Ganesh Chaturthi festival, in India, is celebrated to mark the birth of the Hindu elephant-headed Lord Ganesha. Its one of the biggest festivals in Maharashtra and the celebrations last for 11 days.
Lord Ganesha is known for his wisdom (the big, elephant head signifies that) and that’s one of the reasons people seek his blessings before undertaking any new task.
Ganesh Chaturthi Festival (When): 17 September 2015 to 26-September 2015
Where: All across India, celebrated with great fervour in Mumbai, Maharashtra
Ganesh festival (also known as Ganpati festival) is popular in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. However, to experience it the best and to gauge the scale of the festival, you have to be in Mumbai.
Siddhivinayak Temple, the biggest one dedicated to Lord Ganesha, witnesses special celebrations to mark the event. Lalbaug cha Raja (the statue that is setup at Lalbaug – a place in Mumbai) is one of the most revered ones.
Here’s a video that shows how Lord Ganesha, who was born as a normal child, got his elephant head
Begins with Ganpati Sthapana
The festival begins with ‘Ganpati Sthapana’ (‘Sthapana’ in Hindi & Marathi means to set up the statue of Ganesha) of beautifully decorated statutes of Ganesha, either at homes or on podiums in various localities/communities; the community ones (known as ‘Sarwajanik’ in Hindi & Marathi) can be huge (10 to 15 feet).
Artisans usually start making the statues of Ganesha a month before the festival starts, but for the bigger ones the preparation can start several months before the event.
Every day prayers (known as ‘Aarti’) are offered to the god in the morning and the evening for those 11 days; its common for homes to keep the statues for 1 and half days; some even keep it for 5 days.
Offerings of sweets, flowers, rice, coconut, jaggery and coins are made to Lord Ganesh.
Those who get the Ganesha statue at home call over their friends and relatives to have a ‘Darshan’ (means to see and offer prayers) of the god.
How is it Celebrated?
Its the time when sweets are offered to everybody, in general, and you can hear devotional songs coming out from PA/loudspeakers in most neighborhoods.
After the prayers sweets Prayers are offered to god every day during the festival. Every day temples devoted to Lord Ganesha by organizing special events and prayers.
Its also very common for organizers (of the community ones) to conduct games & cultural events in the locality to encourage interaction among people during that time.
Ganpati Darshan is Part of Off-beat Tours
Tourists in Mumbai who prefer to be part of off-beat tours get to see a glimpse of the festivities around Mumbai, during Ganpati festival. Lalbaugcha Raja (Lalbaug is place in Mumbai) is one of the most popular destinations in Mumbai during the festival, where the queue of people seeking a ‘darshan’ (glimpse) of the god can run into several kilometers.
The Bachchans and several other Bollywood celebs come hear every year to offer their prayers and seek blessings.
The organizers there offer VIP passes for celebrities, and even to foreign travelers so that they can see the statue of the god using a separate queue, which is much shorter. For foreign tourists, the VIP pass can cost around $50 or so. In recent times, tourists from US, several European countries, Australia have paid a visit to ‘Lalbaugcha Raja’.
Tourists are also provided basic information about Ganpati (how he got the elephant head, why he rides a mouse, and so on). Tourists also get to knead the traditional ‘modaks’ (sweet) at a workshop conducted by the locals.
Foreign Tourists are advised to carry ear-plugs during such tours as the decibel level at certain places (loudspeakers or local bands playing traditional music) can be a bit high for them.
How Does It End?
On the last day of the festival (known as Ananta Chaturdashi or Anant chaturthi), the statues are immerced in water (lakes, ponds, and the ocean). The statues are paraded through the streets, accompanied by dancing and music and finally immersed in water (before one last prayer).
‘Ganpati bappa morya pudhchya varshi lavkar ya’ (come back soon next year) chants can be heard all over Mumbai.
Girgaum chowpatty is the place where some of the biggest Ganesh statues are immersed. Thousands of people come out on the roads that lead to this place to have a last glimpse of the biggest and the most grandeur of Ganpati statues. The beach itself sees a ‘see of people’ on the last day.
For many, its an extremely emotional moment as they let go of the statue to be immersed in the water, and pray in earnest for an early return next year.