Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival that commemorates the birth of Lord Ganesha. It falls on the fourth day of the waxing of the moon in the Bhadrapada month (August or September). This is an important Hindu festival. If one is present in Maharashtra or Goa during the Ganesh Chaturthi he/she will be spellbound by the spectacular celebration and the lights, colours, sound, and happiness all around.
During Ganesh Chaturthi, particularly in Maharashtra, people of all classes and cultures take part in a loud, joyous festival. It is not surprising to see the CEO of a company dancing to the Bollywood tunes alongside a sweeper or vegetable seller. The only one who remains high above all others is Lord Ganesha. This is perhaps the main attraction of Ganesh Chaturthi.
Although there is ample evidence that point towards the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi during the rule of the Chalukya, Satavahana and Rashtrakuta kings, the conclusive evidence says that Chhatrapati Shivaji started celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi in a big way in Maharashtra. Then again, Bal Ganga TIlak used Ganesh Chaturthi celebration to unite people irrespective of class. Today people across India celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi with reverence.
Ganesh Chaturthi is somewhat similar to Durga Puja in West Bengal as far as the intensity of the celebration is concerned. The festival lasts for 10 or 11 days. More than 10,000 pandals are erected in Maharashtra to celebrate the festival. People worship Lord Ganesha, people offer Him food- especially sweet foods like modaka. There are some pious people who even fast during this period. There are Ganesh idols that are very tall. They are kept on the street - everybody can get access to the idol and worship Lord Ganesha. At the end of the period, people carry the idols with the same fervour and immerse them in the water.
Sri Sri Ravishankar has explained the significance of Ganesh Chaturthi nicely. He says after the idol of Ganapati is made with clay, a devotee prays to Lord Ganesha and begs him to move out from his heart and enter into the idol so that he can serve him and play with him. A devotee would like to offer all the good things that were bestowed upon him by Lord Ganesha. So, he lights a diya that signifies the sun or the ray of life that is enjoyed by the devotee. By the grace of Lord Ganesha, there is no obstacle for the devotee to find food. Hence, he, too, offers the lord His favourite foods like the modakas, along with water. In this way, a devotee in his own small ways tries to return the favours done by the Lord to him. After the puja finishes, the devotee begs the Lord Ganesha to return again to his heart so that he remains pure and protected.
The beauty of Hindu festivals is that they impart knowledge to the devotees without making them do cumbersome tasks. The devotees of the Lord Ganesha pass a happy, colourful life during the 10 days of Ganesh Chaturthi and at the same time, they get spiritually enlightened. The act of immersing the idol of the Lord and mixing it with the elements of the planet shows that the Lord is actually everywhere. He is omnipresent. He is looking after us all through the year. And that is quite reassuring.
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