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Ganesha Festivals

Ganesh Chaturthi 2013

Ganesh Chaturthi, also known as Vinayak Chaturthi, is one of the most significant Hindu festivals, celebrated in the western and southern states of the Indian Republic, particularly in the state of Maharashtra. It is a festival that is celebrated over a stretch of 10 continuous days. Preparations for the event begin months before the Hindu calendar’s month of Bhadra (Mid August- Mid September of the Julian calendar). The Shukla Chaturthi or the 4th day of the waxing moon and continues till the Anant Chaturdashi or the 14th day of the same waxing cycle of the moon. According to the Julian calendar the days usually come between the 19th of August and the 20th of September, with minor variations due to specific Hindu astrological changes that govern the cycle of months in the Hindu calendar. This year the festival is slated to begin on the 9th of September 2013.

Why is it so important?

Ostensibly, the occasion marks the birth anniversary of Lord Ganesha. Goddess Parvati is said to have created Lord Ganesha from the turmeric and sandalwood paste she used for bathing and breathed life into him. Empowered by the spirit of Adi-Shakti herself Ganesha stood guard over Parvati’s bathing chambers and engaged in all the major Gods of the Hindu pantheon to a battle and defeated them. Even the mighty Lord Shiva was challenged who wanted access to his wife’s chambers. Ganesha stood firmly by the promise made to Parvati and engaged Lord Shiva in battle only to be beheaded and killed by the latter.
Upon hearing of her son’s death, Goddess Parvati summoned 9 Maha Shatki forms of hers, Including Mahakaali and Gauri. They were charged to destroy all of creation including all the Gods, who despite their considerable powers and knowledge did not shy away from battling a child. Lord Shiva had to personally appease the Goddess, who demanded Ganesha be promptly brought back to life. To further atone for his violent act, Lord Shiva appointed Ganesha, now reanimated with the head of an elephant, as the chief of Ganas or his personal attendants. Ganesha was also blessed by Lord Shiva with the promise of Agradhikaar- meaning the place of first worship in all religious and auspicious occasion. Thenceforth, all pujas or yajnas offered to any God or Goddess would remain fruitless unless Ganesha is propitiated first.

Why is the event important in contemporary times?
The significance of Ganesh Chaturthi is two-fold. The first reason is religious and mythological as explained above. The second reason is much more socio-political in nature. The first Maratha king Shivaji and later, leader of the Indian Independence movement Lokmanya Tilak marked the Ganesh Chaturthi as the time for regional and national integration. Speeches and public gatherings were organised to evoke strong emotions of patriotism in the people, uniting them against the incursions of the Muslim rulers of medieval India and the British colonialism of the 20th century.
Tilak drew upon the tradition of resolved and determined rebellion of Shivaji. With his close knit band of followers Shivaji rose from a family of a minor feudal lord to become the founder of one of the most powerful empires of medieval India. Using strategic guerrilla attacks and heroic all out strikes, Shivaji harassed the far larger and better equipped forces of the Mughals, and AdilShahi Sultanate of mainland India, carving out large swathes of territories making them core parts of the Maratha empire. With outstanding administrative and military innovations he consolidated a strong empire. He built a powerful navy that could hold its own against the Dutch, Portuguese and even the mighty, unparallel Royal Navy of England.
On the religious front Shivaji was a devout Hindu but respected all other faiths and peoples. Overtly Muslim emperors were his sworn enemies but crucial court and army portfolios were entrusted to Muslim men of Marathi origin. Even though some political parties try to give a communal colour to the heritage of Shivaji and British historians tried to underplay his significance, Indian scholars have successfully reclaimed Shivaji from infamy. In fact he now enjoys legendary fame in Maharashtra and neighbouring states. He has permeated the Marathi society is such a way that he is the standard benchmark of greatness mothers speak of to their children during their formative years. Therefore the very utterance of his name evokes strong passions in the hearts of many.

The Direct connection between Lord Ganesha and Shivaji: A lifelong, ardent devotee of his mother Jijabai, Shivaji was much like the ideal son that Lord Ganesha is to Goddess Parvati. Despite repeated imprisonments and failure Shivaji’s spirit was indomitable. He always found his way out of difficult situation by relying on his considerable acumen, just like Lord Ganesha. He dedicated his life’s major success from the age of 16 to his coronation as Chatrapati (Sovereign) Maratha ruler in 1674 CE to his mother.

