Ganeshotsav or Ganesh Chaturthi will begin on August 25 this year (2017), and end on Sept. 5. In Maharashtra, it’s the ‘baap’ (father) of all festivals – put simply, the biggest show that the state puts on. If you’re a newbie, you would wonder what exactly is this festival about and what are the customs followed – here’s all you need to know.
First up, Ganesh or Vinayak Chaturthi is a birthday celebration for the Hindu God, elephant-headed Lord Ganesh. He is believed to have been born on the fourth day (chaturthi) of the bright fortnight of ‘Maagh’ month. The party begins with Ganesh Chaturthi and ends with Anant Chaturdashi. As per the Gregorian calendar, the dates would fall between August and September.
While the festival itself lasts for eleven days, preparations begin well in advance – in Mumbai, temporary stalls pop up all over the city to sell Ganesh idols; A variety of floral decorations and other items to decorate pandals (marquees) are on offer; Saree shops are filled with women looking to buy the latest designs (designs most probably inspired by current soap operas).
All this, for the cultural extravaganza that Mumbai city begins looking forward to even before it ends. On various days during the event itself, you will see an idol of Lord Ganesh on a truck or tempo being followed by a mass of humanity dancing fervently to the beats of huge, traditional dhols or the latest Bollywood songs.
Humble beginnings of the festival were marked by bringing home a simple, clay idol of the Lord, performing puja/religious rituals and immersing the idol in a nearby well, stream or river on the designated day of immersion or’visarjan’.
Celebrations took on such mammoth proportions when freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak realised the potential of the festival to invoke positive communal feelings. Seeing that Lord Ganesh was worshipped by Hindus across castes, he used it to create a public fiesta that united Indians across social classes as they celebrated Ganesh Utsav together rather than alone in their homes.
Today Ganesh Utsav is an ostentatious spectacle across Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Other states are playing catch up – these days even North Indian states like Uttar Pradesh have begun celebrations on a grand scale.
It begins with bringing home the idol a day before Chaturthi, unveiled the next day as a priest performs Prana Pratishtha puja, invoking the Lord’s soul. Verses from the Rig Veda, Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, Ganesha Stotra etc. are chanted while offerings are made in the form of coconut, jaggery, modak (sweet), durva (grass), red flowers etc.
In Maharashtra, devotional songs like Aarti Dnyanraja or Dashaavatar Aarti are sung during the traditional light or lamp offering (aarti). After this is done, prasad is offered to guests who visit homes/pandals (large marquees) as a form of the Lord’s blessings. Puja is performed every day from one to ten days, depending on the pre-decided duration for which the idol is to be kept.
Then, the Lord is sent off to his abode of Mount Kailash (Kailash Parvat), accompanied by song and dance in a grand immersion or visarjan. Depending on tradition, the idol is taken for immersion either after a day and a half or on the third, fifth, seventh or eleventh day. Smaller households usually perform visarjan on the second day.
Sarvajanik pandals (public marquees) of various Mitra Mandals (literally friends’ groups but consisting mostly of groups funded by political parties) usually take the idol for immersion on the eleventh day.
With more than 50,000 idols immersed in Mumbai alone this year (2015), the event has turned into a humungous source of pollution. Eco-friendly statues don’t find favour with most public pandals, who continue using Plaster of Paris ones as they are lighter and visually appealing.
While immersion in artificial ponds created specifically for visarjans is increasing in places like Thane, Dadar, Surat etc., municipal corporations are yet to find ways of disposing waste from these ponds/lakes in an environmentally conscious way.
(Note – here is a link for the artificial ponds created in Mumbai – click here )
This year saw innovative idols made of chocolate, sugarcane, flowers etc. doing rounds on social media like WhatsApp and hopefully, such ideas will gain traction among households and groups looking to fulfil not just a religious obligation but also their moral duty.
10 Popular Ganapati Pandals to visit in Mumbai (with addresses)
The most popular Ganapati/Ganesh pandals are in Parel or Matunga, areas near the railway nerve centre of Mumbai, Dadar station. Generally, immersion is on the 11th day so you could visit any time before that.
