Ganesh Mall wishes a very Happy Diwali to all Ganesh followers. May this festival of lights brighten your year ahead and bring you peace and prosperity.
Photo credit: www.flickr.com user nimboo
This year, the visarjan, or ceremonial immersion that marks the end of Ganeshutsav was as always, a spectacular, joyous event.
Mumbai virtually closes down for the day to bid goodbye to its favorite deity. Security arrangements for the mammoth processions is a major concern for a city that lives in the shadow of terror. In a first this year, traffic police used vehicle-tracking technology to monitor the movement of about 50 processions from prominent Ganesh mandals.
Incessant rain (and hence, pot-holed roads) couldn’t stop thousands from singing and dancing through the streets, including one group of Thai revelers who are regular visitors at the Mumbai visarjan. Sadly, at one spot, an overcrowded balcony collapsed leaving one onlooker dead and several injured.
Dance Ganesh 2011 is a trendy, fun-filled visarjan for the young at heart, with DJs, electronic dance music, fire dancers and stilt walkers.
Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh)
This city in northern India celebrated Ganeshutsav with unusual fervor. For the visarjan, 560 idols were taken in procession to the holy Ganges River for immersion at Sarsaiya Ghat. Several all-women welfare organizations participated in the 10-day festival and were seen at the visarjan in large numbers, a departure from tradition in the usually male-dominated processions. One group of women pulled a ‘chariot’ bearing the idol to the river.
All over India, anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare featured prominently in Ganeshutsav celebrations with a surge in demand for small Ganesha idols wearing Anna’s trademark headgear, the white topi.
Elsewhere in the world…
At Soar Valley Netball Centre, Leicestershire, UK, Hindu devotees bid goodbye to a 20 ft high idol that was shipped from India. The statue was taken to Liverpool for immersion in the River Mersey.
Hindu Indians in Dubai celebrate Ganeshutsav with as much fervor as in their native land, flocking to the temple in Bur Dubai, buying modaks and immersing their individual idols in the Arabian Sea.
Flushing, New York, is the place to be for witnessing a visarjan in the USA. The large scale Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Maha Vallabha Ganapati Temple end with Ganesha leaving in a chariot accompanied by singing, dancing devotees as well as anyone looking for a bit of fun.
Public festivals are typically a marvellous treat for the senses, filled with brilliant colour, sound and fervour and the Ganesh Utsav is among the biggest of them all. If there’s one aspect that marks out this festival from others, it’s the ability of organizers and artisans to give the celebration a contemporary twist.
This year, Ganesha’s 10-day sojourn on earth is an occasion to highlight current, hot-potato social issues and events. One Mumbai mandal spreads awareness about the evils of female foeticide, another highlights the tragedy of farmer suicides with a 22 ft Ganesha suspended in mid-air. Elsewhere, artisans are busy churning out plump Ganesha souvenirs clad in white dhotis and Gandhi caps – a tribute to the aging anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, whose recent agitation gained a nationwide following. The theme has been picked up by Ganesha mandals in other parts of India as well.
In 2011, Mumbai’s most popular Ganesha, Lalbaugcha Raja gets an 11 lb (5 kg) golden necklace and a traditional Paithani stole made of Japanese satin as birthday gifts. At nearby Ganesh Galli, local artisans have fashioned a replica of the architecturally splendid Mallikarjun Jyotirling Temple in Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh).
Tomorrow Ganesh Followers around the world will be celebrating their beloved Lord Ganesha’s birthday once again. A quick peek at what’s happening where:
Mumbai, India, the nerve centre of Ganesh Utsav, is a trifle subdued this year, thanks to the overabundance of the monsoons that’s resulted in waterlogged roads. However, all agencies involved in the mammoth event – government bodies, police, Ganesha mandal leaders, idol-makers and the general public – are determined to make the festival largely eco-friendly. Discussions have been on to substitute Plaster of Paris idols and chemical dyes that pollute Mumbai beaches every year after the festival.
