Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesha idol, Pottery Town, Bangalore

What is it?

Ganesh Chaturthi is the Hindu festival celebrated in honour of the elephant headed god. It is generally considered to be the lucky festival and devotees pray that every new activity is started successfully and completed without any obstacles.

When is it? 

It falls on the fourth day of the Sukla Paksha ( the dark waning moon or lunar fortnight) in the month of Bhadrapad ( a month in the Hindu calendar that corresponds with August/ September in the Gregorian calendar). In 2016, this is the 5th of September.

History and Legend

Ganesha was born on this day. The lord was declared first amongst the gods. It is described in the Puranas (ancient Sanskrit writings on Hindu mythology and folklore) that once goddess Parvati commanded Shiva’s gana (attendant) Nandi to guard the entrance of the palace whilst she bathed. However, lord Shiva ‘trespassed’ the rules so she created her own guard in the form of Ganesha by taking some saffron paste from her body and mixing it with water and clay. When Shiva came home again he was barred from entering by Ganesh and was furious (as you might expect when you find a young boy at the door of your home telling you that you can’t come in). Shiva ordered his army to destroy the boy, some fighting followed while Ganesha remained obstinate and guarded. Lord Shiva cut off Ganesha’s head from behind. Parvati was furious  and decided to destroy all creation. Brahma (the lord of creation) pleaded with Parvati to reconsider her plan. Parvati agreed as long as Ganesha was brought back to life and that Ganesha was worshipped before all the other gods. Lord Shiva asked lord Brahma to bring back the head of the first creature discovered with its head facing north. Brahma soon returned with the head of a strong and powerful elephant, which Shiva fixed onto Ganesha’s body and breathed life into him. Shiva declared Ganesha to be his elder son, made him chief of his army, was foremost amongst the gods and leader of all classes of beings (‘ganas’).

How is it celebrated?

It is celebrated by families at home, people at their workplace and in public. It is a statutory holiday so very few people will be working. Locals return to their villages to celebrate with family and friends. There are lots and lots of statues, all decorated with intricate designs which are placed in temporary shrines (‘pandals’) and worshipped. The pandals and idols are funded by local residents and our car has been stopped several times in the villages by locals collecting for the statue. The shrine and idol are usually decorated with flowers and other materials. The statues can be small (a few cms) for the home  to huge (20m +) for public ones. Pottery Town in Bangalore prepare Ganesha idols months in advance and it is an important source of income for them. After 10 days the statues are dipped into a river or sea and sometimes left there.* 

Ganesha idols , Pottery Town, Bangalore

Here in the complex there is a three day schedule of entertainment and feasting organised by the cultural committee. The schedule of food being prepared by residents is truly phenomenal. The primary sweet dish is kadubu which is a dumpling made from flour stuffed with grated coconut, jaggery (brown sugar lumps or bricks) and dried fruits and then fried (or steamed, although pretty much everything I see is fried.) another version of this dish is called Karjikal which has a semi circular shape. 

One thing is certain – everyone will be having a great time celebrating. We’ll be observing with interest.
*In Bangalore this year a local law has been passed to prevent this as the water bodies are incredibly polluted – the paint and clay from these statues will add to that. It remains to be seen whether the law is effective or indeed enforced.

17th September – the clean up operation

The Ganesha festival is over and the clean up has begun. The civic authorities have started to retrieve the plaster of paris idols emerged in lakes. Idols were emerged in 35 lakes and 185 mobile tanks around the city (source: The Hindu), with Ulsoor lake, Hebbal Lake, Yediyur and Sankey Tank being the most popular places for emersion  of idols. It is estimated that there were 30,000 plaster of paris idols. Some 108,000 idols were emmersed in Sankey Tank alone. Ulsoor Lake is estimated to have even more as idols over 5 feet tall were emmersed there.

The plaster of paris idols will be sent for recycling for use in the construction sector and gypsum extracted for use as fertiliser for use in fields where soil acidity is a problem.

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