Vinayaka Chaviti also known as Ganesh Chaturthi the festival of the god Ganesh or Vinayaka, is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Ganesha - the god of wisdom and prosperity. It is celebrated on the Suddha Chaviti day (the fourth day after the no-moon day) of the lunar month Bhadrapada (August/September).
Ganesh's blessings are invoked at most religious ceremonies as he is the god who can remove all obstacles to success. He bestows wisdom, good fortune and prosperity and helps preventing natural calamities.
Ganesh Chaturthi, marking his birthday, is celebrated in his honour, chiefly in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In Mumbai alone, thousands of Ganesh idols are commissioned collectively by social, cultural and commercial organisations.
This festival is so popular that preparations begin months in advance. Chaturthi is the last of the eleven days dedicated to the elephant-headed god, when thousands of processions converge on the shores of lakes, ponds, and sea beaches to immerse the holy idols in the sea. Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad and Chowpatty beach in Mumbai are principal places where the idols are immersed at the end of the festival. The immersion of the idols takes place amidst the chanting of "Ganesh Maharaj Ki Jai!" and "Ganapati Bappa Morya". The festival ends with pleas to Ganesh to return early the next year.
He is the god of wisdom and prosperity and is invoked before the beginning of any auspicious work by the Hindus. When a Hindu child is initiated into education, (s)he is asked to invoke Ganesha by chanting the Mantra Om Sree Ganeshaya Namaha - only then is the education considered commenced .
This very social and colourful festival has an interesting beginning in Maharashtra, where its popularity knows no bounds.
The ten-day festival starts from the fourth day of the bright half of the lunar month, Bhadrapada and continues till the fourteenth day. Thousands join in and form the many processions that fill the streets when the time comes for the image to be immersed in a water body - the sea, river or a lake. The festival brings with it a feeling of caraderie.
On the first day the clay form of Ganesh is brought home with great devotion. Prayers are said and songs chanted to the accompaniment of music from the mridanga or two-sided drum and the jhanj or cymbals. Some devotees select and buy their Ganesh on the same day and others place their orders months in advance. The figures are often very large, standing several metres high. These larger Ganesh images are usually ordered by neighbourhood puja committees, the entire neighbourhood contributing towards the purchase.
After the idol is collected it is ceremoniously installed in a place of honour and various rituals take place. The Ganesh is decorated with ornaments, flowers and lights. Puja and aarti are performed every morning and evening using flowers, rice, betel nuts and leaves, turmeric, red powder, coins and oil lamps. Men and women, the old and young all join in. Special sweets called modaks are steamed or fried for offering to Ganesh. Modaks are small rice or wheat flour dumplings stuffed with coconut and jaggery. These are served at the festive meals during the festival.
On the tenth day of the festival is immersed in water. Huge processions made up of different groups all accompanying the image of Ganesh that they have worshipped, make their way by foot to the immersion site. The very large images are transported by truck. All this is done to the accompaniment of dancing and singing. The mood is jovial with everyone chanting, over and over again, "Ganesh Bappa more ya, Pudhchya Varshi Lavakar Yaa..." calling Ganesh to come again soon next year.
The sight of the crowded streets, the different Ganesh images and the happy people is an amazing spectacle. In large towns special roads are demarcated for these processions and the traffic police and users of cars, buses and two-wheelers display notable patience with the crowds and never-ending processions.
However, it is the stupendous scale of this festival, celebrated by communities of people in the cities and villages of Maharashtra, which attracts millions of people to the state. Some of the community idols are as tall as 20 metres. These are set up in large pandals, worshipped for up to ten days and then taken to the sea in immense processions for immersion.
The festival preparations start early in the day, well before sunrise. People get ready with all the items needed for the Vinayaka Vratam (the ritual associated with worshipping Vinayaka on this day). They include specific varieties of leaves, flowers, fruits, incense sticks, sugarcane pieces, coconuts and other items normally used on festive occasions. A small square, made with thin bamboo sticks, called Palavelli, is hung above the idol of Vinayaka and decorated with Lotus flowers, various leaves and fruits.
