Ganesh Chaturthi – how this religious festival is celebrated in India
Nirvighnam Kuru Me Deva,
If you are familiar with Hinduism, you likely recognize this chant. This is the most common hymn sung to worship Lord Ganesh. Come August, and you can hear these auspicious mantras reverberating in the air. Most houses in India will have colorful rangolis made in front of their doors and the entire home decorated with floral garlands. After all, it is one of the most important religious festivals of the Hindus – the Ganesh Chaturthi.
What is Ganesh Chaturthi?
Ganesh Chaturthi is a 10-day long festival celebrated to worship the elephant-headed god Ganesh on his birthday. It is celebrated in the Hindu month of Bhadra, which falls in mid-August to September. The days of the festival are marked as per the Hindu calendar which begins on Shukla Chaturthi or the fourth (Chaturthi) day of the waxing moon phase and ends on the 14th day of that period also known as Anant Chaturdashi.
Who is Lord Ganesh?
Ganesh is the youngest son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Also known as Gajaanan, Vinayaka, Omkar, Mahakaaya, and Mangalmurti, stories of his birth and life are very interesting. He is the god of sciences, wealth, wisdom, knowledge, and prosperity. He is the lord of beginnings and one who removes all obstacles or Vighnahartaa. Thus, Hindus revere him and always worship him before beginning any task.
In fact, according to one legend, his mother Parvati promised that Ganesh would be always worshipped before any other god, and hence every Hindu religious festival commences after seeking his blessings.
Why is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?
According to Hindu mythology, Parvati created Ganesh out of the earth from her own body and asked him to guard the palace until she took her bath. When Lord Shiva returned, Ganesh refused to let him in, and in a fit of rage, Shiva beheaded him. Parvati got angry, and so Shiva sent his men to get the head of the first animal they saw, and thus, Ganesh got his elephant head. This story relates to rebirth and regeneration, and hence Ganesh Chaturthi also stands for the eternal cycle of life and death.
Ganesh is the lord of wisdom and knowledge. He brings good fortune and removes all obstacles. He is the most auspicious God of new beginnings, and hence Hindus worship him before embarking on a new journey or a new venture. You will find him gracing pious occasions like marriages and most Hindu households have his idol to bless the inhabitants.
Ganesh Chaturthi is an integral part of the Hindu religion. Its root can be traced back to the dynasties of the Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas, and Satavahanas. However, during the rule of Chhatrapati Shivaji, Ganesh Chaturthi became a symbol of social unity and nationalism. Marathis embraced Lord Ganesh and sought his blessings to fight against the Mughals. Ganesh became the household deity and found a permanent place in their hearts too. The Marathi community till today considers it their most important festival and celebrate it with great enthusiasm.
However, this festival remained a private affair celebrated within the confines of home till Lokmanya Tilak, a famous nationalist, freedom fighter, and social reformer transformed this celebration into a public event. India differs in culture, tradition, and religious practices. So, Tilak wanted a unifying bond to bring the people together across the rank and file of the society. He started organizing Ganesh Utsav as a social and religious event that brought people from all strata of the society together. Hence, Ganesh Chaturthi became a social festival with community participation. He also popularized the idea of immersion on Anant Chaturdashi.
Today, Ganesh Chaturthi is still observed with that same spirit of togetherness and showcases our cultural values in the form of debates, poetry recital, musical concerts, and dance dramas.
So, the modern form of Ganesh Chaturthi that we witness today was popularized by Lokmanya Tilak.
Apart from Maharashtra, the states of Karnataka, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Telengana, Gujarat, and Chattisgarh also celebrate this festival. Indians scattered all over the world observe this festival in their own way.
How is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?
As mentioned earlier, Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the biggest festivals in India. It is observed at home as well as a community event.
Big clubs and local committees start their preparations for Ganesh Chaturthi several months in advance. They construct big pandals or temporary podiums in parks or on roads to host the deity. Amidst fervent chants of “Ganpati Bappa Morya”, Gajaanan arrives to capture the limelight. The huge and brightly colored idols are decked with ornaments. The podiums are brightly decorated with lights and flowers to welcome Lord Vinayaka.
