Lord Ganesha is favourite God for most Hindus – all pujas and auspicious events begin only after offering salutations to Lord Ganesha. Hindus all over the world irrespective of affiliation pray to Ganesha. His iconography is famous world wide – the elephant faced Hindu God has a universal appeal.
Like many Hindu gods Ganesha is variously known as Vinayaka, Pillaiyar, Ganapati. In Tamil he is known as Pillaiyar meaning “Who is this boy?” because this was the question Lord Shiva asked Parvathi when he saw Ganesha. For more on Ganesha story, I suggest you pick a copy of Amar Chitra Katha’s Lord Ganesha copy.
Ganesha’s Birthday known as Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chaturthi is celebrated in a grand scale all over India. People celebrate this festival as a community – the celebrations are public and not just within family. Doll makers start their work atleast a month before the chaturthi, creating colourful idols of Lord Ganesha in many sizes. Special mantaps are created in every locality. The mantaps are decorated beautifully. Huge idols are displayed in these mantaps. Once when my daughter was studying in Bombay, she told me about this massive traffic jam that lasted for hours when a Ganesha idol got stuck in a flyover!!!
There are of course smaller ones for the puja conducted at home.
The celebrations continue for 11 days ending with the grand Ananta Chaturdashi or immersion of idol in water. Every day people gather in the evenings for Puja and Aarthi. Cultural programmes are also conducted every evening. People try to have darshan of as many Ganeshas as they can. The high point of Ganesha Chaturthi is Immersion of the Idol in water known as Visarjan, which is conducted on Ananta Chaturdasi. The puja at home lasts for 2 to 3 days. Visargan takes place on a grand scale and is huge public event these days. In Maharashtra during the pre independence era in 1893 Lokmanya Tilak made public celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthi a norm and this became a way to foster unity because of his universal appeal. Thousands gather near the sea front to immerse idols that are almost 22 feet high. There is a lot of drumming, dancing, fireworks and smearing of gulal (or Holi colour). In fact Visargan is so packed, that it alsmost difficult to even look at your own toes or see anything beyond the head the person in front of you!!!! The atmosphere reverberates with chants of “Ganapati bappa moriya, pudcha varshi lavkarya”.
Gowri puja is mainly celebrated mainly in Karnataka, a day before Chaturthi. Gowri or Parvathi is the mother of Ganesha and consort of Lord Shiva. This year the Gowri puja is on 14 th September and Ganesh chaturthi is on 15 th September.
One problem with these celebrations in these modern times is playing film songs loudly through out the day. Also traditionally Ganesha idols are made out of mud and not plaster of paris – recently with commercialization, plaster of paris idols especially in large sizes have become dominant. This has led to lot of pollution especially of the Bombay sea. It’s very painful to see a dark dirty sea after the celebrations.
Here’s a video of Ganesha Chaturthi that I found on YouTube.
The main prasaadam for Lord Ganesha is Modhak (in Marathi) or Kozhukkatai (in Tamil) – steamed rice flour wraps stuffed with jaggery and coconut or a savoury filling.
Click here for four varieties of Kozhukattai – coconut-jaggery, sesame, urad dal and channa dal. I will be posting some other variations also.