Ganesha Chaturthi also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, is the Hindu festival celebrated on the birthday (re-birth) of Lord Ganesha the son of Shiva and Parvati.
It is believed that Lord Ganesh bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees during this festival. It is the day Shiva declared his son Ganesha as superior to all the Gods, barring Vishnu, Lakshmi, Shiva and Parvati. Ganesha is widely worshipped as the God of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture or at the start of travel. The festival, also known as Ganeshotsav ("festival of Ganesha") is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between 19 August and 20 September. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the waxing moon period).
While celebrated all over India, it is most elaborate in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh. Outside India, it is celebrated widely in Nepal and by Hindus in the United States, Canada, Mauritius, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma , Fiji and Trinidad & Tobago.
Traditional stories tell that Lord Ganesha was created by goddess Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva. Parvati created Ganesha out of sandalwood paste that she used for her bath and breathed life into the figure. She then set him to stand guard at her door while she bathed. Lord Shiva returned and, as Ganesha didn't know him, he didn't allow him to enter. Lord Shiva became enraged and asked his follower ghosts to teach the child some manners. Ganesha, being born of Parvati, the embodiment of shakti or power was very powerful himself. He defeated the ghost-followers (called as the "gana"s)and declared nobody was allowed to enter while his mother was bathing. Sensing a growing turmoil, the sage of heavens, Narada, along with the Saptarshi (the seven wise rishis) went to appease the boy with no results. Angered, 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 Parvathi and Shiva. After the devas were defeated, the trinity, the controller, preserver and destroyer of the universe launched an attack against Ganesha. Amidst the fight, Shiva severed the head of the child. And brought on Parvathi's rage. Seeing her son dead, Parvathi 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 before her and Shiva promised that her son will live again. The trinity 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.
This festival is observed in the lunar month of bhadrapada shukla paksha chat 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 Chaturdashi . If Chaturthi prevails on both days, the first day should be observed. Even if chaturthi prevails for the complete duration of madhyahana on the second day, if it prevails on the previous day's madhyahana period even for one ghatika (24 minutes), the previous day should be observed.
Two to three months before Ganesha Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated and depict Lord Ganesha in poses. The size of these statues may vary from 3/4 of an inch to over 70 feet.
Ganesha Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesha statues in colorfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures mandapas (pandals) in every locality. The pandals are erected by the people or a specific society or locality or group by collecting monetary contributions. The pandals are decorated specially for the festival, either by using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc. or are theme based decorations, which depict religious themes or current events.
The priest, usually clad in red or white dhoti and uttariyam (Shawl), then with the chanting of mantras invokes the presence of Ganesha using the statue as a channel, or body for his energy. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the ritual called as Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva (trefoil) blades of grass and red flowers are offered. The statue is anointed with red unguent, typically made of kumkum and sandalwood paste. Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and the Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted.
Ganesha is worshipped for 10 days from Bhadrapada Shudha Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, On the 11th day, the statue is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, and fanfare to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash while taking away with him the misfortunes of his devotees. This is the ritual known as Ganesha Visarjan in Marathi, Ganesha Visarjane in Kannada and Vinayaka Nimarjana or Vinayaka Nimajjanam in Telugu. At individual homes the Visarjan/Nimajjanam is also done on 3rd, 5th or 7th day as per the family tradition. All join in this final procession shouting "Ganapati Bappa Morya, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya" (O lord Ganesha, come again early next year) in Maharashtra and "Ganesha Maha Raj ki, Jai" (lord Ganesha, victory is yours) in Andhra Pradesh.
After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor is made, people carry the idols to the river to immerse it.
Some buy their own small clay statue, and after 1,3 or 11 days immerse it in a bucket or tub at home, so as not to pollute public lakes or rivers. After a few days the clay is used in the home garden.
The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak (modak in Marathi, modakam/kudumu in Telugu, modaka in Kannada and modagam in Tamil). A modak is a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments. It is either steam-cooked or fried. Another popular sweet dish is the karanji (karjikai in Kannada) which is similar to the modak in composition and taste but has a semicircular shape
In Andhra, kudumu (rice flour dumplings stuffed with coconut and jaggery mixture), Vundrallu (steamed coarsely grounded rice flour balls), Panakam (jaggery, black pepper and cardamom flavored drink), Vadapappu (soaked and moong lentils), Chalividi (cooked rice flour and jaggery mixture), etc., are offered to Ganesha along with Modakams. These offerings to god are called Naivedyam in Telugu.
In Andhra, Clay Ganesh (Matti Vinayakudu in Telugu) and Turmeric Ganesha (Siddhi Vinayakudu in Telugu) is usually worshipped at homes along with plaster of paris Ganesha.
Public celebrations of the festival are hugely popular, with local communities (mandalas) 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 Ganesha Festival is not only a popular festival, 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. Ganesha 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. In mangalore, there is a belief that the eldest son of the home should be present during pooja.