At home, the scene is a little different. People clean their homes to usher in Vinayaka. A small throne is set up to host the idol. They also buy all the ingredients as per the custom, and the markets get thronged with people.
Nowadays, eco-friendly idols and decorations are popular, and so, you will find people using flowers and colored papers to decorate their homes. These eco-friendly idols are made of clay so that when you immerse these in the water, they do not cause pollution. Similarly, the flowers and other materials also can be discarded without causing any harm to our environment. It is amazing to see how people use their creativity to adorn their homes.
The homes look so bright and colorful with these embellishments. The devotees also buy new clothes and some even buy jewelry as Vinayaka is the god of wealth and prosperity. People get busy preparing sweets and other food items to welcome their lord.
The idol of Ganesh is bought from the market and placed on this throne. For the next 10 days, he will reside with his devotees and shower them with blessings. This is the time for celebration. People send out Ganesh Chaturthi wishes to all friends, relatives, and neighbors, inviting them to seek the blessings of god. They wear new clothes and pray before him. Every day they make sweetmeats and other foods and offer him with devotion.
The kids are perhaps the happiest when Lord Ganesh arrives. As it is, Ganesh is a friend of the kids. There are so many folktales that involve him and the kids. Moreover, the children get holidays to celebrate his homecoming. Of course, there is another big reason for them to be elated – food. Who doesn’t love to gorge on laddus and modaks and other savory sweets? Since Ganesh is a foodie, most households make his favorite dishes to win his heart. In Maharashtra, modaks and puranpuris are made during this time.
The rituals of Ganesh Chaturthi
There are four main rituals namely, Pranapratishhtha, Shhodashopachara, Uttarpuja, and Visarjan.
Come, we will explain these in detail now. The devotees take a bath and wear clean clothes and gather round the idol. All the ingredients for worship like incense sticks, flowers, garlands, Kumkum, coconut, and prasad or sweetmeats are arranged beforehand.
In Gujarat and Rajasthan, churma ladoos are popular for Ganesh festival. Here is a link to churma ladoo recipe.
Pranapratishhtha is one of the primary rituals that infuses life in the idol of Bappa. This is done by chanting holy mantras. After the initial ritual is completed, we perform the aarti by lighting lamps and incense sticks.
Now, shhodashopachara has to be performed which is 16 forms of paying tribute to the lord. In this step, red flowers and other puja materials are offered to the god. We also put the red sandalwood paste on the forehead of Ganesh. Do you know breaking a coconut is auspicious in the Hindu religion? It is believed that this custom wards off the evil and so we break a coconut in front of Ganpati too.
What about the Mushaka or mouse? We offer some grains to him also.
People sing bhajans or songs devoted to the deity after performing the puja. It is also a custom to recite the 108 names of Ganesh.
You may get a priest to perform the rituals or do it on your own. In many houses across the country, the devotees worship the lord by performing all the rituals themselves without involving any priest. The whole family participates in it and this creates a holy atmosphere at home.
For ten days, people perform aarti twice every week to worship Gajaanan. In this ritual, an earthen lamp is filled with ghee and a cotton wick which is lighted up and is circulated around the god.
Everyday prayers are offered to the god and people treat him with love and care. Special dishes are offered to him and relatives and friends pay visits to each other’s houses making this a social event.
The festival ends on the 11th day with the uttarpuja which is bidding farewell to the deity. The final rite is Visarjan or immersion of the lord in water.
What is Ganesh Chaturthi visarjan?
The Visarjan is the final custom that is associated with both sadness and joy. After residing in the homes of the devotees for 10 days, the lord returns to his holy abode. This is the day of Anant Chaturdashi.
