Ganesh Chaturthi | Vinayagar Chaturthi | The Festival Of Lord Ganesh
- Why is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?
- Historical origins of the festival
- Evolution into a social festival & role in India’s freedom struggle
- Ganesh Chaturthi in Modern India
- The curse of the Moon – Why you should not look at the Moon during Ganesh Chaturthi.
Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in India alongside other large-scale festivals like Diwali, Holi and Durga Puja. Marking the birth of one of Hinduism’s most worshiped deities – the Elephant God, Lord Ganesh – the festival is celebrated all across the country. With celebrations spanning over a period of ten to eleven days, Ganesh Chaturthi has consistently grown in scale and appeal over the decades. The festival concludes with the immersion of Lord Ganesh’s images in water bodies like rivers and seas or symbolic immersion in water containers – a ritual that is also referred to as Ganesh Visarjan. In recent years, the city of Mumbai alone is estimated to have seen the immersion of over 190,000 Lord Ganesh images annually – an indicator of the festival’s widespread appeal. Some of the popular large pandals (makeshift shrines) set-up across the city of Mumbai (India’s commercial capital) during Ganesh Chaturthi are known to collect donations running up to an average of a crore rupees ($150,000) a day.
However, while Western and Southern states of India, specifically Maharashtra sees the largest Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations engaging people across the entire spectrum of the local community, the festival tends to be more of a family affair in other regions of India.
Ganesh Chaturthi and its colorful celebrations have also been featured in popular media right from Bollywood movies to Hollywood’s television serials. While Ganesh Chaturthi songs have become a common annual feature in Bollywood movies, Hollywood tends to use footage from the festival as a representation of Indian festivities and culture. But Ganesh Chaturthi was not always the public spectacle that it is today. The festival has itself gone through a phase of evolution over the years and continues to grow in popularity even today.
Ganesh Chaturthi | Vinayagar Chaturthi | Celebrating the birth of Lord Ganesh
The first day of Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the Shukla Chaturthi (i.e. the fourth day of the Moon’s waxing period) of the month Bhadra according to the Hindu calendar. Devotees bring an effigy of Lord Ganesh to their homes or pandals on the first day of Ganesh Chaturthi. This is followed by two rituals (called Avahana and Pratishthapana) that symbolically bring the image to life. In the following days, the image of Lord Ganesh is worshipped every day through a series of fourteen rituals which are usually repeated on a daily basis.
Ganesh Visarjan – a ritual that involves immersion of images of Lord Ganesh in water – marks the end of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. A unique flexibility is attached with the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi as devotees can choose which day they decide to observe as Ganesh Visarjan. Large pandals usually conduct Ganesh Visarjan on the tenth or eleventh day of the festival which is marked by its coincidence with Ananta Chaturdashi. Families and smaller groups, on the other hand, often organize the Ganesh Visarjan after one, three, five or seven days of establishing the image of Lord Ganesh.
It is to be noted that almost fitting Lord Ganesh’s position as the God of all beginnings in Hinduism, Ganesh Chaturthi marks the beginning of a long festive season for Hindus globally and is followed by many popular and large scale festivals in quick succession like Dussehra / Durga Puja, Diwali and Karva Chauth.
Ganesh Chaturthi | Vinayagar Chaturthi | Origins of a community festival
While archaeological evidence identifying the historical origins of Ganesh Chaturthi is limited, the earliest known instance of its celebration is from the period of the rule of the Satavahana dynasty which is known to have ruled the Deccan region in India starting from a period between 271 BC and 30 BC. In Maharashtra, which today sees the largest Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, the earliest evidence of the festival’s observance date back to the period between 1630 AD and 1680 AD, coinciding with the rule of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj of the Maratha Empire. Following this, Ganesh Chaturthi was observed as a state festival during the rule of the Peshwas in Pune who worshiped Lord Ganesh as the primary family-deity (or their ‘kuladevata’).
However, as the Peshwa family lost its grip on the empire in the early 19th century, Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations receded from the public sphere and the festival became more privately celebrated by families at their homes.
British invasion of India soon followed and most of India was under British rule by mid-19th century. As India’s local leaders struggled to put up a fight against foreign rulers and regain independence, Ganesh Chaturthi would find itself revived in a much larger format in an attempt that intended to use it as an unusual weapon of disobedience against the oppression of British rulers.
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Ganesh Chaturthi | Vinayagar Chaturthi | An unusual weapon in India’s struggle for freedom
Bal Gangadhar Tilak, also known as Lokmanya Tilak was one of India’s most prominent independence activists during the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. A lawyer by qualification, Tilak switched careers to become a journalist and established a Marathi newspaper by the name Kesari in 1881. He also used to run an English newspaper named Mahratta at the same time.
Tilak used both the newspapers as mouth-pieces for the Indian freedom movement attempting to align large groups of Indians against the British rule. In the year 1893, Tilak noticed a small-scale community-based celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi. Identifying the ability of the festival to unite different castes and classes of the Hindu society, Tilak spotted an opportunity in using the festival of Lord Ganesh as a way to unite Indians against British colonial rulers.
