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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: www.theganeshaexperience.com

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: http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/ganeshchaturthi.htm]
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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