Mumbai may be pipped to the post by Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) where a youth association plans to install a 94 ft Ganesha, the tallest ever built. The 500-tonne Ganesha will be gifted with a gigantic ‘laddoo’ weighing 2,500 kg (5,500 lb). The idol will be made of clay from Kolkata, water-based colors and dried grass.
India’s IT hotspot, Bangalore will host its forty-ninth Ganesh Utsava. Cultural events featuring well-known Indian artistes in classical and popular music and dance will be the highlight of the 11-day fest.
In Pune, a non-governmental organization, eCoexist, has been selling eco-friendly papier mâché idols, using waste paper, for the first time in the festival’s history. The idols are colored with natural products like turmeric and Fuller’s Earth. Papier mâché is a good alternative to the more fragile clay idols.
In Mauritius, Ganesh Utsav is a public holiday. Hindu islanders celebrate at home and immerse Ganesha idols in the sea or along riverbanks.
New York’s Maharashtra Mandal is staging a popular Marathi comedy as the highlight of its celebrations. Besides the traditional Ganapati Pooja, there will art and craft sessions for children.
The Maharashtra Mandal Bay Area (Sunnyvale, CA) will organize a children’s variety program, a drawing competition and ‘Maticha Ganapati’ competition, where children will make clay idols of Ganesha.
If you know of any Ganesh Celebrations in your area, be sure to share it with us.
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.
The time of the year, when a large part of the Hindu population erupts into joyous celebration on the streets is around the corner. An entrancing melange of crowds, colors, songs and dances that take your breath away with their sheer energy. This is the time when India says ‘Happy Birthday’ to its revered deity, Lord Ganesha. This Year Ganesh Chaturthi comes on Sept 1, 2011.
Ganesh Chaturthi is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, Chavath in Konkani and Chathaa in Nepal Bhasa. Celebrated in the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (mid-August to mid-September), starting on the fourth day of the waxing moon and culminating 10 days later (Anant Chaturdasi), it’s virtually a pan-Indian festival, with the most visible celebrations belonging to states which were formerly a part of the Maratha kingdom – Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
For these states, especially so for Maharashtra, the Ganesha festival has over the decades become a mini-industry. Temple trusts, artisans, designers, manufacturers, carpenters, painters, suppliers, cooks, shopkeepers and petty traders come together in an amazingly well-coordinated operation to produce the spectacular scenes that are watched worldwide today on television. Living proof indeed that Ganesha brings together people from varied walks of life.
During the holiday, along with huge public celebrations, Ganesha is also be worshipped in the quiet of homes across India. In Maharashtra, women fast the day before the festival to invoke the blessings of Parvati, Ganesha’s mother. Clay or painted idols of Ganesha are placed on small platforms and decorated with flowers, red unguent and sandal paste. For the next ten days, the Ganesha stotra and Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda in praise of the deity will be chanted.
Ganesha being a lover of food, housewives get down to preparing his favorite munchie, the modak – rice-flour dumplings stuffed with a coconut-jaggery mixture. It’s a tricky business making them, but they vanish in no time at all! Also on offer for Ganesha are snacks like chaklis, boondi and poha , varieties of sweets and savories.
In southern India, porches are decorated with intricate kolams or designs drawn with red oxide and rice-flour paste to welcome Ganapati. His perch in the puja is decorated with thoranams (garlands of leaves) and plantain saplings on either side. Large parts of city pavements are taken over by people selling all that’s required for the puja – idols, flowers, bilva+ leaves, a type of grass (called arugam pullu in Tamil) and garlands of small, purplish erukampoo flowers specially dedicated to the elephant god. Once he’s all dressed up, he is placed on a special platform. Two colorful paper umbrellas may be placed on either side of him. This being a state holiday, the entire family gets involved in the goings-on, with children especially enjoying the process of decorating the plump elephant god. Some families even make their own idols from clay – not an impossible task, given Ganesha’s rounded physique!
