Hindu Festival: Ganesh Chaturthi

  • Further Reading On Ganesh Chaturthi

On the fourth day of the bright half of Bhadrap Ganesh Chaturthi comes to India. Months an excitement and enthusiasm, hundreds of thousands of clay idols of Ganesha are made in Bombay, Pune and Pen, a village full of clay sculptors, near Bombay. Lorry loads of idols of every size, in every pose and colour, are brought to Bombay and other towns. These are worshipped at community or family festivals which last between one to ten days according to each group's tradition.

Till the last century, Ganesh Chaturthi, like many other Indian festivals, was largely a family celebration. It was the renowned patriot Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who recognised and used its appeal amongst India's vast population to create a public festival and thereby propagate the struggle for independence. "Freedom Is My Birthright', was his electric call and in order to reach out to India's struggling millions, he innovated community worship where popular plays, song on freedom were staged.

Started in 1892 by this great visionary, Ganesha festival completed a centenary in 1992 was organized in Pune during which the foremost artists of India performed. Bullock cart races, car displays, wrestling, trekking swimming galas and costume extravaganzas were organized or a mammoth scale by a committee of eminent citizens. This tourist and media event with everyone participating in irrespective of religious belief, has now become an annual celebration of Pune city.

Side by side, for over a century, small idols of Ganesha have( been worshipped by families during this festival not only in Maharashtra, but all over India too. Steamed modaks, sweets made from flour and stuffed with coconut and sugar, vegetables of the season as well as other festive dishes, are made for several days and shared by families and their guests. By the fifth day of the festival, idols of Gauri or Parvati are made in many homes for worship. Devotees lovingly make delicate jewellery and clothes for such idols and display them year after year.

The Ganesha idols are then immersed on the second, fifth, seventh or 11th day. Ananta Chaturdashi, or the day preceding the full moon day of Bhadrapad, brings one phase of the Chaturmaas festive season to an end and in picturesque processions, amidst the rhythm of bells and drums, all Ganesha idols are immersed by midnight.

Social background: No other festival portrays so vividly the social evolution as the gradual evolution of Ganesh.The worship of Ganesh can be traced to the pre-aryan age. In the northern regions Ganesh was a tribal God of the different Koms. Their totem was the elephant. The mouse that is seen with Ganesh was also a totem of lesser tribe. Shiva was also a pre-Aryan God, as is obvious from the seals of the Mohenjodaro and Harappa culture. Democracy was the norm among the ancient tribes.

Gana means tribe or adivasi. Gana-isha means leader of the people. When the Aryans appeared on the scene, Ganesh was known as "Vignaraj" or leader of obstruction. The small tribal democracies were a challenge to the Aryan power kingship and Brahmanism. It was the Mauryas who overcame the tribes and their destruction was advocated by none other than Chanyaka in Kautilya's 'Arthashashtra'. With the defeat of the hill tribes, the Ganesh cult which was already prevalent, was adopted by the Aryans to placate the people.

Conflict and assimilation led to Ganesh becoming an Aryan God from a tribal one. Ganesh now became Sidhi Raj, symbol of success or Sidhidata Ganesh. From a tribal or local God, Ganesh was elevated to the higher echleons by the reference to his elephant's trunk as that of Indra's pet elephant, Airavat. There were fifty different forms of Ganesh within the different tribes. Ganesh is known by various names like Ekdanta, Kapil, Lamboder, Sumukh, Vighnashan, Ganadhyaksha and so on.

The word 'siddhi' literally means 'letter'. Ganesh's role in spreading writing was acknowledged long ago. In this context, the writing of the Mahabharata is important. Vyasdev could not write. He wanted someone to take down his dictation. Finally, Ganesh agreed to write on the condition that Vyasdev did not stop dictating. As this was an impossible proposition, Vyasdev also made a counter condition. Ganesh had to understand what he wrote. He used such difficult lines or 'slokas' that Ganesh had to stop and ponder. This gave Vyasdev time to think of his next lines. In short, Ganesh was accepted by the Aryans as the propagator of learning. The worship of Ganesh at the start of any festival was established.

