Ganesh Chaturthi is undoubtedly the biggest festival not just in Mumbai, but all across the state of Maharashtra in western India. In fact, Ganesh Chaturthi has now become so popular that people from other parts of the country are seen celebrating it as well. It’s become popular overseas too, everywhere where there is a considerable Indian population, particularly Marathis. It is celebrated in almost all homes, unlike several other festivals such as Dussehra, Diwali and others, which are basically community events. However having said this, Ganesh Chaturthi is held in individual homes too.
So if you consider just the number, then this is probably the most widely celebrated festival in India. This is also among the most elaborate and grandest of all festivals in the country.
What is Ganesh Chaturthi
Ganesh Chaturthi is a Hindu festival. It is held to celebrate the rebirth of Lord Ganesha, the elephant God. The Lord is the son or Parvati and Shiva, and is thus one of the more important deities in the Hindu religion. Often called the Vinayaka Chavithi or Vinayak Chaturthi, this is observed during the Hindu month of Bhadrapada or Bhadra. It’s actually on the fourth day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada.
The date changes every year, but usually it falls between August 20th and 30th or the first week of September. Though technically Ganesh Chaturthi is on a single day, but the fact is that, the festival is held over several days. It usually lasts for up to 10 days till Ananta Chaturdashi, which is the fourteenth day of the waxing moon. Schools, colleges, and even government and private offices remain closed, usually for a day or a couple of days in Maharashtra at the most.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with much pomp and glory, especially in Maharashtra, because it is believed that the Lord visits us himself at this time. He is worshipped as the God of prosperity, good fortune and wisdom. He is invoked traditionally at the start of any new venture, and even before going on a travel. These traditions have been continuing for hundreds of years.
Several community service initiatives are undertaken during the Ganesh Chaturthi as well. This includes blood donation camps, medical checkups, and charity for the poor. And of course, there are many sessions of devotional songs, mostly in praise of Lord Ganesh, Shiva and Parvati.
Lord Ganesh – Story of the Elephant Head
It is believed that Parvati created Ganesha from sandalwood paste on the request of the Devas. Linga Purana tells us that Lord Ganesha was created as the “obstacle creator” or Vighnakartaa for the Rakshasas, and also the “obstacle remover” or Vighnahartaa for the Devas. After Ganesha was created, Parvati asked him to guard the door while she was taking bath.
Interestingly, Shiva had no idea about this, and he tried to enter the bath. Ganesha stopped him as he didn’t know Shiva. This angered Shiva, and he wanted to teach the child a lesson. There was an altercation, and in the end, Ganesha was able to defeat all the followers of Shiva. The Saptarishis and Narada too tried to intervene without any success. Indra attacked the boy at this time with his army. But he failed as well. Shiva became furious and severed the head of Ganesha. Parvati was naturally very upset. Seeing this, Shiva tried to pacify her saying that the boy would be alive soon. The Devas were asked to search for a head of a dead person facing the North. But all they could find was the head of a dead elephant. Shiva had no other option and obliged.
Read the detailed Lord Ganesh Birth Story
Ganesh Chaturthi Celebration in Maharashtra
There is a lot of anticipation of this festival. People, adults and children both, wait for Ganesh Chaturthi eagerly throughout the year. And there is obviously a visible excitement as the date approaches. People would buy Ganesh idols and bring them home. These days, even eco-friendly idols are available due to the rising awareness about celebrating eco-friendly Ganesh Chaturthi. Some of these idols would be huge as well. They are meant for those organizing community pujas. The statue size could be as small as 3/4th of an inch, and it could be as large as 70 feet. Although Maharashtra is the main hub of Ganesh Chaturthi celebration, Visakhapatnam currently holds the record for the tallest Ganesh statue – that was 117 feet tall.
The Lord is shown in many different poses. Skilled artisans create these artistic clay models with a lot of care, weeks, and even months before the event.
