Ganesh Chaturthi: Hindus observe beloved deity’s rebirth with pomp and color

Elephant's eyes carved in figure with crown and surrounding vibrant colors

The favored Lord Ganesh is front-and-center during the festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi. Photo by Ishan Manjrekar, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29: Months of preparation and the handiwork of thousands of artisans culminate today with the launch of the Hindu festival: Ganesh Chaturthi. Named for its principle deity, Lord Ganesha, Ganesh Chaturthi lasts 10 days in most of India, although the extent of this festival varies by region.

The auspicious festival promises sweet dishes, spiked with coconut and dried fruit; processions, singing and dancing; colorful statuary in every size; and vibrantly decorated homes. For Hindus, Lord Ganesh is a god for everybody. Wealth, class or caste placement bears no interest in the eyes of Ganesh and for this trait the deity has earned many followers. He is known as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune—and, if invoked during his festival, brings fortune to any devotee beginning a new venture. In Hindu legend, Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati.

MAKINGS OF A LEGEND:
SANDALWOOD PASTE & LORD GANESHA

Though traditions vary, legend has it that while taking a bath one day, Parvati wished for someone to stand guard by her door. Sculpting a son of sandalwood paste and breathing life into him, Parvati set her creation—Ganesha—to stand guard. Ganesha turned away every stranger who came by the door, including Parvati’s husband, Lord Shiva, when he returned home. Though the young boy did not know Lord Shiva, Parvati’s husband became enraged when forbidden from entering his own home. Finally, Lord Shiva severed Ganesha’s head. (Read more from Taj Online.)

Upon seeing her headless son, Parvati was distressed. Shiva promised to bring the boy back to life, but upon searching the lands, no human head could be found. Only the head of an elephant was available to save the boy. Shiva secured the elephant’s head onto Ganesha’s body.

FESTIVITIES, DECORATED FIGURES
AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

Giant, colorful statue of elephant god sitting on chair, being paraded down crowded street

An enormous figure of Lord Ganesha is paraded down a street during Ganesh Chaturthi. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Months before the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, artisans craft models of Lord Ganesh, in all sizes and of varying materials: clay, Plaster of Paris, papier mache, stone and more. Intricately detailed and painted in a palette of bold colors, the models serve as sacred statues that are ceremoniously installed and, later, immersed in water.

Lord Ganesh is depicted in a variety of poses, in models ranging from less than an inch to 117 feet tall. (Wikipedia has details.) Many communities host a pandal (temporary structure), which is lavishly decorated and set in high competition against the pandals of nearby localities. Priests chant mantras, invoke the presence of Ganesha into the statues, and laypersons make offerings to the statues.

For several days, participants feast on sweets like modak (a dumpling of rice flour, stuffed with coconut and dried fruits) and karanji. From India to Nepal, Indonesia and Thailand to Europe, the United States and Canada, Hindus celebrate in temples and close the festival by immersing the Ganesha statues into local bodies of water.

In recent decades, devotees have been urged to discontinue some of the non-biodegradable Plaster of Paris figures that were causing environmental concern. Today, more and more adherents are choosing to immerse their idols into a tub or bucket; or, others are producing idols made of environmentally friendly materials. In Goa, the sale of Ganesh figures made from Plaster of Paris is banned by the state government.

IN THE NEWS:
LONDON FESTIVAL TO ATTRACT THOUSANDS;
ARTISANS COMPLETE MASSIVE GANESHA MODEL

A festival in Hounslow for Ganesh Chaturthi, now in its seventh year, attracts thousands of people, according to London news reports. Claiming the title of “largest in west London,” this party for Ganesh brought in more than 4,000 visitors during the festival weekend last year. In 2014, events will kick off with the arrival of a Lord Ganesh—straight from India.

Artisans in Hyderabad, India, are wrapping up one of the tallest figures of Ganesha for this year’s celebrations, as the statue pushes a height of 60 feet. Crafted by 125 workers for more than 50 days, the figure began as a 1-foot model in 1954, and has been slowly built upon and utilized for Ganesh Chaturthi every year since. (Read the story here.) Organizers say the sacred statue now reaches 60 ft. high and 28 ft. wide, weighing in somewhere between 45 and 50 tons.

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