What is Ganesh Chaturthi?
Ganesh Chaturthi is a grand Indian festival generally celebrated at end of August or first week of September. If you are in India during this time do not miss the spectacular procession that happens at end of the festival. Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival celebrating the birth of Hindu God Ganesha (the elephant-headed God) and celebrated throughout India with great pomp and reverence. Every festival in India has an interesting story associated with it so is the Ganesh festival.
The Legend – Why is Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrated?
Lord Ganesha or Ganpati is the son of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva. The popular folklore is that Goddess Parvati created Ganesha and asked him to guard the door while she had her bath. When Lord Shiva returned Ganesha stopped him too and they both got into a fight. Lord Shiva in rage severed Ganesha’s head. Knowing of this Parvati was appalled and asked to bring Ganesh back to life. Shiva asked his followers to bring a head facing north and all that the followers could manage to get was the head of an elephant. Lord Shiva fixed it to Ganesha’s body bringing him back to life and blessed him to be worshipped as God of new beginnings for Hindus.
Ganesh Chaturthi was celebrated within families till 1893 when Lokmanya Tilak a social reformer and independence activist encouraged people to celebrate Ganesh festival on a large scale as a public event. Celebrating the festival in public helped bring people together irrespective of caste and kindled the patriotism amongst the people of the country.
The Ganesh Festival
During the festival, several large colorful marquees are set up throughout the city in which colossal idol of Ganesha is housed along with one small idol which is worshipped. The larger statue is usually part of the marquee theme. People also place a Ganesh idol at home and worship it. The number of days these statues are worshipped varies which are always odd days. Majority keep for 5 or 11 days. On 5th or 11th day, these statues are taken out for immersion in nearby ponds or lakes.
The Ganesh Statues
The preparations start months before the festival. The skilled artisans make statues of Ganesh in large number and aesthetically adorn it. The statues are usually made of clay or POP and are then painted in vibrant colors. The models of Ganesha are created in various colors and sizes as per the order. Most of the marquees are theme based and hence the Ganesha they order portray a pose from a mythological story or the theme of the marquees. Due to the environmental hazards caused by the idols made of POP (Plaster of Paris) more people are now going for buying eco-friendly clay idols which are painted with organic colors.
The colorful statues of Ganesha are kept on display in various shops a month before the festival where people choose from the options, pay and book the Ganesh statues. The statues which will be kept for worship are taken home only on the day of the festival.
Ganesh at Home
The house is elaborately decorated with colorful lights and decorative papers. A variety of sweets and meals are prepared. Priests are invited to do puja, chant Ganesh mantras and perform rituals, firecrackers are burst and devotional songs are sung. After the puja family get together and devour on delicious festive food and desserts.
Ganesh at Marquees
A day or two before the festival huge statues of Ganesha are transported on trucks and large vehicles to their respective marquees. The smaller statue for worship will be brought only on the day of the festival. Visiting the marquees to see the splendid decorations and the theme of the marquees during the festival is a fun activity for kids and family. Some of the marquees are very popular and are being celebrated for close to 100 years. Lalbaugcha Raja (83 years) and Mumbaicha Raja (89 years) in Lalbaug, Mumbai, Keshavji Naik Chawl (123 years) and Chinchpoklicha Chintamani (97 years) are amongst the most popular ones where one can always find long queues for visit.
During the festival days, several cultural programs like dance, music, drama, and competitions are organized wherein the people of the locality take part.
During the festival period, the markets are overflowing with bright and gorgeous flowers and garlands, decoration items which are a beautiful sight to behold. Do plan a stroll around the market if you have time.
Ganesh Visarjan or Ganpati Visarjan (Ganesh Idol Immersion)
Ganesh Visarjan is the procession of immersion of Lord Ganesh. The procession starts by early evening. The worshipped idols at home are taken to nearest lakes or makeshift ponds for immersion. Below picture is from one of the villages near Mumbai where all the houses in the village keep Ganesh idol and take them for immersion together.
The statues of Ganesh from marquees are loaded on trucks along with the smaller statue and head towards the nearest lake or Pond amidst great splendor accompanied by drumbeats, music, firecrackers, and dance which is a sight to behold. In Mumbai, Chowpatty is the place where one can witness a spectacular show. A huge number of idols are taken to the Chowpatty beach to immerse in the sea. Idols are loaded on makeshift floating logs and boats are taken deeper into the sea for immersion.
These pictures are from Mumbai city in the Maharashtra state of India. Maharashtra state celebrates Ganesh festival on a large scale. But one can witness similar grandeur in most of the prominent states of India like Goa, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh.
The marquees set up across the city in numerous localities and are open to the public but some very popular ones may have long queues for hours so plan accordingly.
The cultural programs are also usually held in each of the localities where the marquees are installed which are open to public too.
Do not miss the procession on the 5th and 11th day, the one on the 11th day is huge. The best place to witness the immersion of Idols and the procession in Mumbai is the Chowpatty beach.
Have you visited India during the festival? How has been your experience? Do share with us in comments.
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