India is a diverse country with plenty of religions and cultural beliefs going around. The predominant population however practises Hinduism, a religion that was founded aeons ago in this very same country. Hinduism has 33 Million Gods, Goddesses and Demigods to account for, yet none are as popular as the Elephant headed God, the Beloved Ganesha! Whether you are poor or rich, the first God we call out for is Ganesha. Considered the God of Auspicious Beginnings, no ceremony or important day begins without first offering our prayers to him.
Who is Ganesha?
Ganesha has perhaps one of the most interesting stories of origin. He is worshipped as the son of Lord Shiva, one of the Hindu Trimurti, akin to the Holy Trinity of Christianity and Maa Parvati. Once Pravati found herself alone at their home on Mount Kailasa. Lord Shiva and his warriors had all gone on some mission to fight some demons who were terrorising mankind. Pravati slaved off the sandalwood paste on her body and fashioned a boy out of it. Being an embodiment of Shakthi, she breathed life into the sandal paste statue, turning him into a live boy. She had him stand guard at the entrance of the home, while she took a bath.
She instructed him not to let anyone enter their home. Shiva and his warriors made their way back home, victorious but exhausted. On approaching his home, Shiva was refused entry by the boy guarding the doorway. One by one his warriors tried to force their way past the boy, but failed. He was such a fierce warrior. Lord Shiva became impatient and finally engaged him in battle, beheading him in anger. Parvati came out after finishing her bath, and was shocked to see her beloved boy lying dead and beseeched Shiva to save him. The wise sages on Kailash, asked Shiva to bring them back the head of the first animal he encounters. He went into the jungle and severed the head from the first animal he saw, an elephant. The sages placed the elephant’s head on the boy’s body and performed a puja. The Boy rose alive, by virtue of their combined powers.
This was how the elephant headed God, Ganesha came into being.
What is Ganesh Chaturthi?
Ganesh Chaturthi is the celebration of the birth of Lord Ganesha. The festival of Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated each year from the fourth day of the Waxing moon, the Shukla Chaturthi of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada. This falls anywhere between 19th of August to the 20th of September as per the Gregorian calendar. From the Shukla Chaturthi, the festival is celebrated for 10 days. It is celebrated across all of India, and by Hindus worldwide.
How is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?
The Puja begins when the Murthi, or idol of Ganesha is brought into the home. This is done the day before the festival commences or on the day of the festival. Each family celebrates it for different time periods. The minimum is a day and a half, going up to 3, 5, 7, or 11 days. The Ganesha idol is then immersed in a water body like rivers, lakes or the sea.
The Murthi is usually made of clay and painted in bright colours. They are brought along with adornments and brought home during the Shubh, Labh or Amrit Choghadiya. The Puja is performed during the Madhyahan Kaal, mid-afternoon, as it is believed that Ganesha arose during that time of the day.
Ganesh Chaturthi Puja
Before the Ganesha is brought into the home, the entire house has to be cleaned out and the people in the house must have taken a bath to purify themselves.
The face of the idol is covered with a cloth before bringing it into the home.
The people within the home, light incense on an Arathi plate. Betel leaf and Betel nut are placed on the Thali as well. This is to welcome Ganesha into the home by performing Aarti. After the Ganesh is placed in the Puja room, red flowers, preferably roses or hibiscus, Dharba Grass, Jaggery, Modaks, Coconuts, Sandalwood paste and Incense are made ready for the Puja.
After a puja where the Ganesh Mantras are chanted and Ganesha Upanishad is read, the Prasad is offered to the God, family and friends. After the ritualistic worship period, the Idol is taken in a procession to be immersed in water. Mumbai has one of the most festive celebrations of all of India. All the idols from the city are immersed in the Arabian Sea. To help keep it environmentally safe, the people have since turned to plain clay idols that do not pollute the water.
Story of the Durva Grass
It is customary to offer 21 blades of Durva grass. Once when Ganesha was fighting a demon he swallowed him to subdue the foe. This caused great agitation in his stomach, with a burning sensation. After trying various methods Ganesha ate 21 blades of Durva grass offered to him by a group of sages. He felt instant relief and since then the Durva grass was made part of the Ganesh Chaturthi offerings.
A Festival of the Masses
Ganesh Chaturthi has truly been a festival of the masses. It brings people of all socio economic statuses to the streets to celebrate as one. The God Ganesha is revered by all and much loved by people of all ages. He is believed to destroy any obstacles that come in our life, keeping our path to enlightenment clear. He is known for his benevolence that even a child approaches him without fear. Such is his mercy on all of mankind.
This year let us keep our Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations safe. It is important to not forget the guidelines of the Pandemic keeping in mind the health and safety of our loved ones. We would love to hear from you about how you are going to celebrate it in the lockdown. Send us your stories in the comments section below.