The idol of lord Vinayaka is normally made of clay and is placed in the north-eastern direction of the house. The idol is placed on betel leaves that are placed over a small heap of rice or other grain. Before worshipping the main idol, a small idol form with turmeric powder is worshipped. Then the holy lamp is lit and the Pooja commences. It is believed that the number twenty-one is dear to Vinayaka and hence he is worshipped with the same number of flowers, fruits and is offered twenty one varieties of special food preparations.
Lord Vinayaka is said to be very much fond of "Undrallu" (a sweet made with rice flour), which are invariably prepared in every household on this festive day. Ghee clarified butter made from cow s milk, is used in place of cooking oil on this day in the preparation of food items.
Children keep their books near the idol this day to seek the lord's blessings towards their studies. Likewise, people of different trades keep their tools of the trade etc. near the idol to seek blessings. It is believed that by worshipping Vinayaka, hurdles in life are cleared and the mental faculties of the devotees are improved.
On this festive day, children go around the neighbourhood visiting houses to view the Vinayaka idols and offer prayers to Ganesh.
During this multi-day festival, as long as the idol is kept in the house, prayers are offered daily in the mornings and evenings. It is customary to immerse the idols in a water body like a river, pond or lake, on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth or eleventh day.
In the countryside, farmers bring back a small portion of the clay from the idol after immersion and place it in their granaries. The belief is that the clay prevents mice from foraging into the granaries. Instead of leaving the idols in a water body, some devotees keep them in their granary for prosperity.
Started originally in Maharashtra by Chhatrapati Shivaji to promote culture and nationalism, the festival had to be revived by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak during the struggle for freedom from the British. The celebrations were used to spread the message of freedom struggle and to defy the British who had banned public assemblies. The festival gave Indians a feeling of unity and revived their patriotic spirit and faith.
What was started in Maharashtra by Tilak soon spread to many parts of India, and it can confidently be said that Lord Ganesh played a catalytic force in the Indian Independence Struggle!
The festival was not celebrated with any pomp and gaiety before Independence unlike today.
As per mythology, a demon king, Asurendra was defeated by Indra (the Lord of the heaven) and requested his teacher Sukracharya to show him how he could avenge his defeat. Sukracharya told him that one who is born to the sage Matanga would be able to defeat Indra. The demon king sends his wife to seduce sage Matanga through whom she should bear a child. Sage Matanga happens to see two elephants making love which inspires in him sexual desire and Asurendra's wife consents to fulfil his desire. As per the myth, the sage transforms himself and the demon king's wife as elephants while making love. Hence the son born to Asurendra's wife had a head like that of an elephant and is called Gajamukhasura (the demon with an elephant s face).This Gajamukhasura makes great penance to please Lord Shiva, who agrees to live in the womb of Gajamukhasura. Empowered by the powers given to him by Lord Shiva, the Gajamukhasura wages battle against Indra and defeats him.
Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva wonders where her husband went leaving her alone and seeks the help of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu with his divine vision comes to know that Shiva is living in the body of the demon king. Vishnu, in the garb of a Gangireddula vadu (a folk entertainer who goes around with a bull (eddu), making it dance to the tune of the pipe he plays) takes along with him the Nandi (the divine bull which is the carrier of Shiva) and goes to the court of the Gajamukhasura. There he makes the Nandi dance to entertain the king. Not knowing that it was Vishnu, the demon king promises to fulfil whatever wish he makes. When Lord Vishnu asks him to give back Shiva it dawns on the demon king that the entertainer is none other than Vishnu.
Having agreed to fulfil their wish Gajamukhasura prepares himself for his imminent death. He prays to lord Shiva to grant him a boon where his head would be worshipped by all. He also wishes that his skin should be worn by Shiva. Shiva agrees to this and then, as desired by Vishnu, the divine bull Nandi tears open the womb of Gajamukhasura with his horns and releases Shiva.
Goddess Parvati comes to know of this at Kailash and awaits the return of her husband.
Parvati makes a doll with nulugu (a mixture of flours, used as part of the traditional bathing process). She likes it so much that she gives it life and treats the boy as her son. She keeps the boy as a guard to their house. When Shiva returned, the boy stopped his entry enraging Shiva, who in a fit of anger, beheads the boy with his trishool.
