On the 4th day of the bright half of Bhadrapad, the great festival of Ganesh or Ganpati is celebrated as Ganesha Chaturthi. This festival marks the birthday of Lord Ganesh. Lord Ganesha or Ganpati is one of the most popular deities in Hindu religion. Both Shaivites and Vaishnavites worship him. Even Buddhists and Jains have respect for Ganpati. He is considered to be an avatar of both Shiva and Vishnu.
On the occasion of the Ganapati festival, a large number of idols are made of clay or metal in all possible sizes sometimes even up to twenty feet.
People buy them and install them in their houses and worship the idol for one to ten days, after which the idol are taken out ceremoniously, carried in a procession through the streets of the town (especially in Maharashtra) and immersed into the river, sea or well. The sea front at Mumbai, packed with people, is a spectacular sight.
A cultural feast is held to coincide with Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra especially at Pune. Classical dance, music performances, poetry recitations, folk dances, theatre and film festival are the main features of this festival.
The mythological basis of the celebration is found in the Puranas. One day Parvati was to go for bath. She wanted someone to watch outside. She got the idea of making an idol out of the dirt that came from her body. She placed the idol outside. Then her husband Shankar came. The idol dutifully did not allow him to enter. Shankar was furious. In an instant he severed the head of the idol.
Parvati finished her bath and came out. She explained to her husband the reason for placing the idol before the door.The idol was a creation of her own. In fact the idol was her son (“manas putra”), and consequently also Shankar’s son.
Shankar felt sorry for what he had done. His servant Gan was standing nearby. Shankar ordered him to go and bring the head of the first living being he would meet. The servant saw an elephant, and he at once cut his head and took it to Shankar. Shankar joined the elephant’s head to the body of Parvati’s son. “Gaj” means elephant and “anan” means head, so Parvati’s son became known as “Gajanan”. Shankar made him the deity of his armies and thus his name became Ganesh.
The festival is celebrated in most parts of the country especially with great fervor in Maharashtra and some parts of South India.
To appreciate this occasion, one must go to Mumbai where preparations begin months in advance. Images of Ganesha are installed within homes as well as in places of assembly. Elaborate arrangements are made for lighting and decoration and Ganesha is fervently worshipped for about 7-10 days.
On the day of the Chaturthi, the last of the ten days dedicated to the elephant-headed god, thousands of processions converge on the beaches of Mumbai to immerse the holy idols in the sea. This immersion is accompanied by drumbeats, devotional songs and dancing. Every year, the largest Ganesh idol is installed at Khairatabad in Hyderabad, which is more than 30 ft tall.The Ganapati Mahotsav or the Grand Festival of Ganesha is the principle festival in Bombay, the financial capital of India. In Bombay factories commission the largest of the 6000 or so Ganeshas collectively.
Each of these idols can be up to 10 metres in height and are paraded on Lorries decorated with multi-coloured lights. At the other end of the scale, little Ganeshas are placed in nukkads or street corners and in homes, and pujas are performed daily. The festival was started by Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler, to promote culture and a feeling of nationalism amongst his subjects who were fighting against the Mughals.
After his death the festival was celebrated but on a smaller scale. In 1894 when the British banned public assemblies Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak who felt that this was way of spreading the freedom message through a legitimate religious festival revived the festival.
On full moon day every idol is taken down to the Chowpatty beach accompanied by hordes of people singing and dancing and is immersed in the Arabian Sea.
Ganpati is the god of learning. He is addressed as the “Remover of Obstacles” (“Vignaharta”). His devotees believe that no enterprise will succeed unless he is invoked. The picture of Ganpati is often found on the doors of houses and printed on wedding cards. On the occasion of the Ganpati festival a large number of images are made of all possible sizes, and people buy them to keep in their houses as a divine guest for one and a half, five, seven, or ten days, after which the image is taken out ceremoniously and thrown into the river, sea or well for immersion or “visarjan”. When he is immersed in the water, people sing,
“GANPATI BAPPA MORYA, AGLE BARAS TO JALDI AA,”
(“father Ganpati, next year come again.”)