One of the most beloved festivals in India is happening now. It’s time to welcome the Lord Ganesh into our homes and let the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations begin! Read on to know more about this unique regional festival that originated in my home state of Maharashtra in the western region of India. Today, this festival is celebrated not only across the country but also around the world! It has everything you can expect from an Indian fiesta: colors, music, traditional outfits, feasts, processions on the street, community get-togethers, firecrackers, holidays, and much more. Let’s dig in and find out more.
Photo: Runwal Group
The festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated to mark the arrival of Lord Ganesh on Earth. Lord Ganesh is the son of Shiva and the Goddess Parvathi. The stories around the life of Lord Ganesh are epic and endearing, making him one of the beloved deities in India.
The elephant-headed Lord Ganesh is known as the Lord of wisdom, prosperity, wealth, knowledge, and science. He is the remover of obstacles, so much so that His name is akin to the auspicious beginning of any task, be it writing an exam, driving your first car, or launching a rocket. If you hear an Indian say “Jai(hail) Ganesh,” they are most likely wishing for luck in their endeavor.
The celebration details
The dates of the celebration tend to vary in the Western calendar, as the festival follows the Hindu Calendar. Usually, it falls between the 20th of August and the 20th of September. This year, the celebrations started on the 10th of September. Lord Ganesh’s arrival is celebrated for 10 to 11 days straight! Yes, that’s correct, 11 days! The festival is marked by the installation of clay idols depicting Lord Ganesh privately in homes and publicly as a community. People do have the flexibility to host the celebration in their homes for 1.5, 5, and 7 days should they want to do so.
The Idols are in no way generic. People spend weeks making a ‘house’ for their esteemed guests. They create a temporary stage called ‘pandals,’ where the Lord descends for his stay with his beloved followers. The decorations of the ‘pandals’ are a key part of the celebration, as people go from delicate and simple to gigantic, 10-foot-long parade-style floats! Different stories are depicted through the pandals, expressing different stages of life of the Lord on Earth and beyond. From a playful child to the feared warrior, Lord Ganesh takes various forms as chosen by the people. Hymns, verses, fruits, and sweets abound during the celebration.
The idol of the Lord always has tiny white mice tucked in somewhere by the artist. White mice are His chosen form of transportation and are always around! It’s a festival with its very own Easter egg!
Photo: Travelogy India
On the last day of the festival, the goodbyes take place in a unique fashion. The clay idols are immersed in a body of water, usually a lake, river, or the ocean. The send-off is a procession that involves music and dancing on the streets all the way into the water! In the city of Mumbai alone, 150,000 statues are immersed annually on average. It’s pandemonium, with the giant, 20-feet-tall idols being bid adieu alongside 2-feet-tall ones, but the aplomb and spirit is the same all around! Surrounding the location of visarjan, or the immersion, is the chant, “Ganpati bappa Morya, pudhchya varshi lavkar ya.” This translates to praising the lord and asking Him to return soon in the coming year.
COVID-19 put a damper on the celebrations last year, and this year, everyone is cautious. Armed with sanitizers, masks, and rules, the people are ready to welcome the Lord into their homes. The absence of the crowd makes the occasion bittersweet; nevertheless, people are geared up to welcome joy into their lives again!
The most famed pandal to look out for
Believe me when I tell you that the idol of Lord Ganesh is patent protected! Yes, you heard that right. The glorious Lalbaugcharaja in Mumbai is patent protected, with its own unique design! The Kambli family has been making the idol since 1935. People line up for hours to get a glimpse of this magnificent installation. Speaking from personal experience, this wait, and chaos, is worth it!
Photo: DNA India
Ganesh Chaturthi is a Hindu festival. It took me few years to realize that as a Muslim, this is not “one of my festivals.” However, that has not changed a thing! I grew up running wild in my village, decorating the pandals, celebrating the arrival of Lord Ganesh, and lamenting his departure. I have taken my family and friends on tours of the pandals around the cities of Mumbai and Pune, singing the hymns as I remember them.
Today, I find myself murmuring the name of Lord Ganesh, and it always makes me smile. The memories of modak (a favored sweet during this festival), of the artis (prayers), and visiting every home in my village with my mom and grandma will forever be a prized memory.
How to be a part of the celebration
When you see an Indian during this period, a ‘Happy Ganesh Chaturthi’ or ‘Jai Ganesh’ will make them smile! There will be people celebrating this festival in their homes, and you will end up with an invitation to experience the festival in person, watch the prayers, and taste the amazing sweets that go with it. It’s a festival of joy and happiness. Share the love, and all hail Lord Ganesh!
May He destroy the obstacles in your path and bring you prosperity.