Offerings to the Lord, called neivedhyam, consist of varieties of modaks++ (known in the south as kozhukattai), both sweet and savory, raw rice idli (steamed dumplings), payasam (a sweet, milk-based dessert) and optionally, specially prepared ellurundai (til seed balls) and appams (sweetened rice pancakes) Coconut, betel leaves and nuts and a variety of fruits make up the rest of Ganapati’s delicious repast.
But it’s the public celebrations, especially in Mumbai and Pune, that take your breath away. Priests dressed in red silk dhotis chant mantras before massive, colorfully decorated idols. The elaborate, brightly lit mandals∗ attract an endless stream of devotees. The more social-minded mandals also conduct free medical check-ups and blood donation camps. Cultural activities are staged every evening.
Visarjan – the immersion ceremony – takes place on the third, fifth, seventh or tenth day of the festival. There’s hectic dancing and merriment as Ganesha idols – towering and tiny – are carried through the streets. As the idol is immersed in the sea, and Ganesha returns home to Kailasa∗∗, cries of Ganapati Bappa Morya, agle baras to jaldi aa fill the air. Goodbye Ganesha. Come back to us early next year.
∗ mandals: this word has a dual meaning. It could refer to the organization in charge of the celebrations or the large, decorative tents erected during the festival.
∗∗ Kailasa: the abode of the gods, in the Himalayas.
On the third, fifth, seventh or tenth day, Ganesha is borne away and immersed in the sea (or any body of water) with much fanfare and wishes for his return the following year. This is the visarjan ceremony, imbued with the essence of Hindu philosophy. Why is it important? For mere mortals, it’s easier to worship a physical depiction of the divine. Visarjan though is a reminder that the idol is but a temporary receptacle for the divine spirit; the Supreme Being, in reality, is everywhere.
Why is the idol, created with such elaborate preparations, discarded at the end? The 10-day ritual and all that it involves engages the mind, heart and senses; it is a yearly reinforcement of faith in the divine. However, dissolving the idol brings home the truth that it is but a temporary home for the sacred spirit. In truth, Ganesha pervades the universe.
Visarjan also symbolizes the cyclic nature of existence – Ganesha “leaves” the earth, but his devotees know he will reappear the following year. Immersing the idol is a reminder of the transient nature of earthly life; only by shedding attachment to it can our souls unite with the universal spirit. The ritual also epitomizes Samsara – Sanskrit for the eternal cycle of life and death. When the soul departs, the body returns to the earth, only to re-enter the circle of life in another form. So too will Ganesha return, reanimated after a year. This concept of spiritual liberation infuses the immersion ceremony, with Ganesha borne in a triumphal procession, His followers dancing through the streets, ending the festivities in a burst of exuberant sound and color.
Lokmanya Tilak had no idea of what he was unleashing, back in 1893, when he reinvented Ganesh Chaturthi from a festival celebrated in homes to a sarvajanik utsav. His noble intention then was to utilize the deity’s acceptance by all ethnic communities as a rallying point against the colonial oppressors. Ever since, there’s been no looking back for Ganesha, who’s now outgrown his primary, religious avatar and become an omnipresent cultural icon. Once a private family festival, Ganesh Chaturthi assumed a new, public dimension in the late 1900s.
Tilak, among India’s earliest opponents of British rule, conceived the idea of co-opting Ganesha into the freedom struggle. A social reformer, Lokmanya Tilak, as he was popularly known, realized that unless India’s caste-driven society shed its prejudices and united, there was little hope of rousing the spirit of nationalism. Recognizing Ganesha’s pan-Indian popularity, Tilak floated the idea of installing large Ganesha idols in specially constructed pavilions for public worship. Other group activities were added on – music, theatre, dance and discourses – a smart way to get around the British imposed ban on large gatherings of Indians. It was also Tilak’s idea to make a grand spectacle of Ganesha’s immersion ceremony, bringing masses of people together.