Ganesh Chaturthi is the birthday of Lord Ganesha. As per the Hindu calendar, it is celebrated on the "shukla chaturthi" (4th day of the bright fortnight) in the month of Bhadrapada. Usually, this day occurs sometime between August 20 and September 15. The festival lasts for 10 days, and culminates on the Ananta Chaturdashi.
This is a very popular festival observed by Hindus throughout the world. It is also called "Vinayaka Chaturthi" or "Vinayaka Chavithi". Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is the Lord of power and wisdom. He is the first to be worshiped among the Hindu gods, and his auspicious name is chanted before any work is begun.
Story of Ganesh Chaturthi
Once while Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva, was bathing, she created a human figure, gave it life and asked it to guard the door till she finished her bath. It so happened that Lord Shiva had completed a long span of meditation on Mount Kailash and desired to meet Parvati. However, he was stopped by the human, created by Parvati, at the door.
Celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi
About a couple of months prior to this festival, clay models of Lord Ganesha are made. These may be 3/4th of an inch or more than 25 feet high. Every locality sets up its individual pandal. For this, voluntary and generous donations are procured from the members of the locality. Every pandal has a priest.
Then, the "shhodashopachara" or 16 ways of offering tribute are executed. 21 "modakas" (rice flour preparation), 21 "durvas" (trefoil blades), red flowers, coconut, and jaggery are offered. On the forehead of the idol of Lord Ganesha, "rakta chandan" (red unguent) is applied.
During this entire ceremony, shlokas (hymns) from the Rig Veda, Ganapati Atharva Shirsha, Upanishads, and Ganesh stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted. Food (not containing onions and garlic) is cooked to mark this day.
The pandals are made attractive, and large crowds throng to see them during the 10 days of the festival. Some pandals have electrical lighting that sways as per the music or popular songs from Bollywood, or other regional songs. Others depict some historical, political, or mythological scenes, either static or movable.
Some others may simply have some paintings portraying some important event. One will unmistakably find a loudspeaker playing songs of various types. Particularly after sunset, a large number of people leave their houses to enjoy the ambiance of these pandals.
At least in big cities, this creates a traffic problem, and necessitates the deployment of special traffic police to ensure that the movement of the masses is disciplined and that, no untoward incident takes place.
On every occasion, Aartis of several gods are recited. Then, the devotees experience the heat of burning camphor, placed on a plate, with their palms. They offer red flowers and "durva" grass, and bow down before the Ganesha idol. Every day after each Aarti, a different "prasad" (small quantity of eatable) is distributed among all devotees.
Eventually, the idol is immersed in a water body (river, lake, or sea). Crowds sing praises in the regional languages, some of which mean, "Lord Ganesha is returning home, and hence we are uncomfortable" or "O Lord Ganesh! Come back early next year".
Public Celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi
Ganesh puja is a tradition in Maharashtra state since ancient times. However, it was Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak who began the practice of public celebration. It was in 1894, that he placed an idol of the Lord in Vinchurkar Wada in Maharashtra, and started this practice.
At this time, the social condition of the Hindus was unstable. They were not practicing their religion diligently, and were also not united. The supremacy of the Westerners suppressed their natural prowess. In such circumstances, Tilak started the public celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi with the following aims:
- to create awareness about Hindu religion
- to nullify the feelings of animosity among people
- to revive good religious customs
- to increase the awareness of hidden prowess among Hindus
- to make people realize their rights and duties
- to start crusades that were essential at that point of time
Some Famous Pandals
Ganesh Chaturthi is very big and popular in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh as these were parts of the former Maratha empire. Nevertheless, it is not only held in other parts of India but also outside India. In the city of Pune, there are five pandals called "Ganapatis of Honor".
These are "Kasba Ganapati", "Tambadi Jogeshwari", "Guruji Talim", "Tulsibaug Ganapati", and "Kesariwada Ganapati". The "Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganapati Mandal" and the "Akhil Mandai Mandal" are seats of tremendous reverence for crores of worshipers throughout the world.
Perils of Modern Ganesh Chaturthi
Earlier, the idols were made of "shaadu mati" or earth/natural clay, and did not evoke any criticism as they did not pose any threat of water pollution during immersion. However, with the passage of time, plaster of Paris replaced shaadu mati as it was easier to mold, lighter, and cheap.
After immersion, plaster of Paris requires more time to dissolve. It also releases toxic elements in the water bodies. Additionally, chemical paints are used to enhance the aesthetic look of these idols.
These paints contain mercury and cadmium. On the day of immersion, thousands of these idols are submerged in water. This causes a raise in the acidity and metal content of the water. As a result, several fish perish in the water bodies.