1.Lalbaugcha Raja, Ganesh Nagar, Lalbaug, Parel – The really famous Ganapati, sits on a throne and believed to grant wishes hence called Navasacha Ganapati
2. Mumbaicha Raja, Ganesh Galli, Parel – Second most visited Ganapati, theme replicates settings of famous temples/monuments, Cultural performance after evening aarti
3. GSB Seva Mandal Ganapati, GSB Sports Club Ground, King Circle, Matunga – Richest Ganapati, features décor and idol ornaments of gold and silver, Eco-friendly. Immersion on the 5th day so visit early.
4. Khetwadi Lanes, Lane/Gali 11 and 12, Grant Road East – The 13 lanes feature very tall idols of Ganapati, the grandest of which are in lanes 11 or 12
5. Andhericha Raja, MHADA Colony, Azad Nagar, Andheri – Famous for visits by Bollywood/film celebrities. Believed to fulfil wishes. Immersion on the 12th day (Sankashti) instead of 11th
6. Girgaumcha Raja, Keshavji Naik Chawl, Urankawadi, Girgaum – First Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav started here by Lokmanya Tilak. Ecofriendly as idol is made of clay. Visited by Bollywood personalities.
7. Tejukayacha Raja, Tejukaya Mansion, Lalbaug, Parel – The idol has the same face but the posture is different each year so it becomes a point of discussion
8. Bhandarkarcha Raja, Bhandarkar Road, Matunga East – Provides free food to people during the festival, most of them slum dwellers
9. Chinchpoklicha Chintamani – One of the oldest Ganapati pandals in Mumbai
10. Tulsiwadicha Maharaja, Tulsiwadi, Tardeo – The idol is made of different materials each year like glass, sandalwood etc. In 2013, it was decorated with three lakh artificial diamonds
Good to know – The suffix ‘cha’ means ‘of’ in Marathi. So, Lalbaucha Raja means the King of Lalbaug.
The Ganesh pandal at Khewra Circle, Thane looks like a grand Bollywood movie set from the ’80s
What is the etiquette if you’re invited to visit a home for Ganesh Chaturthi
Generally, if you’re invited to a person’s house for Ganesh Chaturthi, they would have brought home an idol for puja. Here is what to do
- Buy a few fresh flowers and fruits to offer to the Lord
- Sindoor/vermilion, turmeric and rice would be kept near the idol. Just take a pinch of each and offer (drop) it at the feet of the idol
- Then offer flowers and the fruit (flowers at the feet and fruits to be just placed in front of/near the idol)
- If you don’t have an offering, you could just place a few ten rupee notes at the idol’s feet
- Do a namaskar and touch the feet of the Lord
If you are participating in the aarti
- You could ask them for a prayer/hymn book and read from it if you don’t know the words/lyrics
- If you don’t want to, you could stand silently with hands folded in namaskar/namaste
- When the aarti is done, a lamp is circulated – accept the blessings by just placing your right palm/both palms over the flame (not too close!) and running it over your head
- Take prasad in your right hand and eat/drink it
- In Hindu religion, whatever falls on the ground is considered impure so don’t offer flowers etc. which have accidentally fallen and take care not to drop/spill the prasad
During the visarjan, devotees shout ‘Ganapati bappa morya, pudhchya varshi lavkar ya’ which means ‘O my Lord Ganesh, please come soon next year’
or ‘Ek, Do, Teen, Chaar, Ganapati ki jay jay kaar; Paanch, Cheh, Saat, Aath, Ganapati hain sabke saath’ which basically salutes the Lord and says his blessings are with everyone.
LINKS FOR LYRICS/METHOD FOR PUJA AND AARTIS
Aarti Dnyanraja link here
Dashaavatar Aarti link here
UPDATE – This year, a smartphone app called Majha Morya Aarti Sangrah’ is available. It contains aartis and shlokas as well as practices for pooja and visarjan.