The nicest part of Ganesha’s birthday, Ganesh Chaturthi, is that anyone can celebrate it, thanks to its relative lack of mystifying ritualism. Ganesh Chaturthi is a social event, spreading goodwill and bonhomie and marking the start of the Indian festive season in the latter half of the year.
Traditionally, a thorough house-cleaning is carried out the day prior to the festival, in much the same spirit when expecting a very special guest. In some Maharashtrian homes, women fast to invoke the blessings of Parvati, Ganesha’s mother (again, this isn’t mandatory).
The festival officially takes off on the evening of Day One, when the services of priests are requisitioned for installing the idol, either in homes or in public mandals. While beautifully painted idols are sold all over, you can go creative and make your own Ganesha out of clay, much like his mother, Parvati did! Yellow Calendula flower garlands are the prescribed form of decoration for Ganesha; in their absence, he is adorned with the more easily available marigolds. A bunch of holy durva grass is also a must. Ganesha’s favourite snack, a plate of modaks, is placed before him. With the entire family assembled, the priest lights the oil lamp and incense sticks and chants prayers and incantations that will charge the idol with prana, the universal life-force. During the festival, it is believed that the home and those who visit it will benefit from the power of this force. The ceremony ends with arti and a round of modaks for everyone.
For the next nine days, Vinayaka is worshipped morning and evening with simple prayers and readings from sacred texts. It’s open house season, with friends and relatives shuttling between homes or alternatively, visiting the huge public celebrations at temples and mandals. In many places, cultural activities are organized, when devotees showcase their talents in traditional music and dance, skits, debates and food fairs. The large, public celebration committees also organize social service activities alongside, such as free medical check-ups and blood donation camps.