Ganesh Chaturthi is the day when Lord Ganesha was born. Lord Ganesha is son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. It is believed that on this auspicious day Lord Ganesha bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees. The day falls on the fourth day of moons bright fortnight i.e. period from new moon in the month of Bhadrapada of Hindu calendar. The festival is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chavithi in Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu and Chavath in Konkani. The celebrations are grand and may last for five, seven or ten days. At some places the first day i.e. Ganesh Chaturthi is the most important day and on the other the last day known as Visarjan is more important.
‘Ga’ symbolizes Buddhi (intellect), ‘Na’ stands for Vijnana (wisdom). So, Ganapati is the master of Buddhi and Vijnana. The universe is sustained by Ganas (gods) and Ganapati is their master. Lord Ganesha is considered the God of wisdom and prosperity. He is ahead of all Gods and is the first one to be invoked before the beginning of any auspicious work by the Hindus i.e. he is “Prathan Pujya”. His favorite sweet is Modak which is a droplet shaped Indian sweet and his vehicle is a rat.
According to Hindu mythology Parvati created Lord Ganesha out of the sandalwood dough that she used for her bath. It is said that while taking bath she used the dough applied on her body she created a small figurine of a baby and then she breathed life into him. Ganesha was the most obedient son. There are many stories associated with the implantation of the elephant head on Lord Ganesha’s body. The most famous of all is, once Parvati asked Lord Ganesha to stand guard at the door and don’t let anyone to enter as she was going to take bath. When her husband Shiva came, Ganesha didn’t allow him to enter as it was a direction given by his mother. Lord Shiva got angry and immediately cut off the child’s head and entered. When Parvati heard about her son’s death she was distraught and asked Shiva to revive him. He then asked his people to get a child’s head whose mother is sleeping in the opposite faced position. They searched a lot and didn’t find a single child sleeping like that, while they were returning, they saw a female elephant sleeping in the opposite direction as that of her child. They immediately cut off baby elephants head and brought it to Lord Shiva. He then fixed the elephant head on Ganesha’s body.
The Ganesh Utsav is celebrated in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and many other parts of India. But the grand celebrations are seen in Maharashtra. The tradition of celebrating Ganesh Utsav was started by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaja, the great Maratha ruler in order to promote culture and nationalism. It was later revived and was made popular by Lokmanya Tilak (freedom fighter). He revived the celebrations in order to spread the message of freedom struggle and to defy the British who had banned public assemblies. The festival gave a feeling of unity in diversity and revived patriotic spirit and faith to all the Indians of that time.
The celebrations are so grand that the preparations start from months ago. The Celebrations start by installing Ganesh Statues in homes and at the corners of almost all the streets. The installation process starts when all the family members walk barefoot to a vendor to buy a Ganesh statue (sometimes they pre book the statues) and put the statue in the lap and chant “Ganpati Bappa Morya” and “Ek Do Teen Char, Ganpati cha Jai Jai Kaar”. It is believed that the person who carries the idol is not allowed to look back till he reaches home and installs the idol. Same is the case during immersion. The streets are decorated with elaborated arrangements of lighting, mirrors, flowers, and at some places you’ll also find fountain arrangements which are very common now days. Pujas are performed on daily basis twice a day i.e. morning and evening. There is a sort of competition between the artists, who make these Ganesh idols, to make the biggest and more magnificent and elegant idols. The sizes of statue may range somewhere between 10 meters and 30 meters. The occasion also sees various cultural events being held every where, in which people participate with interest.
The whole family performs Aartis everyday and throw kumkum over the seated Lord Ganesh idol when it is kept at home. The family members sing Lord Ganesha’s bhajans (devotional songs) and aartis. It is a tradition to make ‘Naivedya’ or offerings of twenty one blades of grass Kewra (pandanus buds) a lotus flower, fruits and sweets, specially twenty one pieces of ‘modaks’ (Indian Sweet) made of rice flour and filled with jaggery. After the ritual worship it is distributed as ‘Prasad’ (sacred food) to everyone present.
In Mumbai the idols are generally vertically very huge and the emphasis is on the size whereas in Pune the emphasis is on the decoration. For all these 10 days the streets are full of people as they walk and look around all the Ganpatis in their area. On the final day these statues are then carried on decorated floats to be immersed in the water after one, three, five, seven and ten days. Thousands of processions converge on the beaches and riverside to immerse the holy idols in the sea. This procession and immersion is accompanied by drum- beats, devotional songs, dancing and people chanting on top of their voice “Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudhchya Varshi Lavkar Ya”.