By Shri Sudheer Birodkar
Ganesha Chaturthi is a major festival in India devoted to Ganesh the elephant-headed God. The festival celebrated around August is also called Ganeshotsava.
During the festival, clay idols of Ganesha are specially prepared and most families in India install this idol for periods varying from two days to eleven days. During this time, prayers (Aarti) are performed and hymns are sung every morning and evening, a popular event during this festival especially for children. The hymns are sung to the clanging of small gongs (called jhanja), the sounds of which reverberate throughout the day.
- 1 The Visarjan (immersion) Processions and Ceremony
- 2 The Public Celebrations of Ganesh-Chaturthi - Started by Lokmanya Tilak
- 3 Origin of Ganesha
- 4 References
The Visarjan (immersion) Processions and Ceremony
The festival ends with the ceremony of immersion of the idols in the sea, rivers or wells. The ceremony, called Ganesha-Visarjan(immersion of Ganesha), is as popular as the festival proper. Huge crowds move in a procession carrying idols of Ganesha towards the places of immersion. These processions which take place with great fanfare, begins in the afternoon and continue till the late hours of the night.
Although this festival is observed in all parts of the country, it is celebrated with maximum fervour in Maharashtra where it is celebrated both publicly and privately. Apart from the small idols of Ganesha installed in various houses, there are also many public celebrations called Sarvajanik Ganeshotsava.
The Public Celebrations of Ganesh-Chaturthi - Started by Lokmanya Tilak
In these public celebrations huge idols of Ganesha ranging from 10 feet to 40 feet are installed and along with the daily prayers and hymns, there are entertainment programmes, a major attraction. Till the turn of the last century, this festival was celebrated only in homes and temples. But during the struggle for independence against British rule, Lokmanya Tilak (an important freedom fighter who led the Indian freedom struggle before Mahatma Gandhi) gave it the form of a public festival. Tilak did this so as to cleverly broadcast his political message of freedom for India.
Carried out in the garb of a religious activity, it was difficult for the British Administration to curb it. But the festival, once having acquired a public form for a political purpose, retained that form even after the independence.
Origin of Ganesha
Parallel to all the rationalization of this phenomenon, mythology has an equally enthralling account that explains the birth (or more properly the creation) of this curious half-man, half-elephant God called Gajanana or Ganesha. He is no ordinary God, but is the first among equals. All prayers start with the invocation "Shree Ganeshaaya Namaha" meaning Salutations to You O Ganesha.
Parvati makes Ganesha from Clay and Infuses Life in the Idol
Shastras offer an explanation on Ganesha's elephant head as well as for his being a first among the Gods.The divine couple of Shiva and Parvati had remained childless for a long time after the birth of their first son Kartikeya. Parvati's motherly instincts made her yearn for a son and Shiva's long absence from home intensified her yearning. On day, she decided to mould a statue of clay in the form of a son. She used her divine power to bring the clay idol to life to satisfy her yearning. Happy as she was to have the company of a son, she went about her chores, many a times leaving the boy in charge of the house.
Shiva Confronts Ganesha
One fine day while Parvati was busy with her daily ablutions, Shiva turned up and saw Parvati's son Ganesha, guarding the entrance to his house.
Strangers as they were to each other the son (Ganesha) refused allow Shiva to enter the house. Taken aback at being prevented from entering his own house, Shiva asked this tiny sentinel who he was. On being told that he was Parvati's son, Shiva was confounded and Shiva chopped off his head and threw it away in a fit of anger.
Shiva fetches an Elephant's Head for the Beheaded Ganesha
When Parvati heard about this outrage she lost her temper and demanded that Shiva restore her son to life immediately. Compelled to appease Parvati, Shiva set out to find the head of her son. Hard as he tried, he could not find the head that he had chopped off and thrown away in disgust. As he could not find the head he wanted, he thought of fitting the headless body with the head of any living being that he would come across. He came across a baby elephant and true to his word, Shiva chopped off the elephant's head, fitted it to the lifeless body and revived him. This was how the Lord Gajanana or Gaja-Mukha came into being.
Ganesha become the first among the Gods
To atone for his deed, Shiva also granted a special status to Gajanana by issuing a divine decree that thence forth Gajanana would be the first to be invoked in every prayer and only after this, could the invocation of any prayer takes place. In deference to the decree of lord Shiva, Ganesha is continued to be regarded as the first God to be invoked in any prayer.
- Sudheer Birodkar, "A Hindu History: A Search for our Present History". Reprinted with permission.