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A simple guide to Ganesh Utsav (Ganeshotsav) customs, pandals, festivities


The biggest public festival of Maharashtra, Ganesh Utsav, begins on August 25 this year (2017) and ends on Sept. 5. It’s your chance to witness a cultural extravaganza that Mumbai city begins looking forward to even before it ends.

If you’re already here, you will soon 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. If you’re not, reading this post will give you an idea of what it’s all about.

Traditional dhol, tasha are played during the Ganapati visarjan procession

Traditional dhol, tasha are played during the Ganapati visarjan procession

Ganeshotsav, an eleven day celebration of Lord Ganesh’s birth begins with Ganesh Chaturthi and ends with Anant Chaturdashi according to the Hindu calendar. As per the Gregorian calendar, it would fall between August and September.

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 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.

A symbolic object - trishul/trident, ankush/goad, a flower and a rosary or sweet modak is usually held by Ganapati

A symbolic object – trishul/trident, ankush/goad, a flower and a rosary or sweet modak is usually held by Ganapati in each of his four hands

 

Ganesh Utsav - A community festival

Ganesh Utsav – A community festival

Today Ganesh Utsav is an ostentatious spectacle across Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Other states are also playing catch up. This year, even North Indian states like Uttar Pradesh saw 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.

Coconut, jaggery, modak (sweet), durva (grass), red flowers etc. are offered to Lord Ganesh

Coconut, jaggery, modak (sweet), durva (grass), red flowers etc. are offered to Lord Ganesh

 

Rice flour (ukkhdicha) modak is Ganapati's favorite sweet

Rice flour (ukkhdicha) modak is Ganapati’s favorite sweet

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.

A prana pratisthana puja is performed on the first day of the Utsav

A prana pratisthana puja is performed on the first day of the Utsav

 

Seeking Lord Ganesha's blessings during puja

Lord Ganesha’s blessings are sought during puja

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.

Ganapati being taken for last darshan before visarjan

Ganapati idol placed on a hand cart and taken around for last darshan by devotees

 

Children, who are feisty at the beginning of the procession, generally get tired by the end

Children, feisty at the beginning of the procession, generally tire out by the end

 

Women walk with the kalash i.e. the earthen or brass pot filled with holy water, topped with a coconut and mango leaves

Women walk with the kalash (earthen or brass pot filled with holy water, topped with a coconut and mango leaves

 

Ganesh idols are carried to the artificial lake in Thane for immersion

Ganapati idols are carried to the artificial pond in Thane for visarjan

 

A final aarti is performed before the Ganesh idol is sent for visarjan

A final aarti is performed before the Ganapati idol is immersed

 

People ask for wishes (ichcha/mannat) to be granted before the Ganesh idol is taken for immersion

Wishes are whispered in the Ganapati idol’s ears before he is taken for immersion

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.

Lord Ganesha's idol is placed on a truck for the visarjan procession

Lord Ganesha’s idol is placed on a truck for the visarjan procession at Pokhran Road Thane

 

Frenzied dancing by men, women and children follows

People dance in the streets to the tune of dhols

 

Ganapati on the road in an immersion procession

Volunteers monitor movement of Ganapati idols so they don’t cause a major hindrance to traffic

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 )

Handing over Ganapati idol to volunteers for immersion

In artificial ponds like that in Thane, volunteers handle the actual immersion

 

Ganapati visarjan or immersion in artificial lake Thane

Volunteers immersing the idols have to necessarily be good swimmers

 

With the Ganapati idol visarjan or immersion, Lord Ganesh goes away to return next year

Saying goodbye to Lord Ganesh can be an emotional moment for a few

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)

Ganapati idol at a pandal

Close up of a Ganapati idol at Khewra Circle in Thane

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 pandal at Khewra Circle, Thane looks like an '80s movie set

The Ganesh pandal at Khewra Circle, Thane looks like a grand Bollywood movie set from the ’80s

 

Another Ganapati Pandal

Generally the smaller Ganapati idol (to the left in pic) is worshipped. Notice the mouse/mooshak to the right

 

Mooshak (mouse) is Ganapati's trusted carrier and friend

Mooshak (mouse) is Ganapati’s trusted carrier and friend. And like his master, he too loves modaks!

 

Ashtavinayaka are eight distinct idols of Ganesha and a pilgrimage to see all is held sacred by many

Ashtavinayaka are eight distinct idols of Ganesha and a pilgrimage to see them is held sacred

 

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
Rangolis are made as a welcoming gesture for Ganapati

Rangoli made by artist Vedavyas Katti outside a house

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

For a simple Ganesh Puja link, offering 16 items (Shodashopchara) during the puja, find English link here and meaning of the offerings here

Find Atharva Shirsha Upanishad link with English lyrics here and Sanskrit chanting here

Ganesha Stotra  – English lyrics link here and Sanskrit chanting here

Aarti Dnyanraja link here

Dashaavatar Aarti link here 

STAY BLESSED!!

 

 

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14 Comments

    • So glad you liked it. Yup. You won’t believe how touchy a few people get if things are not done right. Since I myself was so tentative about the etiquette, wrote those tips to help people like me 🙂

      Like

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