Today is the beginning of a ten to twelve day celebration for the birthday of the Hindu God, Lord Ganesha. This celebration is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi and it is believed that during this festival he visits and bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees. Ganesha in Hindu religion is the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and is traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture or at the start of travel. Ganeshotsav (“festival of Ganesha”) is The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon). The date usually falls between 19 August and 20 September. The festival lasts for 10 or 12 days, ending on Anant Chaturdash
But where did Lord Ganesha come from? How did he come to be worshipped as this benevolent deity? There are various stories about the manner exactly in which he came about, but it is agreed upon that he was in some way created by the Goddess Parvati… wife of the great god himself…Shiva…
Shiva and Parvati are what we would call today a “Power Couple”.
Shiva is the Great Destroyer, the Transformer and is regarded as the most powerful god in Hinduism he has five important works, creator, preserver, destroyer, concealer, and revealer (to bless). Parvati is literally the Goddess of Power She is the one who gives life energy (or ‘Shakti’) to all beings and without her, all beings are inert. The goddess is Shakti herself, who actually lives in all beings in the form of power.
The Goddess Parvati was feeling creative one day and she fashioned Ganesha out of sandalwood paste which she used for bathing and she breathed life into his figure and and as his first task asked him to stand guard outside her bathhouse. Shiva arrives home and is greeted by Ganesha who of course does not know him being newly created and all, so he refuses to let Shiva enter. This quite naturally enrages Shiva who is not used to being denied and he orders his guards (referred to in some texts as ghosts) to teach Ganesha a lesson.
Ganesha who was born from the Goddess of Power and was the very embodiment of Shakti (power) – was very powerful. HE quickly dispatched the ghost followers and stated firmly that no one should enter so long as his mother was bathing. Sensing a growing turmoil, the sage of heavens, Narada, along with the Saptarshi (the seven wise rishis) went to appease Ganesha but he refused to listen.
By now he had angered all sorts of people and the King of Gods, Indra attacked the boy with his entire heavenly army but even they didn’t stand a chance. By then, this issue had become a matter of pride for Shiva. After the devas were defeated, Shiva, the trinity, the controller, preserver and destroyer of the universe launched an attack against Ganesha and his anger was terrible to behold! Amidst the fight, Shiva severed the head of the child, and this brought on the full might of Parvati’s rage. Seeing her son dead, Parvaati revealed her true self, as the Adi-shakti, the prime energy that fuels the universe and sustains matter. Taking on a terrible form, she vowed to destroy the universe where her son was killed and re-create a better one.
The Gods prostrated themselves before her and Shiva promised that her son would live again. The mighty Destroyer hunted the world for a head and came across a mother elephant crying for her dead baby. They consoled the mother and fixed the head of the baby elephant in place of Ganesha’s head. Lord Shiva also declared that from this day, the boy would be called as “Ganesha” (Gana-Isha=lord of the Ganas). In this way, Lord Ganesha came to be depicted as the elephant-headed God.
Approximately two to three months prior to Ganesh Chaturthi, skilled artisans begin to fashion clay models of Lord Ganesha in various different poses. They are hand made and colorfully and ornately decorated… They vary in size from as small as 3/4 of an inch to over 70 feet tall.
The statues are usually commissioned by people within a community who have collected money to fund this celebration, the Ganesha statues are then installed in specially built houses called mandapas (pandals) erected just for this purpose. The pandals are colorfully decorated with various items such as flowers, lights, garlands and in some cases may have a theme which reflects a religious or current event.
Once the statue is safely installed in its temporary house a priest will call upon Ganesha to come down and use the statue as a house for his energy, he does this through the chanting of several mantras… This is a ritual known as Pranapratishhtha. This is followed by a ritual of paying tribute during which Coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva (trefoil) blades of grass and red flowers are offered… this ritual offering is called Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute). The statue is then anointed with red unguent, typically made of kumkum and sandalwood paste and several hymns are chanted as this happens.
Ganesha is worshipped for ten (10) days then on the eleventh (11th) day the statue is carried through the streets accompanied by singing, dancing, beating of drums and much fanfare and then it is immersed in a body of water such as a lake, river or sea… this is a ritual goodbye to send Ganesha safely on his journey to his home in the snow capped mountains of Kailash. As he leaves he takes along with him all the sorrows and misfortunes of his worshippers.
Many sweets are popular during the festival and vary depending on the region one is from.
Public celebrations of the festival are hugely popular, with local communities vying with each other to put up the biggest statue and the best pandal. The festival is also the time for cultural activities like singing and theater performances, orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, charity for the poor, etc.
Today, the Ganesh Festival is popular not only for its festivities but it has become a very critical and important economic activity for Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. Many artists, industries, and businesses survive on this mega-event. The Ganesh Festival also provides a stage for budding artists to present their art to the public. In Maharashtra, not only Hindus but many other religions also participate in the celebration like Muslims, Jains, Christian and others.
This is the festival that managed to re-establish the unity amongst the Indians during the Era of British rule.
I plan to take a tour of some Pandals next week Wednesday, I hope to also get photos of an actual immersion and I will post those photos in a separate blog post when I am done. ‘
I will also do some follow up posts to share some of the legends surrounding Ganesh and to examine the effect of the festival on local communities.
I would like to wish all my Hindu friends a joyous Ganesh Chaturthi and I look forward to seeing the celebrations over the next ten days.