Ganesh Chaturthi, also known as Vinayak Chaturthi, is a Hindu festival, celebrated in honor of Lord Ganesha across India, especially in the state of Maharashtra and Goa. Starting on the fourth day of the 'Shukla Paksha' waxing moon) in the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (August-September), it continues for ten days with much pomp and grandeur. Although many people worship the Lord privately at home, community pujas are the hall mark of this festival. These pujas, organized on community subscriptions, are performed in temporary podiums called pandals, erected for such purpose. The images are generally very large and decorated lavishly. Apart from offering puja, they often feature community feasts, cultural activities such as singing and dancing, orchestral performances as well as theatres. Therefore, the festival also offers great scope for entertainment in otherwise humdrum life. Some community puja organizers also offer donations to the poor and hold free medical checkups and blood-donation camps as part of the celebration.
Why Is Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrated?
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated to mark the birth of Lord Ganesha, which falls on the fourth day (Chaturthi) of the 'Shukla Paksha' (waxing moon) in the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (August-September). In most part of India, it is a ten-day festival and during this period, devotees worship the Lord seeking success (Siddhi), prosperity (Riddhi) and wisdom (Buddhi). Apart from that, like all other Hindu festivals, it also has a secular side and provides an occasion for social interaction, fun and laughter.
While worship of Ganesh is an age old practice, we do not really know when people first started celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. According some historians, the festival started in Goa sometime before 10th Century AD. The practice was banned once the Portuguese occupied the state and Jesuit priests became all powerful. However, the Hindus continued to worship their beloved deity in private.
Some others are of the opinion that Chhatrapati Shivaji (1630-1680) started this festival in order to unite the Hindus in his fight against the Mughals. After his death, the tradition continued under the patronage of the Peshwas, who not only worshipped Ganapati in their homes, but also encouraged public celebration of the event. Later with the fall of Peshwas in 1818, the festival lost state patronage in Pune, but continued to be celebrated with much fanfare in Gwalior.
Much later in 1892, the public celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in Gwalior inspired leaders like Bhausaheb Laxman Javale to reintroduce the event in Pune. The following year, it came to the notice of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a respected social reformer and freedom fighter from Maharashtra. He not only took keen interest in it, but from 1894 onwards, he began celebrating it in different parts of the state at a much larger scale.
The 'Sarvajanik Ganeshutsav', celebrated under the aegis of Lokmanya Tilak, was a grand public affair, funded by public collection. The festival, spread over a period of ten days, was intended to bridge the gap between brahmins and non-brahmins and spread the spirit of nationalism beyond the educated circle
Very soon, the celebration took up a larger dimension. Large idols began to be installed in different public pavilions or mandaps. Tilak also started the practice of submerging the idol in large water bodies at the end of the festival. Processions, music and food were part of the celebration and through it Tilak wanted to invoke celebration of national glory and patronage of Swadeshi goods by the common people.
Now Ganesh Chaturthi has become almost a pan-India festival. Today, it is celebrated in different states of the country, such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and especially in Maharashtra and Telengana.
Customs & Rituals
While Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with much pomp and grandeur, it also involves a lot of customs and rituals. Sometime it happens that the chaturthi thiti begins on the previous night and is over by the next morning. In such a case, the next day is observed as Ganesh Chaturthi.
In general, the deity is brought home the previous day. At that time, the face of the diety is covered with a piece of cloth. On the day of worship, devotees wake up early and after having their bath they generally wear new clothes and start preparing for the day's puja.
First, a pitcher (kalash) containing holy water or rice is placed before the idol. This is known as the 'Purna Kumbha ceremony. The actual worship begins with the consecration ceremony, in which a priest performs the 'Prana Pratishtha' and invites the Lord to reside in the idol for the duration of the festival.
This is followed by the Shodashopachara rituals; in which sixteen distinct steps are followed. Sixteen 'upacharas' like red hibiscus flower, marigold, durva grass, tulsi leaves, pomegranate leaves, coconut, jiggery and modak are also offered to the Lord.
All along, devotees chant hymns from the Rigveda, the Ganapati Atharvashirsa and the Upanishads. They also chant the Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana. The aarti is generally performed in the morning and evening. At the end of the festival, the idol is taken in procession and immersed in a large water body like the sea, lake or river.
Although the menu varies from state to state it is customary to offer seasonal fruits, different kinds of sweets as well as cooked food to the Lord. Coconut and banana are considered to be Ganesha's favorite fruits and among the sweets, modak, laddu and payasam are considered to be his favorite food.
Modak is a kind of dumpling, made from rice or wheat flour and stuffed with grated coconut, jiggery abd dry fruits. It can be both steamed and fried. However, the sweet is known as modak only in Marashtra and Goa. In Telengana, the same sweet is called modakam or kudumu; in Karnataka, modaka or kadubu; in Kerala, kozhakatta or modakkam and in Tamilnadu kozhukattai or modagam.
Many people also offer karanji (karjikai in Kannada and Nevri in Goa) to the Lord. It is more or less similar to modak in taste; but differs in shape. In fact, in Goa, this sweetmeat is a must for Ganesh puja.
Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrations
Today, Ganesh Chaturthi is marked all over the world both as private and community celebration. However, in all cases, the preparation starts long before the actual tithi.
In India, the craftsmen begin sculpting the clay models of the Lord two or three months prior to the event. Some of these idols can be as big as 20 meter tall while some others can be as small as a few inches in length. Generally larger idols are made on order for the community pujas while the smaller ones are bought by the devotees for private celebrations.
A few days before the puja, the public organizers start building the pandals while at home, one begins cleaning the house. The place of worship or the podium is decorated with flowers, coconut and banana leaves. The idol, with its face covered with a saffron cloth, is generally brought a day before the chaturthi and placed on the podium.
On chaturthi, the worship starts with 'prana pratishtha', which is followed by different rituals. Bhajans (devotional songs) are generally sung in unison. Although the public celebrations stretch over a period of ten days, at home, they are guided by family tradition and can extend up to 1, 3, 5, 7 or 11 days. At the end of this period, the idol is taken in a procession and submerged in a large water body.
The public celebration in India is generally funded by subscription collected from the general public. It often features cultural activities such as singing and dancing, orchestral performances as well as theatres. Social activities such as free medical checkups and blood-donation camps are also arranged by the organizers. Giving alms to the poor is also a part of such celebrations.
Ganesh Chaturthi is also celebrated outside in India, especially in places where a large number of Hindus live. Nearer home, it is observed in the Terai region of Nepal and also in Sri Lanka.
In UK, the public celebration of the event started in 2005 in London. Now it has spread to some other cities like Liverool and Southend-on-Sea. Hindus in the United States Canada, Singapore, Malaysia and Mauritius also celebrate the event with much fanfare.