Ganesh Chaturthi: Beginnings

Quick Facts

  • Summary: A Hindu festival that honours the god Ganesha
  • 2018 Date: 13th – 23rd September (eleven days inclusive)
  • Celebrated by: Hindus, parts of India (as a National Holiday)
  • Linked Holidays: Anant Chaturdashi, Ganesh Jayanti (Hinduism)

Background and Theological Significance

Ganesh Chaturthi (in Hindi, गणेश चतुर्थी) also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, is an important celebration in the Hindu calendar that honours the birth of the god Ganesha. Ganesha is one of the most revered gods in Hinduism and is typically depicted as a man with the head of an elephant. He is perceived as a god of beginnings, as a patron of the arts and the sciences, and as a remover of obstacles. Ganesha is the son of Shiva the destroyer and the goddess Parvati, two important deities within Hindu cosmology. He is also known by a number of other names within various traditions, including Ganapati, Vinayaka, Ekadanta, and Pillaiyar.

Hinduism is a very broad term used to refer to the myriad of traditions and theologies that evolved from the Indian subcontinent over several thousand years, and as such it is impossible to define an all-encompassing Hindu theology. However, most Hindus believe in one Supreme Reality that is often called Brahman, of whom the various gods are faces or manifestations. Ganesha is one of the most widely worshipped of these Hindu deities and is usually honoured by Hindus regardless of their denomination.

Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the fourth day of the waxing moon in the month of Bhadrapada, but the festivities continue for eleven days until the feast of Anant Chaturdashi on the fourteenth day of the waxing moon. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated throughout India, Nepal and in many other countries as a festival to honour the Lord Ganesha as the deity of beginnings and as the remover of obstacles. It is a joyful occasion that is usually marked with processions, feasts and community gatherings.

History

Ganesha has been venerated as a deity since at least the fourth-century CE, although his status has been influenced by many different traditions that stretch back thousands of years. The origins of the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi are unclear, although it has been observed in the Indian state of Maharashtra since at least the seventeenth-century CE. Under the British Raj the holiday became a private family observance but was later championed by Indian nationalists and freedom-fighters as a focus of resistance against British rule and was restored to its status as a major public festival. The perception of Ganesha as a ‘god for everybody’ explains much of his popularity and the popularity of his festival throughout the centuries. A similar festival called Ganesh Jayanti, celebrated in the eleventh month Magha, also commemorates the god’s birth, demonstrating his importance and particular appeal.

Ganesh Chaturthi is always celebrated during Bhadrapada, the sixth month in the Hindu lunar calendar. The Hindu calendar is composed of twelve lunar months which each contain two fortnight-long ‘pakshas’; one for the waxing of the moon and one for the waning of the moon. The ‘chaturthi’ refers to the fourth day in a paksha and thus occurs twice in each lunar month; on the fourth day after the new moon and on the fourth day after the full moon. Ganesh Chaturthi falls on the chaturthi following the new moon (the waxing moon). Although different traditions diverge concerning whether a new month starts on the full moon or the new moon, they agree that Ganesh Chaturthi falls each year in the month of Bhadrapada. Due to discrepancies between the Hindu and Gregorian calendars, the date of Ganesh Chaturthi can fall anywhere between mid-August and mid-September in any given year.

What Happens?

On the first day of the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, it is traditional to place handmade images (known as a ‘murti’) of the Lord Ganesha in homes or in public places. A ritual called ‘prana pratishtha’ is performed in order to invoke Ganesha’s power and blessing on the murti. This is then followed by another 16-step ritual called ‘shodashopachara’, during which offerings such as flowers and coconut dumplings (called ‘modak’) are made to the murti. Usually these rituals will be performed at around midday, when Ganesha is believed to have been born. The murti will then be venerated with prayers every day until Anant Chaturdashi, which marks the end of the festival. On this day the images of Ganesha are carried in a colourful procession accompanied by music and dancing to a sea, lake or other body of water, where they are ritually immersed. The murti (which is usually made of clay) is left to dissolve, signifying that Lord Ganesha has departed and will return again next year.

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most important Hindu festivals, celebrated not only in India but across the world, and its popularity demonstrates the appeal of Ganesha to Hindus regardless of their denomination. The festival is a time for Hindus to gather together to pay homage to the god of new beginnings and to worship as a united community, despite their differences.

Ganesh Chaturthi Images – A Ganesh Murti on display on occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi‘ by VedSutra Media is licensed under CC by SA 4.0

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