Elephant head. Rotund belly. A lotus seat. Gentle, smiling eyes and the humble mouse as vehicle. Put the five things together and you get the image of India’s most beloved deity Sri Ganesha. The Ganesh Chaturthi Festival (also known as Ganesh Utsav) is a lively festival that celebrates his birthday.
When Ganesh Chaturthi Festival takes place
Ganesha is widely worshipped as the god of wisdom and prosperity and the Hindu festival normally takes place between 19 August and 15 September.
The celebrations last for 11 days culmulating with the biggest spectacle on the final day, Ananta Chaturdasi. This year, 2012, Ganesh Chaturthi is on September 19 with Ananta Chaturdasi falling on September 29. Next year, 2013, Ganesh Chaturthi is on September 9 with Ananta Chaturdasi falling on September 19.
Also known as Siddhivinayak and Ganpati, he is one Hindu god that has followers across religions. Simply because he is considered the giver of success, no venture, whether in business, education or arts, commences without the worship of Ganesha.
Hindu mythology says the Elephant God is the son of Shiva and Parvati, and the story behind how he got the head of the giant beast is quite interesting. It is said that Shiva had severed the head of his son in a fit of rage, following which a grief-stricken Parvati pleaded with her husband to bring Ganesha back to life. Shiva’s troops went out in search of a ‘head’, as per instructions, and came back with that of an elephant. Thus the head of the elephant was fused with the body of a human, leading to the rebirth of Ganesha.
Ganesh Chaturthi Festival
It is the birth anniversary of Ganesha that leads to one of the most colourful celebrations in India.
Ganesh Chaturthi is perhaps the one festival that breaks down all social barriers. From popular Bollywood stars to the humble street food vendor, everyone comes out to join the celebrations. Every posh bungalow, every street corner, every park, every housing society has its own Ganesha idol, with a procession of worshippers singing paeans to the deity.
The Ganesha idol, from as little at 2 inches to a gigantic 25 feet in height, is made of clay and touched up in bright colours. The artisans work day and night for months on end, to ensure that every home gets its own idol for the festival. During the festival, the idol is either placed on raised platforms at home or put up in elaborate tents or pandals for the public to see.
Cries of ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’ rent the air as thousands join colourful processions on the day of the immersion. The idols are paraded through crowded streets before being immersed in a river or sea, symbolising the return of the deity to his abode in Kailasha. The singing and the dancing on the streets continue into the early hours of the morning as worshippers enjoy the last day of the festival to the fullest.
Where to see the biggest celebrations
The grandest and the most elaborate celebrations can be seen in the state of Maharashtra.
Mumbai and Pune, both in Maharashtra, have the biggest Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. The neighbouring state of Goa, too, is also much known for its Ganpati fervour. The opulent Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai’s Prabhadevi area sees a steady flow of devotees through the year. Therefore, no prizes for guessing that the temple is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the festival. Lalbaug, in central Mumbai, is the other must-visit place for this festival.
Whether you step out or not to join the crowds, you can still get a taste of Ganesh Chaturthi. All you need to do is to request a plate of modaks, the typical Ganesh Chaturthi snack. A flour dumpling stuffed with coconut, jaggery and dry fruits, no Ganesh Chaturthi celebration is complete without the modak.
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