uttarpuja ritual. This is followed by Ganapati Visarjan, in the course of which people carry the idols of Ganesha and immerse it in seas or other water bodies. This last procession is carried out on the 10th day (last day of Ganesh Chaturthi) and consists of people in large numbers, chanting or playing music to give a happy farewell to Ganesha with a promise to return next year. It is believed that when the clay from the statues fully dissolves in the water body, Ganesha returns to his parents on Mount Kailash. Devotees, who pray to Lord Ganesha during the days of Ganesh Chaturthi, are blessed by him to fulfill their wishes. Ganesha is believed to lead his followers towards great wisdom and provide them a fresh start, freeing them of their existing sins.
During the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi, people bring beautiful idols of Ganesha in their home and adorn him with flowers and prayers. In some places, temporary tents are build to place large statues of Ganesha and priests chant mantras to commemorate the festival. People feel extreme happiness in the course of days when Ganesha stays with them in their households.
Daily prayers are offered to pay him respect and every devotee is bestowed with prasad which can be modak (Ganesha’s favorite) or any other type of sweet. When the time of Visarjan (bidding farewell) comes, people get together and carry the idols to immerse them in sea or rivers. Every year around 150,000 Ganesha idols are immersed in Mumbai alone. This is the reason why some people have started using biologically friendly idols to control the water population. Every effort is made to make the festival more memorable and enjoyable. People celebrate by dancing to drum beats and by lighting up fireworks to heighten their festive mood. Every year this duration of Ganesha’s arrival and farewell is carried out with lots of devotion and joy. As Lokmanya Tilak said, it truly is a festival that brings together people and unites them.