This festival managed to re-establish the unity among the Indians during British Era.
Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated in the UK by the migrant Hindu population as well as the large number of Indians residing there. The Hindu culture and Heritage Society, UK - a Southall based organisation celebrated Ganesha Chaturthi for the first time in London in 2005 at The Vishwa Hindu Temple. The Idol was immersed in the river Thames at Putney Pier. Another celebration organised by an Gujarati group has been celebrated in the Southend-on-Sea which attracts over 18000 devotees. Annual celebrations also take place on the River Mersey at Liverpool.
The festival is similarly celebrated in many locations across the world. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA, an organisation of Hindus based in the US organises many such events to mark the Hindu festivals.
In USA, Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated by various associations of Telugu speaking people. (Telugu Association of North America, Bay Area Telugu Association and Balaji Temples across USA.)
The Philadelphia Ganesha popularly known as PGF is the largest Sarvajanik (fully contributed by public funds) Hindu festival in North America. Since 2005 the festival is conducted every year in Bharatiya Temple, Chalfont, Pennsylvania. The 10 days are marked by processions, devotional programs, cultural events, India filmi-orchestra and a weekend carnival. While the Marathi community plays a big role in organising the festival, participation from all communities such as Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, North Indian, Bengali etc. is seen as the reason for its success and uniqueness.
In Canada, Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated by associations of Marathi-speaking people. (MBM in Toronto, MSBC in Vancouver, etc.)
Celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in Mauritius dates back to 1896. The first Ganesha Chaturthi Puja was held in the 7 Cascades Valley next to Henrietta village by the Bhiwajee family who is still celebrating this pious festival for more than a century. Over the years the festival gained such popularity on the island that Mauritian government has attributed a public holiday for that day.
It is not known when and how Ganesha Chaturthi was first celebrated. Ganesha Chaturthi was being celebrated as a public event in Pune since the times of Shivaji (1630-1680), the founder of the Maratha Empire. The Peshwas, the de facto hereditary administrators of the Empire from 1749 till its end in 1818, encouraged the celebrations in their administrative seat Pune as Ganesha was their family deity (Kuladevata). With the fall of the Peshwas, Ganesha Chaturthi lost state patronage and became a private family celebration again till its revivial by Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak. In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual domestic festival into a large, well-organized public event.Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesha as "the god for everybody", and popularized Ganesha Chaturthi as a national festival in order "to bridge the gap between Brahmins and 'non-Brahmins' and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them", and generate nationalistic fervour among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule.Tilak was the first to install large public images of Ganesha in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in rivers, sea, or other pools of water all public images of the deity on the tenth day after Ganesha Chaturthi. Under Tilak's encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performances of plays, musical concerts, and folk dances. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in times when, in order to exercise control over the population, the British discouraged social and political gatherings.
The most serious impact of the festival on the environment is due to the immersion of idols made of Plaster of Paris into lakes, rivers and the sea. Traditionally, the idol was sculpted out of mud taken from nearby one’s home. After the festival, it was returned back to the Earth by immersing it in a nearby water body. This cycle was meant to represent the cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature.
However, as the production of Ganesha idols on a commercial basis grew, the earthen or natural clay (shaadu maati in Marathi and banka matti in Telugu) was replaced by Plaster of Paris. Plaster is a man-made material, easier to mould, lighter and less expensive than clay. However, plaster is non-biodegradable, and insoluble in water. Moreover, the chemical paints used to adorn these plaster idols themselves contain heavy metals like mercury and cadmium, causing water pollution. Also, on immersion, non-biodegradable accessories that originally adorned the idol accumulate in the layers of sand on the beach.
Recently there have been new initiatives sponsored by some state governments to produce clay Ganesha idols. On the final day of the Ganesha festival thousands of plaster idols are immersed into water bodies by devotees. These increase the level of acidity in the water and the content of heavy metals. Several non-governmental and governmental bodies have been addressing this issue. Amongst the solutions proposed are as follows:
Return to the traditional use of natural clay idols and immerse the icon in a bucket of water at home.
Use of a permanent icon made of stone and brass, used every year and a symbolic immersion only.
Recycling of plaster idols to repaint them and use them again the following year.
Ban on the immersion of plaster idols into lakes, rivers and the sea. Creative use of other biodegradable materials such as paper-mâché to create Ganesha idols.
Encouraging people to immerse the idols in tanks of water rather than in natural water bodies.
To handle religious sentiments sensitively, some temples and spiritual groups have taken up the cause.
Noise pollution is also an unfortunate outcome of this joyous festival.
Eco friendly Ganesh Idols:-
Ganesha idols are made out of paper mache,instead of POP, it does not create pollution. Very important thing is that these idols are cheaper than other idols. Similarly, these idols dissolve quickly in water and paper mache is not harmful to water hence there is no water pollution, as well as there are no remains of idols left on the seashore.