Ganesh Chaturthi-- Birth Day of Lord Ganesha
Ganesh Chaturthi or the birthday of Ganesha (the elephant-headed God of Wisdom and Prosperity) falls on the fourth day of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (around August-September).
Ganesha-- The Hindu God With An Elephant's Head
Ganesha is India's cutest god. He has the head of an elephant on which is perched a dainty tiara, four podgy hands joined to a sizeable belly with each hand holding its own symbolic object. One has a trishul, or a trident, the second, an ankush, or goad made from his very own broken tooth, the third hand elegantly holds a lotus and the fourth a rosary (which is sometimes replaced by modaks - his favourite sweet).
Ganesha is famous not only for being a trickster and for his sense of humour, but equally for his wisdom. He is the son of Shiva (Destroyer in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) and Parvati (Shiva's consort).
Interesting Tale Mark The Birth of Ganesha
There is a curiously interesting tale about the birth of Ganesha. It is believed that once while Parvati was bathing, she created a human figure from some unguent and balm, gave him life and asked him to guard the door while she bathed. After a long period of meditation on Mountain Kailash (Shiva's abode), Shiva chose that very moment to drop by to see his better half, but was abruptly stopped by the man-god Parvati had posted at the door. Outraged by the cheek of this stranger, Shiva cut off his head only to discover that he had killed Parvati's son! For fear of enraging his wife, Shiva immediately dispatched his ganas (attendants) to get him the head of the first living creature they could find. Well, the first living creature happened to be an elephant. As instructed, the head was chopped off and brought back to Shiva, who placed it on Parvati's son's body, bringing him back to life. This elephant-headed god was welcomed into the first family of the Hindu heavens and named Ganesha or Ganapati, which literally means the chief of the ganas, or the attendants of Shiva.
Ganesha--The Foremost God of Hindu Pantheon
This brave guardian of the door to Parvati's bath is beheld today as the most auspicious God of new beginnings. He is worshipped during every festival and before people undertake a journey or embark upon a new venture. You will also see him carefully guarding entrances to temples and homes, peeping out of calendars and happily gracing marriages and other such occasions.
Diverse Images of Ganesha
Varasiddhi Vinayak is an aspect of Ganesha in which he is shown standing on top of a demon named Vighnasura who he annihilated. This aspect of Ganesha is worshipped on Ganesh Chaturthi. In Maharashtra, this festival has assumed epic proportions. It is a huge community affair and people contribute towards elaborate idols of Ganesha, pandals (massive, decorated marquees), the puja, the prasad (sweetmeats offered to the gods but consumed by the people) amongst other things. In the days of the British Raj, Tilak (a nationalist leader) encouraged Ganesh Chaturthi and other like celebrations to induce and reinforce feelings of nationalism amongst his countrymen.
The Festive Celebrations
Each locality makes its own special pandal. People attribute considerable social significance to the pandals as communities compete with each other to put up a more outstanding one. Each pandal has a different priest. Amidst much fanfare and revelry, the priest installs the idol of Ganesha in the locality to the chanting of shlokas (Sanskrit holy verses).
Special prasad and food (cooked without onions and garlic) are prepared to mark the first day of the puja. Aarti (a ritualistic puja with hymns) is performed twice a day - in the morning and in the evening. Most people of the community attend the evening aarti. They actually rush home from work to take part in the festivities and gather around the brightly-lit Ganesha. People offer prasad of modaks or peras (a type of sweetmeat), coconut, hibiscus or any other red flower, sheaves of grass, vermilion, turmeric powder and rice. The prasad can be bought from the little stalls or puja shops all over town.
During Ganesh Chaturthi, in most parts of the country people offer prasad to the image of Ganesha in their mini temples at home. The entire family wears fresh and clean clothes and assembles in the sacrosanct area. As they sing hymns, everyone is given some flowers and rice in their hands. These are later showered on Ganesha. Sometimes a few families get together in someone's house for the aarti. Each ceremony is rounded off with people tucking in toothsome modaks, in keeping with Ganesha's style.
A Legendary Tale Associated With Modaks
Hindu mythology has a story to tell even about Ganesha's modaks. It is said that Ganesha loved modaks and simply could not stop himself from eating them. In fact he devoured them by the hundreds. Amused by Ganesha's obsession with modaks, once the beautiful moon made fun of the chubby God. Ganesha was so furious with the moon that he cursed him, saying that his beauty would never remain constant. Since that day, way back in time, the moon reveals itself in all its magnificence only once in 28 days.
Observing of Fast
Only a few people observe a fast on this festival as, for the most part, the general feeling is that Ganesha's birthday should be an occasion for pigging out and not for fasting. The few who do keep a fast are allowed to eat various sweets like til ka ladoo (a round sweetmeat made of sesame, flour and sugar), gajak, rewari (sweets made of jaggery and nuts), along with tea and coffee.
Grand Celebration in Rajasthan
In Rajasthan, people place a garlanded idol of Ganesha smeared with vermilion, right outside their homes. If front of the image they keep a plate with some vermilion and turmeric powder so each passerby can put a pinch of the sacred powder on his forehead and feel blessed by Ganesha.
The festival comes to an end on the day of Anant Chaudas. On this day, the idols of Ganesha are taken from various pandals, doorsteps, localities and puja rooms for a truly royal ride. The streets of Mumbai are packed with multitudes as each locality comes out on the streets with its Ganesha. Amidst shouts of 'Ganpati Bappa Moriya Pudhchya Varshi Lavkarya' (Marathi for - Oh Ganpati My Lord, return soon next year), a sea of humanity carries the idols to the waters of the Arabian Sea. Firecrackers announce the arrival of the procession that halts every now and then for people to get a last glimpse of their favourite God and seek his blessings, for he is the remover of all obstacles. The idols are carried into the holy waters, and face the direction of the local community centres they started their journey from, till their visarjan, or immersion. In other towns and villages, folks carry the idols to the local river or tank for the visarjan ceremony.
As dusk takes charge of the skies, people return to their localities and homes, awaiting Ganesha's return the following year. Artists and sculptors start imagining how they will make an even nicer Ganesha next year. Housewives fret about making better modaks and pedas than Mrs X. The community at large thinks of superior and more elaborate pandals and processions, on there way back home and to work. In this country of almost a billion people, Ganesha plays his part. He generates work, adds meaning to their life and gives them hope.