Lord Ganesha, also known as the god of prosperity, is the only god who is worshipped at the onset of any ritual across the country. The beginning of Ganesha Utsav is known as Ganesha Chaturthi or Vinayak Chaturthi, which is celebrated by Hindus around the world as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. The festival is observed during the month of Bhadra (mid- August to mid-September). Apart from the elderly and the young, Lord Ganesha has emerged as a favourite god for children after some animation movies and cartoon films were made on the the god.
Tiny-tots love to don the attires of their friend Ganesha and hum the rhymes based on Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati. The festival is celebrated on a large scale in Maharashtra with festivities continuing for 10 days, ending on the day of Ananta Chaturthi. Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated as the occasion of rebirth of Lord Ganesha. It is believed that Lord Ganesha 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 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 the onset of a journey. Apart from rest of the country, the festival is celebrated on a large scale in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Ganesha Utsav is also celebrated widely in Nepal and by Hindus in the United States, Canada, Mauritius, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana.
Legend of the head
Tales about Lord Ganesha claims that he 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 was very powerful, being born of Parvati, the embodiment of shakti (or power). He defeated the ghost-followers. Seeing them defeated, Shiva severed the head of the child.
Seeing her son dead, Parvati revealed her true self, as 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.
Ganesha Chaturthi starts with the installation of Ganesha idols in colourfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures, mandapas or pandals in every locality.
Then the priest, with the chanting of mantras, invokes the presence of Ganesha using the statue as a channel, or body for his energy to flow in. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the ritual called 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 symbolising a ritual see-off for the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash. It is believed he takes away the misfortunes of his devotees with him. This is the ritual known as Vinayaga Chathurthi in Tamil, Ganesh Visarjan in Marathi, Ganesha Visarjane in Kannada and Vinayaka Nimarjana or Vinayaka Nimajjanam in Telugu. At private homes, the Visarjan/Nimajjanam is also done on the third, fifth or seventh day of celebration, 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 ‘Ganesh maharaj ki, Ja’ (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.
The Ganesh festival is not only a popular festival, but has assumed economic importance in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. Many artists, industries, and businesses survive on this mega-event. Ganesh festival also provides a platform for budding artists. In Maharashtra, not only Hindus but people from many other religions also participate in the celebrations. In Mangalore, there is a belief that the eldest son of the home should be present during the puja.