Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated by Hindus all over India, as the birthday of the God of wisdom, knowledge and prosperity, Lord Ganesha. The celebrations continue for five to ten days, depending upon family traditions. It is believed that praying to Lord Ganesha leads to fulfilment of wishes and desires. His blessing removes all the obstacles from life.
A Festival for Everyone
The festivities remained a family affair until the festival was revitalised by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the late 19th century, to take the message of freedom struggle to all Indians. This festival brought on a feeling of unity and togetherness among people and helped in the revival of their patriotic spirit. Through this festival he brought together all the classes of societies against British by getting rid of the caste differences. He stressed on that Ganesh Chaturthi was a festival for everyone irrespective of caste or class, and so he organised cultural events like dance dramas, musical nights, and religious gatherings on this festival. Festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi that continued for ten days gave people of every religion the scope to interact and know each other. It is from that time this festival has been celebrated every year with great fervour all over the country.
Tilak encouraged installation of large images of Ganesh in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in to rivers, sea, or other pools of water on tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi.
Under Tilak’s encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performances of plays, musical concerts, and folkdances. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities to build a new grassroots unity.
The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, starting on the Shukla Chaturthi. The festival lasts for 10 or 12 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi. This year, the festival was celebrated on of September 9.
Two to three months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated and depict Lord Ganesha in vivid poses. The size of these statues may vary from 3/4 of an inch to over 70 feet.
Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colourfully decorated and specially erected temporary structures mandapas in every locality.
After completing the worship for 10 days, on the 11th day, the statue is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing and fanfare to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolising a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash.
Public celebrations of the festival are hugely popular with local communities vying with each other to put up the biggest statue and the best pandal. The festival is also the time for cultural activities like singing and theatre performances, orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, charity for the poor, etc.
Today, the Ganesh festival is not only a popular festival, it has become a very important economic activity in all places. Many artists, industries and businesses survive in this mega-event. Ganesh festival also provides a stage for budding artists to present their art to the public.
Ganesh Chaturthi in Tamil Nadu
There was a time in Tamil Nadu, the so-called non-believers and atheists used to destroy Vinayaka idols publicly in towns and villages. They used to shout anti-God slogans. It created painful sorrow and humiliation in the minds of believers. Dravidan Kazhagam (DK) activists used to burn the copies of Ramayana mainly to criticise and denounce Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Hindu Mannani led by Shri Rama Gopalan wanted to end this hostility towards Hinduism. Till that time, Ganesh Chaturthi remained a family affair. Shri Rama Gopalan revived the celebration and made it a mass function in every town and village in Tamil Nadu. The celebration creates an attitude of cooperation and harmony among the various sections of the Hindu society.
All over the world
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in the UK by the migrant Hindu population as well as the large number of Indians residing there. The Hindu Culture and Heritage Society, UK celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi every year. The idol immersion takes places in the river Thames at Putney Pier.
The festival is similarly celebrated in many locations across the world. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA, an organisation of Hindus based in the US, organises many such events to mark the Hindu festivals.
The Philadelphia Ganesh popularly known as PGF is the largest sarvajanik (fully contributed by public funds) Hindu festival in North America. Since 2005 the festival is conducted every year in Bharatiya Temple, Chalfont, Pennsylvania. The 10 days are marked by processions, devotional programmes, cultural events, India filmi-orchestra and a weekend carnival.
Celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in Mauritius dates back to 1896. The first Ganesh Chaturthi Puja was held in the 7 Cascades Valley next to Henrietta village by the Bhiwajee family who is still celebrating this pious festival for more than a century. Over the years the festival gained such popularity on the island that Mauritian government has attributed a public holiday for that day.
In Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmaar and Sri Lanka the festival is more commonly known as Vinayagar Chaturthi because of the relatively larger Tamil-speaking Hindu minority among the other South Asian ethnic groups. It is very common to see pictures or statues of Lord Ganesha at the entrance of houses, business premises and schools. These idols are usually decorated with flower garlands alongside offerings of fruits and sweets. Most Ganesha temples mark Vinayagar Chaturthi with morning prayers, abhishekam (ritual bathing of the deity) and free vegetarian lunch for devotees and the poor. Chariot processions organised by Ganesha temples in the evenings often attract huge crowds of devotees and tourists.
Let us take fresh spiritual resolve and pray to Lord Ganesha for inner spiritual strength to attain success in all our undertakings and glory of Bharat Mata.