More importantly Shivaji still stands for the same principles that Lord Ganesha is venerated for- resourcefulness, crafty intelligence, an unbeatable spirit of self reliance, and a constant drive towards material and philosophical success of not just oneself but of all of one’s subject and devotees. United, these traits made Shivaji the ruler of his people’s heart over centuries just as Lord Ganesha has been a beloved God for over Millennia on end.
To know more about Lord Ganesha visit:

Ganesh Chaturthi as a Cultural Event: Due to its dual social-political and religious significance Ganesh Chaturthi has acquired the status of a cross-cultural event. People from all walks of life participate in the festival. Statues of Ganapati is made varying in size between a few inches to over 25 meters. On ten different days the statue is anointed with various Aaratis and Abhishekhas alongside Vedic and Puranic Ganesha Mantras that are musically chanted. On the final day, large processions to the tune of millions literally throng river and sea shores to immerse the idols, chanting

“Ganapati Bappa Morya
Purchya Varshi Laukaria”
Translated: Ganapati our Father/Come again to us next year.
As Swami Sivananda recommends, one must devote oneself heart and sole to the worship of Ganapati during the Ganesh Chaturthi.
[cited from:]
Unlike Swami Sivananda’s advice however and closer to the truer spirit of Lord Ganesha and Shivaji’s philosophies one would be helped further by cultivating the spirit of multiculturalism and policies of social inclusion. These are the vital need of our continuously evolving social matrix where narrow and sectarian political interest groups continually try to gain mileage by segregating the various communities along communal and vulgar regionalistic politics, that exhibit blatant xenophobia.
May Lord Ganesha’s spirit guide us through times of difficult trial, towards a life of material and spiritual prosperity!


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Tale of the Syamantaka jewel

Legend has it that on Ganesh Chaturthi if anyone looks at the moon, misfortune follows that person. More specifically the person who looks at the moon on Lord Ganesha’s birthday is falsely accused of a crime. This legend comes from a tale of Lord Ganesha. On his birthday Ganesha, the little kid, was happily stuffing himself with all the sweets made by his mother. After finishing the sweets made by her he went to the places of gods who had invited him for a meal. They served Ganesha modakam and the choicest of sweets. After eating all of it, Ganesha’s belly grew enormously. He did not show his discomfort to those who had invited him and continued to eat. In the night, Ganesha could not bear it anymore and had to go out. He hopped on to his vehicle, the mouse, and went about. After going a distance, the mouse could not bear the weight of Ganesha and tripped over a snake. The contents of Ganesha’s stomach fell out and Ganesha stuffed everything back in. He picked up the snake and tied it around his stomach so that the contents would not fall out.

Witnessing this scenario, the moon found it extremely hilarious and started to laugh hysterically. Lord Ganesha felt insulted and cursed the moon. After the moon apologised, Ganesha revised the punishment and said on the occasion of his birthday no one should look at the moon. If anyone would, the only way to avert the misfortune will be to tell the tale of the Syamantaka jewel.

For everyone’s benefit, here is the tale that would help you avert the misfortune if you would happen to look at the moon on Ganesh Chaturthi. This tale is found in the Puranas.

Satrajit was given the Syamantaka jewel by Surya (the sun.  Satrajit considered the stone to be so precious that he didn’t part with it even when Lord Krishna (incarnation of Vishnu) asked for it. One day Prasana, the brother of Satrajit, went out hunting wearing the jewel. He was killed by a lion and the lion took the jewel as well. Jambavan (of the Ramayana fame) saw the jewel, killed the lion and gave the jewel to his son. When Satrajit falsely accused Krishna of killing his brother for the jewel, Lord Krishna decided to find out the truth. After days of searching, Krishna found Jambavan’s cave and the jewel. Before Krishna could explain why he was there, Jambavan mistook him for an intruder and started to fight him. The battle lasted for 28 days before Krishna defeated Jambavan and made him realize that Krishna was Lord Rama’s rebirth. Jambavan profusely apologised and offered the jewel to Krishna who gave it back to Satrajit. Satrajit also realized his mistake and offered his daughter Satyabhama’s hand in marriage along with the jewel. Lord Krishna did not accept the jewel but married Satyabhama.

It is believed that if anyone recites this story he not only averts the misfortune but is also blessed with luck.

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Ganesh Chaturthi around the world

When it is about celebrating the birthday of one of India’s most popular deity, Hindus don’t fall back. Lord Ganesha supposedly descends on earth and blesses his devotees on this day. It was this auspicious occasion when Ganesha was declared superior to all Gods, except Vishnu, Laxmi, Shiva and Parvati. Ganeshotsav (festival of Ganesha) is celebrated in the month of Bhhadrapada that starts on the 4th day of the waxing moon period. The date of Lord Ganesha’s birthday usually falls between 19th August and 20th September. The festival lasts for 10 days.

While this festival is celebrated all over India (and even internationally), it is more elaborate in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. It is unclear when the festival was first celebrated. Historical references indicate the time to be in the era when the Marathas ruled India. During the reign of Shivaji (17th century) the festival was celebrated publicly in Pune Maharashtra. In 1893 Lokmanya Tilak encouraged Ganesh Chaturthi’s celebration on a large scale.

One of the most elaborate celebrations in modern era is at Lalbaug Mumbai, Maharashtra. The idol adorns the best clothing and gold. Devotees from far of places come to catch a glimpse of the idol. Millions of visitors along with celebrities flock in queues to worship the idol specifically in Lalbaug. The donations made on this day run into millions. It is on this day when everyone witnesses the entire Maharashtra on the streets dancing and immersing huge idols of Ganesha in water. The idols take thousands of artisans several weeks to sculpt.

