Ganesha, the foremost god of the Hindu pantheon is beheld as the most auspicious God of new beginnings and widely worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
Ganesha has the head of an elephant on which is perched a delicate tiara, four podgy hands joined to a sizeable belly with each hand holding its own symbolic object. One has a trishul, or a trident, the second an ankush or goad made from his own broken tooth, the third hand elegantly holds a lotus and the fourth a rosary (sometimes replaced by modaks, his favourite sweet).
On Ganesha Chaturthi Lord Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees. Also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi it is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, starting on shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon) sometime between August and September. The festivities last for 10 days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi.
Hindu Scriptures relate the story of Lord Ganesha. Ganesha means Lord (isha) and Ganapati stands for (pati) of Shiva's ganas. The deity was created by goddess Paravti, the consort of Lord Shiva.
According to legend, Parvati wanting to bathe conceived an idea of creating a son who could guard the entrance. She created Ganesha out of the sandalwood paste that she used for bathing and breathed life into the figure. Standing watch at her door, he was instructed not to let anyone enter. Lord Shiva, (third god of the Hindu Trinity who presides over the dissolution of the world) chose that very moment to drop in, after a long period of meditation at Kailash (Shiva’s abode).
Ganesha not knowing Shiva stopped him from entering Parvati's chamber. Enraged at his impudence, Shiva drew his sword and slashed off Ganesha's head. When Pavarti emerged and absorbed the scenario she flew into a rage.
The Gods were petrified and Shiva, eager to pacify Parvati, dispatched his ganas (attendants) to bring the head of the first living being, sleeping with his head towards the north (auspicious direction associated with wisdom). They spotted an elephant in such a posture and brought its head. Positioning the head on the trunk of Parvati's son, Shiva breathed life into him. Ecstatic, Parvati embraced her elephant-headed son whom Shiva named Ganesha, the lord of his ganas.
Another tale recounts how the Gods decided to choose their leader between the brothers- Kartikeya and Ganesh. Whoever took three rounds of the earth first would be acclaimed with the position. Kartikeya seated on a peacock, his vehicle, soon enough ventured for the mission. Ganesh was given a mooshak or rat, which moved swiftly. He made obeisance to his parents and circumambulating them three times, completed the test before Kartikeya. He reasoned, "My parents pervade the entire universe and going around them, is more valuable than going round the earth." All present were amazed at Ganesha's logic and he was renowned as Ganaadhipati or leader, now famed as Ganpati.
There is a story woven around the symbolic snake, rat and the singular tusk. On one of his birthdays, Parvati cooked twenty-one varieties of delicacies and a whole lot of sweet porridge. Ganesha ate a lot and mounting his little mouse, embarked on his nightly rounds. His mouse suddenly stumbled upon seeing a huge snake. To adjust His belly, Ganesha put the snake on as a belt around his stomach. All of a sudden, he heard peals of laughter and saw the moon mocking him. Infuriated, Ganesha broke off one of his tusks and hurled it at the moon. Parvati instantly cursed the moon, confirming that whoever looks at it on Ganesh Chaturthi would be accused of a wrong doing. The entire cosmos is known as the belly of Ganesha with Parvati as the primordial energy. The seven realms above, seven below and the seven oceans are lodged inside the cosmic belly of Ganesha. They are bound together by the kundalini or cosmic energy symbolized as a huge snake which Ganesha ties around Him. The mouse is our ego and Ganesha, using it as a vehicle, underpins the need to control our ego which ultimately leads to Ganesha consciousness.
Started by Chatrapati Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler, to promote culture and nationalism, the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi was revived by Lokmanya Tilak. Though celebrated all over India, it is most elaborate in Maharashtra and other former states of the Maratha Empire.
About two months prior to Ganesh Chaturthi, life-like clay models of Lord Ganesha are made by skilled artisans. The festival starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colorfully decorated homes and mantapas (specially erected temporary structures) in every locality.
The priest, then invokes life into the statue amidst the chanting of mantras, known as the Pranapratishhtha ceremony. After this the ritual of Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva (trefoil) blades of grass and red flowers are offered. The statue is anointed with red unguent, typically made of kumkum and sandalwood paste. Throughout the service, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad and the Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted.
For ten days, from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, Lord Ganesha is worshipped.
On the 11th day, the statue is taken in a procession through the streets amidst much fanfare. Being immersed in a river or the sea symbolizes a ritual farewell to the Lord journeying towards his abode in Kailash, taking away the misfortunes of his devotees.
The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak. The festival is awash with cultural activities like songs, dramas and orchestra along with free medical checkup, blood donation camps and charity for the poor.
The festival ends with ardent entreaties to Lord Ganesha to return the next year with chants of, "Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudcha Varshi Laukar Ya!" (Hail Lord Ganesha, return again soon next year).
Swami Shivananda Recommends:
On Ganesh Chaturthi meditate on stories related with Lord Ganesha during the Brahmamuhurta, early in the morning. Soon after a bath, go to the temple and pray to Lord Ganesha with dedicated devotion, offering some coconut and sweet pudding. Ardently entreat Him to remove all obstacles hampering the spiritual path. Worship Him at home with the assistance of a pundit. Sense his living presence by having an image of Lord Ganesha at your residence.
"O Lord Vinayaka! The remover of all obstacles, the son of Lord Shiva, with a form which is very short, with mouse as Thy vehicle, with sweet pudding in hand, with wide ears and long hanging trunk, I prostrate at Thy lotus-like Feet!"
Revered as Vigna Vinayaka, He is the Lord who removes obstacles hampering spiritual aspirants, and bestows worldly as well as spiritual success.
Ganesha, the god of wisdom and prosperity is invoked before beginning any auspicious work by the Hindus. His blessings are said to be imperative for the fulfillment of one's desires.
Lord Ganesha represents Om or the Pranava, which is the chief Mantra among the Hindus. This explains the practice of invoking Ganesha before beginning any rite or undertaking any project. His two feet represent the power of knowledge and action. The elephant head is significant in that it is the only figure in nature that has the form of the symbol for Om.
In the Ganapathi Upanishad, Ganesha is identified with the Supreme Self. The legends connected with Lord Ganesha are recorded in the Ganesha Khanda of the Brahma Vivartha Purana.
His Mantra is Om Gung Ganapathaye Namah. Spiritual aspirants who worship Ganesha as their tutelary deity repeat this incantation or Om Sri Ganeshaya Namah.
The devotees of Ganesha do japa (repeating an incantation) of the Ganesha Gayatri Mantra:
Tat purushaaya vidmahe
Tanno dhanti prachodayaat.
Lord Ganesha is an embodiment of wisdom and bliss. Lord of the Brahmacharis, He is foremost amongst the celibates.
He is the presiding Deity of the Muladhara Chakra, the psychic centre in the body where the Kundalini Shakti resides. Lord Ganesha's two powers are the Kundalini and Vallabha or the power of love.
The significance of riding on a mouse is the complete conquest over egoism. The ankusha represents His ruler ship of the world, being an emblem of divine royalty.
He is the Lord of Ganas, the celestial servants of Lord Shiva.
The Vaishnavas also worship Lord Ganesha, addressing him as Tumbikkai Alwar which means divinity with the proboscis (elephant's trunk).