Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chaturthi is a key festival celebrated by Hindus. The celebration takes place over a period of 10 days. The festival marks the birth of Lord Ganesha and starts on the fourth day of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada. This is typically between the second half of August and the first half of September. Ganesha is associated with wisdom and good fortune. His devotees worship him fervently on these days to be blessed with the same.
The preparations for the festival start much before the first day. Ganesha idols are made using clay in various sizes and painted in vibrant colours. Temples and streets have raised platforms put up and huge Ganesha idols are kept on them. Ganesh mantras or hymns from the Ganesh chalisa are played in public places while the Ganesh Upanishad and other religious texts are read out in temples.
Some people also set up a pedestal in their homes and place a clay idol on it. The size depends on the choice of the worshippers. The deity is usually placed in the pooja room. Devotees wake up early in the morning and clean the entire house. After this, they take a bath and start decorating the deity. They apply red chandan powder liberally on the statue and decorate him with garlands. Some worshippers also place a red coloured umbrella with a gold border over Ganesha’s head. Worshippers also offer yellow or red flowers and blades of durva grass at the base of the idol. This grass is said to be capable of attracting the lord’s powers.
Following this, devotees light a lamp and keep coconut or garlands next to it, light camphor and incense sticks and proceed to a ritual called pranapratishta. This is to symbolically bring life to the idol. This is followed by the shhodashopachara that features 16 ways of offering a tribute to Ganesha.
Once the rituals and prayers associated with worship are done, they offer his favourite food such as modaks, coconut, jiggery, and ladoos as prasad. Modaks are said to be Ganesha’s favourite food. This is done twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. The prasad is then divided among family members and those who visit the temples. The lord is cared for and treated like a much-loved guest. Some followers believe 21 to be the number associated with the lord. So, they offer 21 flowers, blades of durva grass, ladoos or modaks. The 21 blades of grass are tied together as a single bundle.
The festival comes to an end by immersing the idol in a nearby waterbody. In case of big idols, a procession is organised and the Ganesha is taken to the water source in an open top vehicle pulled by several devotees accompanied by drumbeats, dancing and devotional singing. They chant several mantras in dedication to the god when the immersion or visarjan is being done. The immersion is done to send Ganesha back to his heavenly abode to his parents Lord Shiva and Maa Parvati after seeking his blessings during his stay in his devotees’ homes or the temples where the rituals were conducted.
There is an interesting tale behind Ganesh Chaturthi. It is said that once Lord Ganesha was returning home on his vehicle, the mouse, after a feast on his birthday when he accidentally fell down. The moon witnessed this incident from the sky and found it funny. So, it started laughing loudly. This upset Ganesha and he cursed the moon saying that no one would ever see it on his birthday. Hindus believe that seeing the moon on the first day of this festival would cause them to be falsely accused of stealing.
The origin of this festival dates back to the Maratha regime. It was popularised by the great king Chatrapati Shivaji in erstwhile Bombay. Even today, although Hindus throughout the country celebrate the festival, it is celebrated with maximum zeal in Mumbai. All Hindu homes, temples and streets in the city come to life during this period.