Ganesh Chaturthi: A Festival of Hope and Prosperity
Ganesh Chaturthi, one of the most-loved festivals in India, is replete with divinity, celebrations, and flamboyance. It is a festival that cuts across all religions, castes, and creeds. Think Ganesh Chaturthi, and the beautiful idol of Lord Ganesh comes to mind - the excitement, the crowds, the aroma of His favourite modaks and chants just fill the air! Lord Ganesh is seen as a God for all. He is regarded as the God of new beginnings, fresh starts, remover of obstacles, and a patron of learning. This 10-day long festival not only celebrates the birthday of Lord Ganesh, but is also a social and community event that brings people together and promotes harmony. The popular belief is that Lord Ganesh visits earth during these 10 days to bless His devotees. Hence, for those who have an existing Ganesh statue in their house, this is the time to serve Him and take special care of Him, like a much-loved guest. Festivals in India are incomplete without a host of delicacies and Ganesh Chaturthi is no different. Throughout this 10-day extravaganza, a lot of effort is put in to please Lord Ganesh. His favourite food is prepared and offered to Him as bhog.
History: Becoming a Popular Mass Festival
Although Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated traditionally in most states of India, the fervour with which it is celebrated in the state of Maharashtra is unparalleled. Interestingly, it was not a significant part of Maharashtra’s tradition until its advent here during the Maratha reign. In fact, Ganesh Chaturthi was initially just a homely affair. It was Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856–1920), a noted leader of the Indian Independence Movement, who was instrumental in converting Lord Ganesh into a powerful cultural and religious symbol of unity for the Maharashtrian people in an attempt to resist the British rule. Though the British regime clamped down very heavily on political opposition and rebellion, they did not interfere with religious observances. Hence, the Ganesh festival provided a space to show national unity. In 1893, Tilak reinvented the Ganesh Chaturthi, converting it from an annual family celebration to a full-fledged public event.
Rituals and Customs
The preparation for the festival begins months earlier with artisans crafting clay images of Ganesh in different sizes. These idols are installed in specially decorated pandals (temporary structure used in religious events) or at homes. The 10-day long celebration follows the Hindu lunar calendar, with the biggest spectacle taking place on the last day called Anant Chaturdashi. On the first day, amid chants of Ganpati Bappa Morya, thousands of devotees take the idol of Lord Ganesh home, and after its installation, perform a ceremony to invoke His holy presence into the statue. This ritual is called the Prana Pratishtha, during which a number of mantras are recited, a special worship ceremony is performed, offerings of sweets, flowers, rice, coconut, jaggery, and coins are made, and the statue is anointed with red chandan (sandalwood) powder. For the next 10 days the idol is worshipped every day and an arti is sung in the evening. It is believed that Lord Ganesh was born at midday, and consequently it is considered to be the most auspicious time of the day for performing the rituals.
Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival that is celebrated with utmost pride and enthusiasm in the public arena. Apart from prayers and special events being conducted in temples that are devoted to Lord Ganesh, elaborately crafted statues of the Lord are installed in specially constructed and beautifully decorated pandals. In fact, amongst the local communities a competition to put up the most impressive Ganesh statue on display goes on for 10 days. Devotees make it a point to visit the various public displays during the festival. In Maharashtra, the Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshostsav Mandal, founded in 1934, is of of the most famous and the most visited Ganesh pandals.
The culmination of this festival on the 11th day is a spectacular event. On the last day of the festival, Anant Chaturdashi, the statues are paraded through the streets amidst singing and dancing, and then immersed in the ocean or other water bodies. The immersion of the statues and their subsequent destruction reinforces the belief that the universe is in a constant state of change, and eventually gives away to formlessness. The act of immersion denotes the circle of life. The chant of Ganpati Bappa Morya fills the air as the devotees bid farewell and pray for the deity’s early return the following year. While business owners pray to Lord Ganesh for prosperity, farmers pray for abundant harvests. It is believed that in the city of Mumbai alone, more than 150,000 statues are immersed every year!
Food – An Integral part of the Festivities
The innumerable festivals that are celebrated in India are enriched with mouth-watering sweets and lavish meals. Each festival of our country unveils a treasure trove of flavours, with each region offering its own unique twist. Sweetmeats like laddoos, barfis, and mithais are a permanent fixture and one gets to see and eat them during most festivals. However, each festival has a distinct set of delicacies. The 10-day long Ganesh Chaturthi festival infuses an atmosphere akin to a carnival. This is one festival that overflows with sweet offerings, as Lord Ganesh is believed to be very fond of them. So, from modaks, to laddoos and barfis, homes and sweet shops prepare some of the most exquisite sweet delicacies.
Bhog serves a dual purpose. It refers to the food that is served to all those who come to pay their respects to Lord Ganesh and it is also the food that is offered to Him during worship. Apart from sweets and other delicacies, fruits are also offered as bhog. However, bananas, being His favourite fruit, take precedence over all the others.
This particular sweet is believed to be Lord Ganesh’s all-time favourite. He is in fact referred to as Modakpriya in the scriptures owing to His great love for these sweet dumplings. Hence, on the first day of Ganesh Chaturthi, devotees offer Him a bhog of modak. These sweet offerings were traditionally made out of rice flour and jaggery. The modak today has several variations like steamed modak, dry fruit modak, chocolate modak, fried modak, and the like.
Along with modak, Lord Ganesha is also said to be very fond of laddoos. The delectable motichoor laddoo is one of the most common form of laddoos offered to Him in the bhog. Lord Ganesh is often depicted as holding motichoor laddoos in His hands, whether in pictures or idols, reflecting His immense fondness for them. Other melt-in-the-mouth laddoos that are popular during the festival are the coconut laddoos and til ke laddoos.
Satori is a Maharashtrian sweet flat bread, that is a much-loved festival sweet of the state. It is a rich delicacy made from khoya or mawa, ghee, gram flour (besan) and milk.
Coconut Rice is one of the most common offerings to the deity in Western India. This is a rice-based dish prepared by soaking white rice in coconut milk or cooking it with coconut flakes. This delicious and fragrant preparation is a very popular bhog item for Lord Ganesha.
Shrikand is a sweet dish popular in many parts of India. It is made of strained yogurt, and is topped with chunky nuts and raisins.
Banana Sheera, an easy-to-make sweet treat, is yet another popular offering to Lord Ganesha. Made of mashed bananas, semolina and sugar, the texture and taste of sheera is very similar to the melt-in-the-mouth sooji ka halwa (sweet made out of semolina).
Puran Poli is a traditional Indian stuffed bread. It is basically a flatbread made out of wheat, that has a sweet stuffing which is enhanced with spices like cardamom and nutmeg. The word puran refers to the stuffing, while poli refers to the flatbread.
“The greatness of a culture can be found in its festivals”. This oft repeated quote epitomises Ganesh Chaturthi. This sacred festival propagates co-existence and harmony, as it bridges the gap between people. Apart from all the feasting and exuberance that this festival exudes, the people eagerly anticipate the arrival of the Lord of Peace, and the Harbinger of Happiness and Prosperity. Today, there is also a lot of awareness in terms of organic choices for the Ganapati idol, and methods that affect marine life and pollute the environment are discouraged.
The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is marked by fervour, hope, and a prayer for a better tomorrow. Ganpati Bappa Morya!