By: Anupama Rao
One of India’s most famous festivals is Ganesh Chaturthi. Today, we will learn more about the birthday of the beloved Hindu God, Lord Ganesha by going through some basic information.
What and When is Ganesh Chaturthi?
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the fourth day of the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada (pronounced: Bhaadrapada) which is usually around August and September. This year, the holiday falls on August 22. Usually, Hindus bring home an idol of Lord Ganesha/Ganapati, the God of New Beginning and Remover of Obstacles. Spanning over eleven days, the Vinayaka Chaturthi is celebrated with much pomp and joy, especially in the western state of Maharashtra where it is the biggest festival every year. It is also celebrated in the Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, West Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha.
At the end of the 11 days, the idol of Lord Ganesha is immersed into a body of water — lakes or ponds for huge idols that are displayed at various Pandals or stalls, or a tub of water for small or metal idols. This is called Visarjan, meaning “letting go.” Until 2020, Ganesh Utsav and Visarjan in Mumbai were celebrated as grandly as New Years in Time Square, but the COVID-19 situation has made it more difficult for residents to go “Pandal hopping,” visiting as many idols in the city of Mumbai as possible.
Though the Ganesha idol is commonly kept at one’s house for 11 days, some may choose to “let go” of the Lord after 1.5, 3, 5, or 7 days. Visarjan is a more somber stage as each day that Bappa was at their home, there would be instead a more joyous atmosphere. Though letting go is hard, Lord Ganesha is sent away to his house in Mount Kailash only after a deal is made of coming back next year.
Why is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated and its Significance?
The story behind Ganesh Chaturthi is that the Elephant God was on his way back home in Mount Kailash after his big birthday feast when the Moon God, Chandra, laughed at him when his “stomach broke” and he tied a snake around it like a belt. This incident infuriated Lord Ganesha and he cursed Chandra. As a result, he loses his beauty for half the lunar month (the phases of the moon).
It is also considered inauspicious to see the moon on the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, i.e., Bhadrapada Shukla Chauti or the fourth day of the waning phase of the lunar month. The repercussions of viewing the moon on this day can be wrongful allegations/accusations. However, there is a way to get rid of this curse if you accidentally happen to see the moon on that day. The story of the Shyamantaka Jewel is the cure and also explains how seeing the moon on the specific day affected Lord Krishna.
How is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?
The day before Ganesh Chaturthi, his mother, Goddess Parvati is invited to Earth from her heavenly abode on Mount Kailash. Women (except widows) install an idol of Gauri, either a statue and/or a small figure made out of turmeric and milk, and worship it. Those doing this pooja/vrata also tie a thread soaked in turmeric around their right hand, symbolizing that she is a Sumangali (lit. fortunate woman) or an unmarried or married woman.
In Karnataka, we also have a tradition of exchanging baagina, a pair of bamboo winnowing fans that contain grains, fruits, dry fruits, ornaments such as bangles, mirrors, and combs. It also has fruits, kumkum or vermillion, betel leaf and nut, coconut, and money. For unmarried women or kumaris, the grains are omitted.
On Ganesh Chaturthi, Modaks (sweet dumplings) and Chickpeas are made as offering to Lord Ganesha as they are his favorite food. Usually, the men of the house bring in the idol of Lord Ganesha since the women have already installed his mother, Gauri/Parvati, in the house already. Once installed, the idol should not be moved until the Visarjan. This is because the ritual of installation includes Prana Pratishtapana which is like giving a soul to the empty idol. If moved before the time of immersion, the soul leaves the idol and it does not have any meaning left to be worshipped.
Although COVID-19 has restricted the display of humongous statues of Lord Ganesha in Mumbai, the belief of people has remained resilient in Ganesha. Despite the restrictions, it has not stopped them from celebrating the occasion to the fullest in the safety of their homes. I wish all the readers a happy and prosperous Ganesh Chaturthi (even if you don’t celebrate it or believe in him), and may Lord Ganesha’s blessings always be with humankind!
Anupama Rao (she/her) is a high school senior from Bengaluru, India. She loves reading, writing, listening to music, and cooking. She has had the opportunity to live in three different countries, and she loves traveling and learning languages through culture.
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