Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most popular festivals celebrated in India. Ganesha is the god of wisdom and prosperity, and Hindus joyfully and hopefully worship this god for an easy life ahead. Ganesh Chaturthi falls in the month of Bhadrapada, on Shukla Chaturthi. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated to commemorate Shri Ganesha’s birth and arrival to Earth.
A popular story behind the reason for this festival starts when Goddess Parvati goes to take a bath and makes a clay idol of a boy. She brings it to life and tells the boy to make sure no one comes in while she is bathing. Shiva, the destroyer, had tried to go through, but Ganesha would not allow him. In the heat of the moment, Shiva cut off the boy’s head. To make up for this sin, Shiva replaced it with an elephant’s head, representing animals, and granted Ganesha the power to create obstacles for the harmful deeds of the demons and remove obstacles for good deeds, hence his name Vighnaharta. Hindus celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in order to gain wisdom and succeed in whatever auspicious task they choose to complete.
The worship of the god himself has been recorded since the fourth century CE, but it was freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak who publicized this festival, around 1893. Because Ganesha represents all people, Tilak used this as a way to connect people and unite them as true Indians against the British, lighting a determinate fire in their souls. He used this as an opportunity to make plans with other leaders to overthrow the British government. Since the British could not deny the Indians of their religion, they had no choice but to let the Indians proceed. In this way, Ganesh Chaturthi became a public festival.
Ganesh Chaturthi is special mainly because he represents the union between nature, animals, and humans, and by worshipping the god, people symbolize the harmonious lifestyle between nature and humans, which help each other thrive by removing obstacles through their own work, and also helps remove their past sins.
In India, each area has its own way of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. In Gujarat, Ganesha resides in their homes for 10 days. A Ganesh idol is placed on a bed of rice and welcomed with showers of milk and water. Ganesh idol is decorated with chandlo which is made with kumkum and sandal paste and aarti is performed after lighting incense and saying many prayers.
In Andhra Pradesh, people perform a Ganesh puja and read mantras and stories about Ganesha. They throw rice mixed with turmeric onto the idol of Ganesha and offer prasad, which is tamarind rice and sweet Pongal.
In Rajasthan, people celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi publicly. People cover a large image of Ganesha with kumkum, then put a garland of red flowers around an idol of him. Motichoor laddoos are also made, as they believe it to be the god’s favorite food. A common tradition in India is to not look at the moon during Ganesh Chaturthi.
My family is from Maharashtra, where Ganesha Chaturthi is the most popular. We clean and decorate the house to welcome Ganesh for 10 days, though in different parts of Maharashtra, the day Ganapati goes back home depends on when his mother Parvati arrives, on Bhadrapada Shukla Saptami. We dress up in bright new clothes on this day. My mother makes twenty-one modaks, which is believed to be Ganesha’s favorite dessert, and are offered as “naivadyam”. We also offer durvaa-grass to Ganesha. My dad sets up the pooja. When everything is set up, we perform an aarti. Ganesha Chaturthi is my favorite festival of the year. There is always a happy environment in the home. Modaks are also my favorite food, and Ganesha is my favorite god. Most importantly, I continue to learn Indian culture even though I live in the US.