Ganesh Chaturthi - what is it about this festival that has caught the fancy of the young and old alike? What is it that brings out the child in each one of us? Read on to find out more about one of India’s most popular icons and revered gods – Ganesh and to learn how Indians the world over celebrate the festival.
Every year, between August and September, Indians around the world celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi with much pomp and splendor. The buzz and the hype surrounding the festival are hard to miss – even if you’re far away in New Jersey or Sydney.
But how much do we all know about why we celebrate the festival? Does gen-next care about this festival as much as their parents did? Young Rahul, the son of San Francisco based NRI couple Sanjeev and Ritika had this to say, “I think Ganesh Chaturthi is like Indian Christmas. We get new clothes; mummy makes my favorite modaks and tells us stories about how Shiva gave his son Ganesh an elephant head. My cousins come home to visit and we all pray together.” Most of us have been enthralled with tales of how Lord Ganesh was created by Goddess Parvati from a dish of cream and how Shiva attached the head of an elephant on the boy’s body to revive him after he killed him in fit of rage.
Do you know that this festival is intricately connected to India’s freedom struggle? Surprised, aren’t you? Who would have linked a religious festival with political upheaval? But it is true. While Ganesh Chaturthi has been celebrated in Indian homes from time immemorial, it was Lokmanya Tilak who made this festival a public celebration. In 1893 he organized the first public Ganesh Chaturthi in order to create unity and awareness about the freedom struggle among the masses. Since then, it has become a hugely popular public festival while continuing to be a private family occasion as well.
Though this festival is observed all over India, it is celebrated with the most gusto in Maharashtra. Rajasthan, Goa and Tamil Nadu are other states in which elaborate celebrations take place.
As with anything important in our homes, plans for the festival begin well in advance. Families begin booking their idols about a month or so before the festival begins, while for some this begins as much as a year in advance. New York based lawyer Anita says, “I pick up my Ganpati idol on my annual trip to Mumbai and keep it carefully for the festival. Somehow the emotion attached to an idol created by the idol makers my parents and grandparents went to is something else.”
If you’re in India during the festival, be sure to visit Maharashtra for the big event. The two must-see Ganpatis are the Lalbaugcha Raja (King of Lalbaug) in Mumbai and Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati in Pune.
A week before the actual festival starts, many mandals (neighborhood clubs) start erecting marquees or mandaps at every nook and corner for installing the idols. These mandaps showcase various themes ranging from mythological subjects to current issues facing the country, and are awarded prizes for the best depictions and decorations.
But how do actually you go about celebrating the festival if you are abroad? On the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, people decorate their homes with torans (garlands made of marigold flowers and mango leaves) and bring the idol home to the accompaniment of loud music. If you’re abroad organize some bhajans or play some devotional music at home and pray to your idol. Why not take a cue from the celebration at the Kasbekar home where Aarti (prayer) is performed twice a day? Laxmi says, “We offer the idol hibiscus flowers, durvas (grass with three blades) and of course, modaks (coconut-jaggery sweets) as prasad. Celebrations are usually at my grandmother’s home where the family gathers together to celebrate.”
The festival lasts 10 days. On the last day which is Anant Chaturdashi day, people immerse the idols in a water body, chanting “Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudchya Varshi Laukar Ya.” However not all people keep the idol for ten days. Some immerse it the day after Ganesh Chaturthi, while others do so on the fifth or seventh day.
In Rajasthan people keep a garlanded idol of Lord Ganesh outside their homes with a plate containing turmeric and vermilion in front of it, to enable passersby to put these powders on the idol and seek blessings. Tamil Nadu celebrates in the same way as Maharashtra, though on a smaller scale.
Have you seen any Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations? Do you think this festival is still relevant to modern times? How do you celebrate it abroad? Are the noise and the pollution caused during this festival causing more harm than good? What steps can be taken to make it more eco-friendly?