Ganesha Chaturthi, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi is the Hindu festival of Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati, who is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees in the duration of this festival. It is the birthday of Ganesha who is widely worshipped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapad, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between 20 August and 15 September. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the waxing moon period).
While celebrated all over India, it is most elaborate in western and southern India. Outside India, it is celebrated widely in Nepal and by Hindus all over the world.
It is not known when and how Ganesh Chaturthi was first celebrated. But according to the historian Shri Rajwade, the earliest Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations can be traced back to the times of the reigns of dynasties as Satavahana, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya. Historical records reveal that Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations were initiated in Maharashtra by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaja, the great Maratha ruler, to promote culture and nationalism. And it had continued ever since. There are also references in history to similar celebrations during Peshwa times. It is believed that Lord Ganapati was the family deity of the Peshwas. After the end of Peshwa rule, Ganesh Chaturthi remained a family affair in Maharashtra from the period of 1818 to 1892.
In 1893, Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual domestic festival into a large, well-organized public event. Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesh as "the god for everybody", and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order "to bridge the gap between Brahmins and 'non-Brahmins' and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them", and generate nationalistic fervor among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule.
Tilak encouraged installation of large public images of Ganesh in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in rivers, sea, or other pools of water all public images of the deity on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi.
Under Tilak's encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performances of plays, musical concerts, and folk dances. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in times when, in order to exercise control over the population, the British discouraged social and political gatherings.
The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between 20 August and 15 September. The festival lasts for 10 or 12 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi. This festival is observed in the lunar month of bhadrapada shukla paksha chathurthi madhyahana vyapini purvaviddha. If Chaturthi prevails on both days, the first day should be observed. Even if chaturthi prevails for the complete duration of madhyahana on the second day, if it prevails on the previous day's madhyahana period even for one ghatika (24 minutes), the previous day should be observed.
Celebration, rituals and tradition
Large idols such as this are seen all over Mumbai during the festival
Two to three months prior to Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by especially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated & depict Lord Ganesh in various poses. The size of these statues may vary from 3/4 of an inch to over 25 feet.
Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colorfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures mandapas (pandals) in every locality. The pandals are erected by the people or a specific society or locality or group by collecting monetary contributions. The mandapas are decorated specially for the festival, either by using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc. or are theme based decorations, which depict religious themes or current events.
The priest, usually clad in red silk dhoti and shawl, then symbolically invokes life into the statue by chanting mantras. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the ritual called as 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 & 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.
For 10 days, from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, Ganesha is worshipped. 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 symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash while taking away with him the misfortunes of his devotees, this is the ritual known as Ganesh Visarjan. At individual homes the Visarjan is also done on 3rd, 5th or 7th day 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). After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor is made, people carry the idols to the river to immerse it.
The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak (modagam or modakam in South India). A modak is a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments. It is either steam-cooked or fried. Another popular sweet dish is the karanji (karjikaiin Kannada) which is similar to the modak in composition and taste but has a semicircular shape.
Public celebrations of the festival are hugely popular, with local communities (mandalas) vying with each other to put up the biggest statue & the best pandal. The festival is also the time for cultural activities like singing and theater performances, orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, charity for the poor, etc.
Today, the Ganesh Festival is not only a popular festival, it has become a very critical and important economic activity for Maharashtra. Many artists, industries, and businesses survive on this mega-event. Ganesh Festival also provides a stage for budding artists to present their art to the public. The same holds true for Hydrabad and Chennai too. In Maharashtra, not only Hindus but many other religions also participate in the celebration of Ganesha festival like Muslims, Jains, Christian and others. This festival has managed to re-establish the unity among the Indians during British Era.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in the UK by the migrant Hindu population as well as the large number of Indians residing there. The Hindu culture and Heritage Society, UK - a Southall based organization celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi for the first time in London in 2005 at The Vishwa Hindu Temple. The Idol was immersed in the river Thames at Putney Pier. Another celebration organised by an Gujarati group has been celebrated in the Southend on Sea which attracts over 18000 devotees. Annual celebrations also take place on the River Mersey at Liverpool.
The festival is similarly celebrated in many locations across the world. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA, an organization of Hindus based in the US organizes many such events to mark the various Hindu festivals.
In Canada, Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated by various associations of Marathi speaking people. (MBM in Toronto, MSBC in Vancouver etc.) In Windsor, Ontario it has been started celebrating on a grander scale since last two years. The idol of Lord Ganesha is installed at the Hindu Mandir on Cabana Road for ten days. On the eleventh day it is immersed in the Detroit River to the chanting of mantras and slokas. It is a well attended event by the small Hindu community.
Celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in Mauritius dates back to 1896. The first Ganesh Chaturthi Puja was held in the 7 Cascades Valley next to Henrietta village by the Bhiwajee family who is still celebrating this pious festival for more than a century.
Over the years the festival gained such popularity on the island that Mauritian government has attributed a public holiday for that day.
The most serious impact of the Ganesh festival on the natural environment is due to the immersion of icons made of Plaster of Paris into lakes, rivers and the sea. Traditionally, the Ganesh icon was sculpted out of earth taken from nearby one’s home. After worshipping the divinity in this earth icon, it was returned back to the Earth by immersing it in a nearby water body. This cycle represented the cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature.
However, as the production of Ganesh icons on a commercial basis grew, the earthen or natural clay (shaadu maati in Marathi) was replaced by Plaster of Paris. Plaster is a man made material, easier to mould, lighter and less expensive than clay. However, plaster takes much longer to dissolve and in the process of dissolution releases toxic elements into the water body. The chemical paints used to adorn these plaster icons themselves contain heavy metals like mercury and cadmium.
On the final day of the Ganesh festival thousands of plaster icons are immersed into water bodies by devotees. These increase the level of acidity in the water and the content of heavy metals. The day after the immersion, shoals of dead fish can be seen floating on the surface of the water body as a result of this sudden increase.
Several nongovernmental and governmental bodies have been addressing this issue. Amongst the solutions proposed by various groups some are as follows:
·Return to the traditional use of natural clay icons and immerse the icon in a bucket of water at home.
·Use of natural colors and dyes instead of oil based paints.
·Use of a permanent icon made of stone and brass, used every year and a symbolic immersion only.
·Recycling of plaster icons to repaint them and use them again the following year.
·Ban on the immersion of plaster icons into lakes, rivers and the sea.
·Creative use of other biodegradable materials such as paper mache to create Ganesh icons.
·Encouraging people to immerse the icons in tanks of water rather than in natural water bodies.
To handle religious sentiments sensitively, some temples and spiritual groups have also taken up the cause of environmental friendliness.