Through articles in the Kesari, Tilak popularized the idea of community-based celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi and also propagated the practice of immersion of Lord Ganesh’s effigies in water bodies on the 10th day of the festival. Gaining popularity through his efforts and riding on Lord Ganesh’s wide recognition as the foremost deity in Hinduism, Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations soon assumed large-scale acceptance and the festival slowly transformed into the community festival that it is today.
Ganesh Chaturthi | Vinayagar Chaturthi | A phenomenon of modern India
The practices and rituals associated with Ganesh Chaturthi may have gone through many transformations over the centuries but in the modern context of the 21st century, Ganesh Chaturthi represents more than just a festival. It has become a part of India’s cultural identity and is recognized as an Indian cultural phenomenon across the world though it is also celebrated widely in countries like Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Afghanistan etc. A recent example of the Ganesh Chaturthi’s association with India as a country is its representation in the Western television serial ‘Sense8’, helmed by The Wachowski Twins of ‘The Matrix’ fame.
Ganesh Chaturthi also serves as an occasion that brings together Indians residing outside India. Large scale Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations are known to be held in parts of the Americas and in Europe where local Hindu groups arrange for special imports of images of Lord Ganesh from India for the ten days of the festival.
In India itself, popular temples dedicated to Lord Ganesh like the Shree Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, the Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati Temple in Pune and the Kanipakam Vinayaka Temple in Chitoor are visited by devotees in large numbers. India’s economic capital, Mumbai hosts large pandals which have almost assumed iconic statuses over the years like the GSB Seva Mandal Ganpati and the Lalbaugcha Raja which are also often visited by top Bollywood and business personalities during the festival.
More importantly, the city of Mumbai which is otherwise bustling with economic activity through the year almost comes to a halt to bow in reverence to Lord Ganesh on the last day of Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganesh Visarjan, which marks the last day of the festival sees hundreds of thousands of devotees thronging the streets as part of processions heading towards the Arabian Sea. Security arrangements involving thousands of cops and volunteers spread across the city are made days in advance to ensure that the event concludes smoothly.
Ganesh Chaturthi | Vinayagar Chaturthi | Story – The curse of the Moon
One of the most widely known myths associated with Ganesh Chaturthi forbids one from looking at the Moon on the birthday of Lord Ganesh. It is believed that doing so would result in one being subject to accusations on one’s character and being shamed in public.
According to mythology it is believed that on the occasion of one of his birthdays, Lord Ganesh was invited for a sumptuous dinner by King Kubera – one of his many devotees. Showing his humility, Lord Ganesh reached Kubera’s palace riding on a mouse (his vahana or animal vehicle/mount) and had a large meal of sweets and other delicacies. When Lord Ganesh was on his way back, the mouse that he was riding on spotted a snake in its path and was taken over by fear for its life. As a result the mouse jerked and stumbled to a stop and in the process Lord Ganesh fell off his seat on its back.
In the accident, Lord Ganesh’s stomach burst open and all the food that he had consumed previously at the dinner organized by King Kubera fell out onto the ground. Seeing this series of events, the Moon who was shining brightly in the sky broke into a fit of laughter mocking Lord Ganesh’s appearance. He went even further and vainly claimed that Lord Ganesh lacked any impressive physical features to match his own lustrous beauty.
Lord Ganesh was taken over by rage at the Moon’s superficial comparison. He picked up all the food that had fallen out onto the ground and packed it back into his stomach. Then he used the very snake that had made the mouse stumble and tied it around his stomach like a belt to prevent his stomach from tearing up again. Finally, he looked up at the Moon in anger, broke one of his tusks with his hand and hurled it at the Moon.
As the Moon groaned in agony, Lord Ganesh reminded him that the beauty that the former was so proud of depended completely on the Sun God’s light. He further cursed the Moon of living forever in the Earth’s shadow thus reclaiming its access to the Sun’s light. As a result, the Moon would never be noticed by anyone in the world again and its beauty would never be appreciated for eternity.
Frightened by the curse, the Moon started to beg Lord Ganesh for forgiveness and soon other Gods also joined in requesting Lord Ganesh to forgive the Moon so that the Earth could have a source of light at night. After a lot of pleading, Lord Ganesh finally relented and agreed to take his curse back but only partially. He declared that while the Moon would not remain permanently in darkness, it would be in an eternal cycle of moving from being fully lit to being fully dark so that it was constantly reminded of the superficiality and temporary nature of its beauty. Lord Ganesh also added that his birthday would be a day when nobody was allowed to look at the Moon because the latter had dared to mock him. If anybody were to break that rule and look at the Moon on the occasion of Lord Ganesh’s birthday, she would face public humiliation as a result of false accusations made on her character. This story is the primary reason why devotees refrain from looking at the Moon on Ganesh Chaturthi which celebrates the birthday of Lord Ganesh.
This myth is also one of the many popular stories that explain the reason for Lord Ganesh’s broken tusk. This story also has an interesting link to lord Krishna. It is believed that during his lifetime, Lord Krishna once happened to look at the Moon during Ganesh Chaturthi and as a result he was accused of stealing the Syamantaka Jewel. While Lord Krishna finally managed to absolve himself from the accusations, he also granted a boon to all mankind declaring that anybody who read the story of the Syamantaka Jewel would not be affected by Lord Ganesh’s curse.
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