Mythological background:- The mythological background of Ganesh was developed much later in the Middle Ages. There are various interesting stories of the birth of Ganesh in the Matsya Purana, Varaha Purana, Shiva Parana and Brahmavaivarta Purana.

Matsya Purana is the source of the most popular story. In this story, the birth of Ganesh is attributed solely to Parvati. Once while bathing, Parvati created a man from the oil, ointments and impurities of her body. Parvati sprinkled Ganges water and breathed new life into him. She asked him to guard her from intruders. When Shiva appeared, Ganesh refused him entry. This infuriated Shiva and he cut off Ganesh's head. In order to calm Parvati who grieved over her Ganesh, Shiva ordered the head of whatever was seen first to be brought to him. It so happened, that an elephant's head was found and Shiva fitted it to the body of Ganesh. Parvati was not too pleased with the appearance of Ganesh. She was promised that Ganesh would be the leader of the Vinayakas (minor deities). Ganesh is therefore also known as Vinayaka. He was to be worshipped at the beginning of all religious rituals, to remove obstacles. Vignabarta is another name for Ganesh. Eventually Parvati was pacified.

According to another legend, Parvati asked for Vishnu s help as she had no child. Vishnu, in deference to her wishes and pleased with her devotion, decided to be born as her son. Parvati invited all the Gods and Goddesses to a feast on the birth of her son. All saw and blessed the baby except Sani (Saturn). Sani explained that his wife had put a curse on him. Anything he saw which gave him pleasure would break into pieces. Parvati proudly declared that her baby was Vishnu himself and he would ward off all evils.

Thus assured, Sani came forward to look at the beautiful baby. At once the baby's head flew off. The Gods rushed here and there as the bereaved Parvati wailed. One god saw an elephant and brought the head to Parvati. As the head was fixed to the body, the baby again came to life. Parvati was not pleased with the appearance of her son. Shiva then promised to make him leader of the Ganas (people). The child was named Ganesh from Gana-isha (leader of the people).

Yet another story tells us how once the Gods went to Kailash, in the Himalayas to meet Shiva. Brahma rode on a swan, Vishnu on an eagle and Ganapati on his rat. When climbing up the mountain slope, Ganapati slipped and fell. Only the Moon or Chandra saw the incident and smiled at the spectacle of Ganapati rolling down the mountain slope. The enraged Ganapati cursed Chandra and said that whoever looked at Chandra would be accused of a crime and be looked down upon. Chandra, escorted by the other Gods, went to Ganapati and begged for mercy. At last Ganapati relented and agreed to take back his curse on one condition. The curse would remain effective for one day in the year-Ganesh Chaturthi. If anyone looks at the moon, then the best way to ward off the curse is to indulge in a small crime and thus be saved from being charged with a serious crime.

According to the Scriptures, not only mortals but also the Gods worshipped Ganesh on different occasions. Brahma prayed to him before starting creation, Shiva before conquering the demon Tripura, Durga before destroying Mahisasura, Kamadeva before conquering the Universe, Vishnu worshipped Ganesh before defeating Ball the demon king and finally, Seshanaga, before carrying the earth on his head.

Another legend illustrates Ganesha's devotion to his parents and his wisdom. A Puranic myth relates how sage Narada once came to Kailasa, the abode of Shiva, with a rare fruit from the heavenly gardens of Nandanvan. In the manner of children all over the world, both Kartikeya and Ganesha, asked for it. Narada asked both sons of Shiva to race each other around the universe, and told them that the first one to return to Kailasa would get the fruit. Kartikeya immediately set out on his peacock, but Ganesha merely went round his parents who were sitting nearby and came back to Narada to claim the fruit saying that his parents were his universe. His devotion to his parents was such that he won the fruit as well as the blessings of his parents and Narada.

The first day of the dark fortnight of Bhadrapad ushers in a period of austere and quiet homage to one's ancestors. Pitrupaksha or the fortnight dedicated to deceased elders, is a quiet break in the procession of festive days of feasting during the four monsoon months. During this period, shradh or memorial rituals are conducted by families till the new moon day which is called the Sarvapitri Amavasya or the dark night of all souls.

Thereafter, the dawn of the first day of the bright half of Ashwin begins the festival of Navaratri.

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