Later Shiava comes to know about the boy and laments very much and promises the grieving mother, that he would bring back the boy to life. He brings the head of Gajamukhasura and fixes it to the beheaded body of the boy and restores life in him. For this reason that boy is named as Gajanana and became the son of Shiva and Parvati. Parvati and Shiva gave him Anindya, a mouse, as a carrier.
Kumara Swamy was born later to Shiva and Parvati.
At a time when all the Ganas - celestial subjects and kings - approached Lord Shiva and prayed to him to provide them with a leader who could lead them through the hurdles they were facing, Gajanana claimed leadership as he was the eldest son. Kumaraswamy contended that as Gajanana was having a short stature and a disfigured body, Ganesh did not deserve to play the role.
Shiva wanted to test them by setting the task where each would go around the universe and come back first. Kumaraswamy immediately started off on voyage on his peacock, but Gajanana knowing that he can not go round so fast on his rat, prayed to Shiva and went around (Pradakshinas) his parents. "Going around you, who represent the entire manifested universe, is equivalent of going around the universe!"
Thus the dispute was settled in favour of Ganesh. Ganesh, who is now the elected leader of the Deva Ganas is thus also known as Ganapati chief of the celestial army. The day on which he was crowned as Ganapati happened to be the Chaviti (fourth) day of the month of Bhadrapada.
Ganesh is very fond of sweet pudding or balls of rice flour with a sweet core. On one of his birthdays, he was going around accepting the offerings of sweet puddings. Having eaten a good number of these, he set out moving on his mouse late in the night. The mouse saw a snake in the dark and got startled - dropping Ganesh in the process. Ganesh's stomach burst open, leading to his death. The moon, observing all this, burst out laughing.
Parvati was distraught once again and cursed that whoever saw the moon at all would be subject to false accusations. Brahma brought Ganesh back to life.
All the gods pray to Parvati to withdraw the curse given to moon, then she limits the effects of the curse to the Vinayaka Chaviti day only and then also who ever worships Vinayaka will not be troubled even by sighting the moon. Hence all the people in order to escape from the curse of Parvati are worshipping Vinayaka without fail. It is said the Lord Vinayaka has two wives by name Siddhi and Buddhi and had two sons by them named Skhemudu and Labhudu.
The narration of this story is a part of the Pooja ritual performed on Ganesh Chaturthi. It is believed that whoever listens to this story on this day is exempt from a curse of goddess Parvati.
The story goes like this: Once lord Krishna saw the reflection of the Moon in a milk pot on Vinayaka Chaviti day. He was subjected to false accusations that he killed a King for the sake of a precious stone. To prove himself Krishna had to wage a fierce fight with Jambavantha. However, as Krishna was a king and powerful, he could come clear of the false accusations. People wondered that they would not be able to clear themselves of false accusations like Krishna did. They prayed to the sages for a remedy to save them from the curse of goddess Parvati.
The sages suggested a mandatory remedy for the common man: Worship Lord Vinayaka on the Chaturthi and narrate/ listen to this story on that day without fail.
Once Parashuram came visiting when Shiva, Ganesh's father, was alone with his consort, Parvati. Ganesh who was on guard at the entrance forbade Parasurama from disturbing Lord Shiva. But Parashuram insisted; and a fierce fight ensued.
Parashuram threw his axe (granted to Parashurama by Shiva) at Ganesh. Ganesh recognised the axe and refused to defend himself from the weapon. He bowed and took its impact on one of his tusks, which broke.
Thus Ganesh came to be called as Ekadanta along with a host of other names.
Ganesh Pooja involves worshipping nature.
Consider the facts: Various leaves, flowers having medicinal properties are used as offerings to Vinayaka. His carrier is a mouse. His trunk resembles a granary, his single tusk is like a farmer's plough and the snake around his waist is considered a protection to the granary from rats.
As everything belonging to him resembles some aspect of nature, it is believed that worshipping him is equivalent to worshipping nature.
Many believe that the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi festival promotes health indirectly, as the leaves and fruits of some medicinal plants offered to Ganesh are grown in the house, which in turn promote health. Further, as oil is not used in the food preparations for the festival, healthy food habits are encouraged. Even the sweets are made from molasses - a known ingredient in Ayurveda that helps in detoxifying the human body.
