Who is Ganesh?
Hindus worship a number of different deities, one of which is Ganesh. Depicted with a large belly, the head of an elephant and four arms, Ganesh is regarded as a remover of obstacles and god of success. As Karl-Heinz Golzio from the Indology Department at the University of Bonn, Germany, explains: “People often pray to Ganesh if, for instance, they have an exam coming up.” But they also ask Ganesh for his blessing for weddings and business activities.
According to myth, Ganesh got his elephant head after Lord Shiva cut off his old head in a fit of anger. Shiva promised to bring him back to life and give him the head of the next living creature to cross his path. As we all know, this ended up being an elephant. In Hinduism there are other myths surrounding Ganesh’s elephant head. Ganesh is one of the most popular deities as he represents many positive things. The religious ritual performed by Hindus, known as Puja, always begins with a prayer to Ganesh.
How is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?
Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most important Hindu festivals and is celebrated on the occasion of Lord Ganesh’s birthday. The date is decided based on the Hindu lunar calendar and usually falls in September. It is a time to respect and worship Ganesh. Hindus erect idols of Ganesh throughout their community, be it the countryside or town. For up to ten days these idols remain on top of altars where priests lead daily worship. The idols are often made out of clay and are symbolically offered various foods. In Mumbai alone, 10,000 large idols line the streets during Ganesh Chaturthi and people sing and dance to religious and modern music. Hindus in Mumbai celebrate the festival with particular enthusiasm, and it is here that the event is at its most intense.
On the last day of Ganesh Chaturthi, all of the idols from the streets and individual households are ceremoniously carried through the streets and then immersed in water, which is supposed to mark their return to nature. More than 150,000 idols are immersed in water in Mumbai alone. So it is a good thing that most of them are made of clay, which breaks down when placed in water!
Ganesh Chaturthi marks the start of a series of other religious festivals and is extremely popular in India – just like Ganesh himself.
International – Ganesh Chaturthi all around the globe
India, home to the highest number of Hindus, is not the only country to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. Many Hindus who immigrated to the UK brought with them their culture, customs and their festivals. In London, Hindus gather together at Vishwa Hindu Mandir temple and process through the streets until they reach the Thames, where they then immerse their idols in the water, just like the Indian tradition.
In Paris, too, worshippers of Ganesh gather together to make sure they don’t miss out on an opportunity to celebrate the festival. Celebrations last for ten days and take place in the Sri Manikar Vinayakar Alayam temple. Following a procession through the streets, the people traditionally immerse their idols into the water.
Ganesh Chaturthi is also celebrated in the United States and on the island of Mauritius. If you are interested in experiencing Ganesh Chaturthi for yourself, ask around to find out whether there are any celebrations taking place near you. It is definitely worth a visit.