Ganesh Chaturthi or ‘Vinayak Chaturthi’, is celebrated throughout India, but is the most awaited festival for Maharashtrians. It is a 10 day Hindu festival that is celebrated to worship Lord Ganesha- the elephant-headed younger son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. It celebrates the birth of Lord Ganesha who is believed to be the God of good beginnings, prosperity and obstacle remover in Hindu mythology. Ganesh Chaturthi begins on the 4th day of the waning moon period which is called Bhadrapada Shukla Chaturthi and ends on the 14th day, called Anant Chaturdashi. The festival was initiated by the Maratha King, ‘Shivaji’ and gained momentum when ‘Lokmanya Tilak’ made it a grand public event to bring unity among people, during the days of struggle for India’s Independence.
Legend says that once Goddess Parvati was going for her bath and not finding anyone to help her guard the door, she made a little boy from the turmeric paste on her body and breathed him to life in order to guard the door. The boy and asked him to make sure no one enters the door. When Lord Shiva arrived on the scene and demanded entry, Ganesha refused since he did not recognize Lord Shiva as his father. In anger, Shiva cut off the boy’s head. When Godess Parvati came to know about what happened to her son, she became inconsolable with grief and to appease her, Lord Shiva sent his emissaries to look for anything dead with its head facing the North. The emissaries came back with the head of a strong and beautiful elephant. Shiva placed the elephants head on the boy and gave him life. Thus, Ganesha came alive with an elephant head.
Preparations for the festival starts a few months before the festival with the making of the idols of Lord Ganesh. Houses are all cleaned and decorated for bringing Ganesha home. A spot is chosen to place the idol and a raised platform is decorated there. Pandals (public stages/platforms) are erected by different societies and decorated beautifully. On the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, people bathe in the morning, wear new clothes and perform the Vinayak Chaturthi Pooja.
The beautiful clay (or any other material that will dissolve in water and is eco-friendly) idol of Ganesh is brought into the house with its face covered with a saffron cloth. A ceremony called ‘Purna Kumbha Kalasha Sthapana’ is performed in which a copper/brass Kalash (a small pot used for Hindu Pujas and rituals) is placed in front of the idol filled and ‘gangajal’ (holy water). This is a common Hindu ritual performed before beginning any auspicious ceremony. The cloth is removed from the idol’s face and the ritual of invoking life into the idol is performed by the chanting of specific mantras by the priest. This is called ‘Pran Pratishta’. The idol is decorated with beautiful fresh flowers and smeared with sweet-smelling sandalwood.
After invoking life into the idol, another ritual called ‘Shhodashopachara’ is performed, which involves 16 different ways of worshipping by using things like coconut, 21 ‘modaks’(Which are sweet dumplings made of rice flour, coconut, jaggery), Dhruva grass, betel leaves, incense etc.
The reason 21 modaks are used is because according to mythological anecdote that it took 21 modaks to satisfy Ganesh’s hunger.While the rituals are being performed, Vedic hymns and Ganesh ‘Stotra' are chanted in the background. 108 names of Ganesh are chanted and also the Ganesh Chaturthi ‘katha’(story) is read out. During the culmination of the ritual ‘Aarti’ is performed with an earthen lamp in which a cotton wick is lighted, dipped in clarified butter.
In society pandals, the idol is normally seated for all the 10 days and aarti is performed twice in a day - morning and evening. People come to offer flowers, coconut, modaks and seek the Lords blessings. The whole atmosphere is very festive, with people dressed in their best and chantings and devotional songs being sung the whole day and late into the night. In the homes, the Ganesh idols are either kept for one and half days, 3, 5 or 7 days. Aarti is performed twice a day at homes too and friends and relatives visit those houses to seek blessings. They can carry their own ‘prasad’, which is placed in a common container, to be distributed among visitors. Ganesha is immersed with loud cries of ‘Ganapati Bappa Morya. Purchya Varshi Laukar Ya’( O! Father Ganesh! Come again early next year).
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