The worshipping of Ganesha is not limited to India alone. It is evident from the archaeological evidences available in Afghanistan that the Vinayaka worship is prevalent even before fourth century BC. Ganesh is worshipped with the names of "Mahapini" in Burma, "Dhotkar" in Mongolia, "Tokprat; in Tibet, "PraGanesh" in Cambodia, "Kwansijjuk" in China and "Vinayak-sha" in Japan.
And of course, myriad of Hindus have taken their culture with them overseas. Today there are numerous temples dedicated to Vinayaka among, other deities, in various countries.
Ashtavinayakas the eight Swayambhu Ganesh temples, all in Maharashtra - are of great importance to Hindu pilgrims.
Located at Moregaon, about 65 kilometres, south/south-east of Pune.
This temple was built in the fourteenth century by Morya Gosavi. According to legend, Ganesh took birth as Mayureshwar riding a peacock to kill Sindhu, son of Chakrapani, who had become powerful by worshipping Surya but was attacking the gods and had imprisoned them in the city of Gandaki. Moregaon is the place where the head of Sindhu fell.
Located at Theur, about 25 kilometres East from Pune, on National Highway No. 9.
Morya Gosavi attained Siddhi here and his son built the temple to commemorate the event. According to the legend King Abhijit and his wife Gunavati had a son called Gana, on his visit to saga Kapila he coveted the Chintamani (wish fulfilling stone) which Kapila used to fulfill his wishes. Kapila refused to part with the stone but Gana took it forcibly, Durga advised Kapila to worship Ganesh. With the powers of the worship Kapila fought and killed Gana, Abhijit returned the jewel to Kapila but he did not it. Ganesh stayed on the spot under the Kadamba tree and called himself Chintamani.
Situated at Ranjangaon, 54 kilometres from Pune.
This temple is known as MahaGanesh or Ganesh the Great. The original idol was very big but was hidden to prevent its destruction and the present day smaller idol was installed instead. As per the legend Tripurasura born from the nostrils of Gritsamada when he sneezed. Tripurasura worshipped Ganesh and conquered the three worlds. Ganesh had told that only Shiva can destroy Tripurasura. The gods went to Shiva who fought Tripurasura but could not defeat him, then Narada told Shiva that he should have worshiped Ganesh before he fought Tripurasura, after that Shiva made the appropriate prayer to Ganesh and succeeded, and in gratitude Shiva established Ganesh there as Maha Ganesh.
Situated at Siddhatek on the banks of Bhima near Ahmednagar, 110 kilometres north-east of Pune.
As per the legend Bramha once created a world with Ganesh's blessings, and while this was going on Vishnu woke up and two fierce demons Madhu and Kaitaba escaped from his ears. Vishnu fought with them for 5,000 years, then Shiva pointed out that Vishnu had started without worshippin Ganesh, so Vishnu invoked Ganesh on Sidhatek hilland destroyed the demons successfully and consecrated the spot.
Situated at Ozar, about 100 kilometres north from Pune; National Highway no 50.
This temple was built in 1833. The temple is famous for its Deepmala's and its Golden dome. As per legend King Abhinandana performed many sacrifices to become Indra, Indra on hearing this sent Kala (Time as destroyer) himself in form of Vighnasura to obstruct the sacrifices. At this all the world also halted and suffered, all vedic rites also halted so the gods prayed to Ganesh, Ganesh defeated Vighnasura making him one of the Gana's, Vighnasura requested Ganesh to use his name as prefix and stay at Ozar, to which Ganesh agreed.
Situated on a hill on the banks of Kukdi river at Lenyadri.
This temple can be reached after climbing up 283 stairs. As per the legend Parvati wanted a son, so she did penance for 12 years to Ganesh who was born as a child to her, the Deity faces south and is sacred because Ganesh's thread ceremony was performed here.
Located at Pali, about 40 kilometres from Khopoli, east of Pune.
This temple was named after devotee Ballal as Ballaleshwar to whom Ganesh revealed himself at this sacred spot. The wooden Temple is so constructed that on the two equinoxes, the rays of the sun fall directly on the deity.
Situated at Mahad, about 20 kilometres from Khandala, east of Pune.
This temple is known as Shree Varad Vinayak the bestower of blessings.
The following are some of the common names that Ganesh is recognised with: