Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most colourful and popular Hindu festivals celebrated throughout India to observe the birth of Lord Ganesha. The 10-day long fiesta started on Friday 25 August when Lord Ganesha left his home on Mount Kailasha to visit the homes of his devotees. Lord Ganesha homecoming is observed by devotees placing an idol at home, and hosting him as they would a real human guest. He is pampered with his favourite feasts, songs and rituals.
Ganesha is one of the most popular and loved Hindu deities, and is highly recognisable with his elephant head and human body. Ganesha is the lord of happiness, wellbeing and success and he is the patron of writers, travellers, students and has a fondness for sweets.
Ganesha’s mythical birth
Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and the Goddess Parvati and he is the brother of Karthikeya, the god of war. It is believed that he was created by Parvati using earth which she moulded into the shape of a boy. Shiva was away at the time and so she sent Ganesha to guard the door while she took a bath. Shiva returned home unexpectedly and, on finding the boy guarding the door, was furious that the little boy claimed to be Parvati’s son. A ferocious row ensued and an enraged Lord Shiva severed the head of the little child.
At the commotion, Parvati ran from her bath and was enraged to find that Shiva had killed their son. A repentant Lord Shiva promised to give Ganesha new life and ordered his followers to find a new head for the boy. The first animal that they could find was an elephant, and so the head was fixed to the child’s body and he became the most distinctive of the Hindu gods.
How is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?
Preparations start two to three months before the festival when beautiful clay models of Ganesha are sculpted by skilled artisans and sold in the markets. On the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, these statues are brought home and embellished with ornaments and offerings of modak (a sweet dumpling made from rice flour mixed with coconut and sugar), coconut and jaggery to indulge his sweet tooth. The idol is showered with unbroken rice and turmeric to signify the welcoming of prosperity and happiness. An oil lamp is lit for all ten days to ensure that there is no darkness around the idol.
Huge pandals are set-up in various neighbourhoods with huge statues of Ganesha, temples incorporate special rituals and cultural performances, and priests invoke life into the statues amidst the chanting of sacred verses. On the last day of the festival, devotees carry Ganesha idols through the streets in a procession accompanied by singing and dancing to immerse the god into a river or the sea. This symbolises his farewell and his return to his heavenly abode, taking away with him the misfortunes of all mankind and marking the end of the festival. The festival ends on 5 September this year.