With more and more Indians migrating by the dozen, Ganesh Chaturthi has now become a festival that is celebrated the world over. The festival was first celebrated in UK in the year 2005. The Shobha Yatra (which was the name coined for the procession) started at the Vishwa Hindu temple and ended at Ram temple at King Street with government dignitaries also in attendance. The idol was finally immersed in river Thames. Since then the celebration happens every year with not just Hindus in attendance but also other religious groups.

52% of the population in Mauritius comprises Hindus. It is this sect that brings in Ganesh Chaturthi with fanfare. The celebration started in the year 1896 and the Mauritian government observes this day as a public holiday because of the magnitude of celebration.

The Ganesh Chatturthi celebrations in France are pretty huge in Paris.  The Shri Mannika Vinayakar temple in Paris celebrates the day in a majestic manner by not just decorating the idol beautifully but also taking out a procession on chariot. The attendance is not just by people from Indian origins but Sri Lankan and European too.

Different religious organizations take the onus of celebrating the festival in a grand manner in USA.  Temples in Warrenville and Illinois witness a huge crowd in this day to see elaborate idols dressed in gold.

The universal celebration of Lord Ganesha’s birthday illustrates the popularity of this deity the world over.

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Ganesha Chaturthi Rituals

Ganesh Chaturthi is also known as Vinayak Chaturthi. This is celebrated to mark the presence of Lord Ganesha who is believed to bestow his presence on all his devotees for ten long days. The festival starts in the month of Bhadrapad (Sep- Oct), according to the Hindu calendar, starting on chaturthi (the fourth day of the waxing moon). The festival lasts for ten days, ending on Anant Chaudas. The festival starts with the installation of Ganesha idols at homes and at especially erected pandaals (tents). The pandaals are decorated with flowers, lights etc. or these days are theme based. These days themes are either religious themes or on current issues.

The pooja (prayer) starts with the pandit (priest), usually clad in red colored silk dhoti and kurta, chanting mantras (Holy hymns and verses). He holds a pooja thali(a plate that has all the pooja items) in his hands. This ritual of chanting mantras is called as Pranpratishtha or Sthapna (foundation). Then shodashopchara (16 ways of offerings are offered to the Lord Ganesha) follows. Shodashopchar has 21 modakas (sweet dish especially prepared for Ganesha Chaturthi), coconut, jaggery, 21 druvas (trefoil) blades of grass and a paste made of kumkum and sandalwood paste is offered to the deity. Throughout the ceremony hymns from Vedas, Puranas and Upanishads (holy scriptures) are recited by many pandits (priests). Ganpati Stotra is recited every now and then during these ten days. Pandaals usually can see many cultural activities take place side by side. This way Lord Ganesha’s idol is founded at the Pandaals.

The foundation of Ganpati idol at home is totally different. Ganpati is brought by the male member of the family on the tritiya (third day of the waxing moon) at home, wrapped in a red colored cloth. The  idol is kept at some clean place for the night and then in the morning is taken out to do the pranpratishtha. The one who had taken the sankalp (vow to do the pranpratishtha) should have a bath early in the morning. Then the idol of Ganesha is brought from the place where it was kept. The person who had taken the vow is the one who will do the pranpratishtha. The idol is taken out from the red cloth. It is kept in a big thali (huge plate) and then the shuddhikaran (purification) of the idol takes place. The idol is first washed wish Panchaamrit (a fluid of five things) i.e. milk, curd, honey, rose water and sugar. First we should wash the feet of the idol, then left and right hands, then the idol’s potbelly, and finally the panchamrit is poured on the idol’s head. Then the idol is placed on a wooden plank in the east direction. Before putting the idol on the wooden plank, we should first put a new and clean cloth on the plank. Now we should offer panchmava to the idol. The panchmava here means 5 different types of fruits, 5 kind of sweets, 5 dry fruits, clothes, paan-supari, and 5 flowers. After offering these, we should put the paste of kumkum and sandal powder on the idol’s head. Now we should offer moli (holy thread) around the idol. Now, the idol is offered naivedyam (food). On this day, we should try to make least 21 types of different food items. If not possible, five will work or even one will work if offered with devotion. A garland is offered to Lord Ganesha. Now clothes are offered to the Lord. A dhoop (incense stick) and deepeak (earthen lamp of either ghee or oil) should be put in front of the idol. A deepak (earthen lamp) of desi ghee should be put on the right side of the idol and make sure this deepak should not be blown out till the time Lord Ganesha is at your place. The stotra(short holy verses) should be recited with the presence of all the family members, relatives and neighbors. Everyone present now should sing the aarti. The prasadam (deity’s blessings in the form of eatables) is to be distributed among all those present. It is believed that someone should be present at home at all times and the idol should not be left alone at home.

This is the ritual with which we can invite Lord Ganesha at our home and can pray to them for the well being of our family and society.

Jai Gan

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