In fact, almost every year, there is a competition over the largest and the best decorated idol. They would think of innovative decoration ideas. There are always a few new themes every year to decorate Ganesh Chaturthi Pandals. There is a lot of prestige and pride in such competitions that are held all over Maharashtra. But obviously, there is something special about the competitions held in Mumbai. There’s a lot more interest in them always. Crores of rupees are spent in the decorations. Often, people from outside Mumbai, from the suburbs, and even from the villages come to the city to see the festivities.
And not just the idol or the pandal, even the homes are illuminated and decorated in various ways. People here think of creative decoration ideas for Ganesh Chaturthi at home and make their homes really beautiful having a divine ambiance. They would buy new clothes, and exchange sweets and other pleasantries. It’s all about merry making, just like we celebrate the birthdays of our loved ones at home, they celebrate the birthday of Lord Ganesha too at their homes, and in the most grand ways.
The Ganesh Chaturthi Puja in Maharashtra
Organizers, whether they are communities such as apartments or housing complexes, or individuals having the celebration at home, would always start off with the planning. They would start off by preparing a check list. There are a lot of rituals and traditions in Ganesh Chaturthi. Everything has to be followed correctly, and so it’s good to be careful. People would plan some yummy recipes and think of taking a vacation too this time of the year.
It starts with bringing the idol of Lord Ganesha home. Some Hindus will celebrate this occasion as well. They perform a puja that is known as the Ganesh Staphna. The idol is then placed on a raised platform on the actual day so that everybody can see the Lord in all his glory.
Sometimes family members do the puja themselves, but usually a priest is invited to conduct the actual puja. The priest usually wears a shawl and silk dhoti in red color. He invokes life into the idol amid a lot of cheering and chanting of mantras. This ritual is known as “Pranapratishhtha”. This is followed by “Shhodashopachara” (16 ways to pay tribute to the Lord). 21 modakas or a preparation of rice flour, jaggery, and coconut as well as red flowers and 21 durva or trefoil is offered. Ganesha’s idol is anointed with sandal paste and red unguent. Vedic hymns from Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad and the Rig Veda is read throughout the ceremony. There is chanting of Ganesh stotra from the Narada Purana as well.
Devotees would first take a bath in the morning to purify themselves before offering their prayers to the Lord. They would offer coconut and sweets to Ganesha.
There is aarti too, both in the morning and in the evening. This continues for as long as 10 days, or till the time the idol is in the house or pandal. The decorated pandals are also called “Dekhavas” in Maharashtra in the local language. Throughout the community or the mandal, you will hear everybody, adults and kids alike, shouting the slogan – Ganpati Bapa Morya.
The Ganesh idol is finally immersed in water (the sea, lake or river, whichever is available) after the ten days of festival, on the day of the Ananta Chaturdashi. This festival is known as Ganesh Visarjan. Huge processions are taken out with almost everybody attending these immersions. There is naturally a lot of emotion as they are bidding farewell to their favorite God for a year. There’s a lot of Ganpati Bapa Morya chanting, singing and dancing too. Nobody can keep the idol after this. It is considered extremely inauspicious as Lord Ganeshs must return to his father and mother – Shiva and Parvati.
History of Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra
Ganesh Chaturthi has a long history in the state. It has been celebrated for centuries. But the ways have obviously changed a bit with time. It is said that Ganesh Chaturthi was popular even during the reign of the great Maratha rulers – Rashtrakuta, Chalukya and Satavahana. But it was the greatest of them, Chhatrapati Shivaji, who first celebrated it. He made this a public event for promoting nationalism and Maratha traditions. Even the Peshawas used to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, as Lord Ganesha was their family deity. But in those days the celebrations were quite simple, going by today’s standards.
In the modern times, it was the great freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak who first brought about some glory into it. He wanted to convey the message of freedom struggle to the masses through the festivities and get rid of all caste differences, which was a cause for concern. Tilak wanted it to bring about the feeling of togetherness and unity. He wanted to revive the patriotic spirit. Cultural events were organized such as musical nights, and dance dramas during the religious gatherings. Political and social gatherings were not allowed in British India at that time. So the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi gave him the opportunity for ten days. The British could not do anything about this, because this was a religious event. They had to grudgingly agree. Since then, the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra has never seen a setback and is observed in the most glorious way every year.