Visarjan holds a special place in the Hindu religion as it signifies the birth cycle of Lord Ganesh. Another deeper meaning is associated with it also. Hindus worship idols because they want to give their gods a visible form. However, they also know that the universe is in a state of change and forms give way to formlessness. The visarjan or immersion of the idols in the water signifies this truth. It teaches us the importance of the cycle of life so that we do not get attached to the physical forms.
The Visarjan teaches us that life is temporary and we should learn to let go of the things we love. The people bid a befitting farewell to their beloved deity by organizing a huge procession. They accompany the deity, chanting mantras, singing bhajans, and also dancing and showcasing special skills. However, you will also find the devotees teary-eyed as the deity is immersed in water. With a heavy heart, they return home, waiting for another year to welcome Ganesh again.
How Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in different parts of India
It is interesting to note how India’s diversity has shaped the religious festivals and customs, and social traditions have evolved accordingly. The Ganesh Chaturthi is no exception, and you can observe that while some states celebrate it on a grand scale, in some others it is a personal matter. Let’s find out how we pay homage to the elephant-headed god.
When it comes to worshipping Lord Ganesh, Maharashtra leads the foray. In this western state, Ganpati is the most revered god, and so, a lot of enthusiasm is seen around worshipping him. He is lovingly called Bappa. As we have mentioned earlier, the clubs, better known as ‘mandals’ organize huge celebrations to pay homage to Gajaanan. Almost every locality has its own Bappa. They erect huge podiums with deities as tall as 20 feet. The entire neighborhood comes together to offer prayers to the Lord. To enhance the festive mood, fairs, and cultural programs are organized. Children eagerly wait to participate in these.
Some of these pujas are famous all over the world for their grandeur like Laalbaughcha Raja and Andhericha Raja. Huge crowds gather to get a glimpse of the royal deity, and often they have to stand in queues for hours.
On the day of Anant Chaturdashi, huge processions take the deities to the immersion beaches. Lakhs of people attend this splendid event singing, dancing, and chanting his praises. Do you know it takes almost 24 hours for Lalbaughcha Raja to reach the immersion spot? ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya, Purcha barshi lokar aa’ – that’s the way people bid farewell to Bappa requesting him to return early next year.
For the people of Maharashtra, worshipping Lord Ganesh is a matter of earnest devotion. As we have explained earlier, they clean their houses, buy small idols of the god, and meticulously arrange everything.
To them, Bappa is a family member who visits every year, and hence they prepare his favorite dishes and welcome him with open arms. You will find the ladies wearing colorful sarees and traditional jewelry to commemorate his visit. The air gets heavy with the smell of modaks, puranporis, and kheer.
Ganesh Chaturthi 2021 will not witness these ostentatious scenes. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the mandals will restrict their activities. People are also wary of going out, and hence the usual gatherings will not take place.
The neighboring state of Goa also pays homage to Ganpati on a large scale. The revelries include erecting huge pandals to host the god and offering him jaggery, coconut, and modaks.
Gujarat celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi with great splendor. Similar to Maharashtra, big pandals are erected to host the lord. Fireworks make the Visarjan grander. Are you thinking of prasad? Gujaratis please their favorite god with a festive treat of Shrikhand apart from motichoor laddus.
Karnataka celebrates Vinayaka Chaturthi but in a different way. Gouri, mother of Ganesh is worshipped here by married women so that they enjoy a long-lasting married life. In the temples, Ganesh is worshipped along with his mother.
Tamil Nadu also celebrates Vinayaka Chaturthi. People decorate the entrances of their houses with mango leaves. Here, Kozhakattai is Ganesh’s favorite sweet, and every household offers it to the god. Coconut rice is the most common food or bhog offered to Ganesh in different states of South India. Payasam? Who doesn’t love this richly flavored sweet dish? Every corner of India has its recipe of payasam, and we love to feed this to our gods also.
In Rajasthan, people place the idol of Ganesh at the entrance of their homes so that everybody can pray to him. Laddus are distributed as a prasad.
In Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Bengal, the temples usually hold Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. People throng the temples to offer their prayers.