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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 Historical references indicate the time to be in the era when the Marathas ruled India.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.
Ganesh Chaturthi is a Hindu festival which is celebrated to mark the birthday of Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha is believed to be the god that bestows wisdom and prosperity. It is on this day that Lord Shiva declared that his son, Lord Ganesha is superior to all gods and shall be worshipped before any of the gods are worshipped. Thus, in India before starting good work it is said, “Shree Ganesh Karo”. This means that we are seeking the blessings of lord Ganesha for prosperity. The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi usually lasts for about 10 – 12 days. These days usually fall in the period between August 19th and September 20th . According to the Hindu calendar it is celebrated in the month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon). The celebrations continue for 5 -12 days. Although the festival is celebrated in most parts of the country some where it is of special significance are Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
In these parts of the country the festival is highly popular and the preparations begin months in advance. Idols of lord Ganesha are installed across streets and homes. These are beautifully decorated with most intrigue materials. The size of the idols may vary from 3/4th of an inch to more than 70 feet. In 2011, the biggest murthi was installed in Vishakapatnam which was over 70 feet tall. There are mandaps or pandals (large tents that are used for community gatherings) in every locality decorated with flowers lights of various shapes, sizes and colors. These can be personal, group based or society based. In some cases the decorations are according to a particular theme. The idols are made with precision and detail by specially skilled artisans.
Talking about the history of the festival, it is believed that the festival was celebrated in the state of Maharashtra by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj to promote nationalism and cultural harmony. During the Indian freedom struggle, the festivities were revivied by Lokmanya Tilak. It was a way to defy Britishers who had banned public assemblies. It was just a away to promote unity and national integration.
The celebrations go on for at most 10 days and on the 11th day, the idols are taken to a river or sea for being immersed as a final farewell. People dance and sing and celebrate with flowers and colors. People chant mantras and recitals with the most popular one being “Ganapati Bappa Morya, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya” (O lord Ganesha, come again early next year) in Maharashtra.
The main sweet dish that is made during this festival is Modak. It is a dumpling made up of rice flour which is stuffed with grated coconut, jaggery and lots of dry fruits. Modak is considered to be the favourite sweet of lord Ganesha that’s why it is an important part of the celebration.
The festival is a great way of bonding and cultural harmony. People from all religions and castes are allowed to visit tents and seek blessings of lord Ganesha. Also many artists and small businessmen survive on these kind of festivals, thus proving to be a means of livelihood for them.
As the idol is immersed in water, people hope that Lord Ganesha would bless them for the coming year and would return to their homes very soon.
Ganesha Chaturthi, the great festival in the name of Lord Ganesha, also called ‘Vinayak Chaturthi‘ is celebrated by Hindus all over the world as the Lord Ganesha’s birthday. This festival is observed during the Hindu month of Bhadrapada or Simply called Bhadra (mid-August to mid-September) and the most distinguished and most sophisticated of them, particularly in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, lasts for around ten days, finishing on the day of ‘Ananta Chaturdashi‘.
Preparations of the Grand Celebration
An Idol of Lord Ganesha is made 2-3 months prior to the Ganesh Chaturthi. The size of this idol may vary from small like 3/4th of an inch to over 25 feet tall according the will of the devotee.
On the day of the Ganesha Chaturthi, it is placed on erected platforms in homes or in an elaborated way adorned outdoor stages and tents (pandals) for other devotees to view and pay their homage. The whole society comes to worship Lord Ganesha in attractively done tents and pandals. Then the priest, normally dressed in red silk dhoti and shawl, invokes life into the idol of Lord Ganesha amidst the intonation of mantras. This ritual is known as ‘pranapratishtha‘, it is followed by ‘shhodashopachara‘ (sixteen ways of paying tribute). Coconut, jaggery, twenty-one ‘modakas’ (rice flour prepared sweets), twenty-one ‘durva‘ (trefoil) blades and red flowers are offered to the idol. The idol is anointed with red oil or rakta chandan (paste of sandal). Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and Ganesha Stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted by the priests and the devotees throughout the ceremony.
Lord Ganesha is worshipped from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, for complete ten days. The idol of Lord Ganesha is then taken through the streets in a convoy followed by devotees with dancing, singing, to be immersed in a river, pond or the sea representing a ritual to see-off of the Lord in his voyage towards his dwelling in Mountain Kailasha while carrying away with him the bad luck, agony and misfortune of devotees on the eleventh day. The procession keeps shouting “Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya“ (O father Ganesha, come again early next year). Subsequent to the last offering of coconuts, camphor and flowers is made, devotees carry the idol of Ganesha to the river or sea to immerse it, symbolizing that Lord Ganesha is set on the journey back to his abode on Mount Kailasha.