Monday, August 24, 2009

Ganesh Chaturthi


The origin of the festival lies in the Holy Hindu scriptures which tell the story of Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha (or Ganapati) (the names mean "Lord [isha] or [pati] of Shiva's hosts [gana]") was created by Goddess Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva.

According to the legend, Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of resolution, was away at a war. His wife Parvati, wanted to bathe and having no-one to guard the door to her house, conceived of the idea of creating a son who could guard her. Parvati created Ganesha out of the sandalwood paste that she used for her bath and breathed life into the figure. She then set him to stand guard at her door and instructed him not to let anyone enter.

In the meantime, Lord Shiva returned from the battle but as Ganesha did not know him, stopped Shiva from entering Parvati's chamber. Shiva, enraged by Ganesh’s impudence, drew his trident and cut off Ganesha's head. Parvati emerged to find Ganesha decapitated and flew into a rage. She took on the form of the Goddess Kali and threatened destruction to the three worlds of Heaven, Earth and the subterranean earth.

Parvati was still in a dangerous mood. Seeing her in this mood, the other Gods were afraid and Shiva, in an attempt to pacify Parvati, sent out his ganas, or hordes, to find a child whose mother is facing another direction in negligence, cut off his head and bring it quickly. The first living thing they came across was an elephant. That elephant was facing north (the auspicious direction associated with wisdom). So they brought the head of this elephant and Shiva placed it on the trunk of Parvati's son and breathed life into him. Parvati was overjoyed and embraced her son, the elephant-headed boy whom Shiva named Ganesha, the lord of his ganas. Parvati was still upset so Lord Shiva announced that everyone who worships Ganesha before any other form of God is favoured. So Ganesh is worshipped first in all Hindu occasions and festivals.


Before 1893, Ganesh Chaturthi used to be an important public festival during the Peshwa rule in Maharashtra, but that year, Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual festival into a large, well-organized public event[2].

Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesh as "the god for everybody"[3][4], and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order "to bridge the gap between Brahmins and 'non-Brahmins' and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them", and generate nationalistic fervor among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule[5][6].

Tilak encouraged installation of large public images of Ganesh in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in rivers, sea, or other pools of water all public images of the deity on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi[7].

Under Tilak's encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performances of plays, musical concerts, and folk dances. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in times when, in order to exercise control over the population, the British Rule discouraged social and political gatherings.

Puja in India
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Two to three months prior to Ganesh Chaturthi, life-like clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated & depict Lord Ganesh in various poses. The size of these statues may vary from 3/4th of an inch to over 25 feet.

Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colorfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures mantapas (pandals) in every locality. The pandals are erected by the people or a specific society or locality or group by collecting monetary contributions. The mantapas are decorated specially for the festival, either by using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc or are theme based decorations, which depict religious themes or current events. The statues are worshiped with families and friends.

The priest, usually clad in red silk dhoti and shawl, then invokes life into the statue amidst the chanting of mantras. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the ritual called as Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva (trefoil) blades of grass and red flowers are offered. The statue is anointed with red unguent, typically made of Kumkum & Sandalwood paste . Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and the Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted.

For 10 days, from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, Ganesha is worshipped. On the 11th day, the statue is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, and fanfare to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash while taking away with him the misfortunes of his devotees. All join in this final procession shouting "Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukar ya" (O father Ganesha, come again early next year). After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor is made, people carry the statue to the river to immerse it.


Street festivities in Hyderabad during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi.The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak (modagam or modakam in South India). A modak is a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments. It is either steam-cooked or fried. Another popular sweet dish is the karanji (karjikaiin Kannada) which is similar to the modak in composition and taste but has a semicircular shape.

Public celebrations of the festival are hugely popular, with local communities (mandalas) vying with each other to put up the biggest statue & the best pandal. The festival is also the time for cultural activities like songs, dramas and orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, charity for the poor, etc.

Today, the Ganesh Festival is not only a popular festival - it has become a very critical and important economic activity for Maharashtra. Many artists, industries, and businesses survive on this mega-event. Ganesh Festival also provides a stage for budding artists to present their art to the public. The same holds true for Hyderabad too.

For the year 2007 in the Western Calendar, Ganesha Chaturthi commenced on Saturday, 15 September and its allied festival for Ganesha's mother, Gauri (a form of Parvathi) called Gauri Puja comes on September 13 (the day before)