Ganesha Chathurthi, also known as Vinayaka Chathurthi, is celebrated in the month of Magh as per the Hindu calendar to honour the elephant headed god of the Hindus, Ganesha. It is believed that Lord Ganesha or Ganpati, the god of good beginnings and success, was born on the fourth day (chaturthi) of the bright fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Magh. A major festival in India, it is especially celebrated with great fervour and enthusiasm in Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The celebrations go on for 10 days with the biggest spectacle taking place on the last day called Anant Chaturdasi day. This year Ganesh Chathurthi will be celebrated on September 2 as per the cycle of the moon.
A glimpse into the myths and history of Ganesh Chathurthi
As per mythology, Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva created Ganesha out of the sandalwood paste of her own body for protection in the absence of her husband. Ganesha guarded his mother, and once while she was taking a bath, Lord Shiva wanted to enter the private sanctorum of Parvati. Ganesha following his mother’s orders did not allow Lord Shiva and thus they began a duel ignorant of the fact that they were father and son. In the duel Lord Shiva killed Ganesha by cutting his head. Goddess Parvathi was enraged and assumed the form of Goddess Kali threatening to destroy the entire world. In the end to calm her rage a solution was found in replacing the head of her son with the first baby animal sighted. It turned out to be an elephant, and thus Lord Ganesha manifests himself as the elephant headed God for the Hindus.
The earliest celebrations of Ganesh Chathurthi can be traced back during the reign of Chatrapati Shivaji in Maharashtra and also by dynasties such as Satavahana, Rashtrakuta and Chalukya. The celebrations were a means to promote culture and nationalism.
Lokmanya Tilak, a prominent freedom fighter revived and reshaped the tradition of Ganesh Chathurthi after the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, and converted the private family affair to a grand public event. The idea was to bridge the gap between the Brahmins and non-Brahmins and find an appropriate context in which to build new grassroots unity between them in his nationalistic striving against the British in Maharashtra. With the independence of India in 1947, Ganesh Chathurthi was proclaimed a national festival.
Rituals and celebrations
The preparations for this festival begin well in advance. The festival commences on Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi and ends on Ananta Chaturdashi.
• Beautiful clay idols are installed at homes and in pandals in community celebrations.
• The idols are decorated with flowers and sandalwood paste.
• Purna Kumbha Kalasha Sthapana is performed where an earthen or brass pot filled with holy water is established upon a bed of raw rice.
• Lord Ganesha is then invoked through the holy ritual called Pranapratishtha in the accompaniment of chanting of the consecrated mantras.
• This ritual is followed by Shhodashopachara i.e. 16 ways of worship.
• The 10 day festival includes twice a day rituals where Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, Ganesha Stotra, Ashtottara Shatanamavali or 108 names of Lord Ganesha, Ganesh Chaturthi Katha and Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad are chanted. This is followed by the Ganesh Aarti.
• The prasad or offerings include modaks, charnamrit, laddus and pedas, made up honey, curd, ghee, milk and fresh flowers to Lord Ganesha.
• On the final day of Ananta Chathurdasi, the idols are immersed in water bodies like the sea, rivers and lakes.
• Immersion may take place after one, three, five, seven and ten days.
• In Mumbai and Goa, thousands of processions converge on the beaches to immerse the holy idols in the sea.
• The processions are marked by singing, dancing, and playing with colours. The atmosphere resonates with the sounds of drum beats, fire crackers and the chanting of Ganapati Bappa Mourya, Agle Baras Tu Jaldi Aa (calling out to Lord Ganesha to come back earlier the following year).
A costly affair
The money involved in this festival is indeed mind-boggling with crores running spent on sponsorships and insurance of this 10-day spectacle. Just to cite an example, in 2014, Ganesh idol installed at GSB Seva Mandal in Mumbai was insured for a sum of Rs 259 crore. Here are a few factors that one should be aware of:
• The number of idols installed across Mumbai itself is increasing every year with a total 1, 91,000 idols installed in 2014, including community and private installations.
• There is one Ganesh pandal for every 1,614 people residing in Mumbai’s residential complexes, chawls, slums or street corners.
• The prices of raw materials increase the cost of idols every year.
• The growing scale of celebrations has led to an increase in expenses.
• Costs are covered by donations in the form of cash, sponsorships, gold, diamonds, foreign currency and paid requests to perform puja.
• In 2012, the total revenue generated from the festival in Mumbai alone was pegged at Rs 1,200-Rs 1,400 crore.
• A percentage of the revenue is reserved by big organisers for social initiatives.
• The worst affected are the BPL. The prices of the most basic commodities shoot up making it difficult for the poor to make ends meet.
Celebrations in present times
Ganesh Chathurthi is no more just about offering Aarti. It has a positive social impact today in the following manner:
• Communities organise dialysis centre, computer classes, Union Public Service Commission and Maharashtra Public Service Commission training institutes in the locality through the year from the revenue generated during Ganesh Chathurthi.
• A few of the festival volunteers are appointed for social activities during the year.
• Some communities also organise medical centres and eye and blood donation camps.
• Revenues are also used to reserve beds for the poor at the Nanavati hospital.
• It is true that people no longer have the time to participate in the 10-day ritual, but even today on the first and last day of this grand festival people come out in troves to pay their respect to their favourite Lord.
Impact on the environment
There is no doubt that this festival takes a major toll on the environment:
• Traditionally mud was used to make the idols and when immersed they would dissolve in the water symbolic of cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature.
• But now the Plaster of Paris used to make the idols is non-biodegradable and insoluble in water. Thus when the idols are immersed in a water body they pollute the river.
• The level of acidity in the water and the content of heavy metals increase by leaps and bounds.
• The idols once immersed may also be hazardous for the smaller boats.
• The chemical paints used to adorn the idols are high on mercury and cadmium. These heavy metals again pollute the water body harming the life in it.
• When immersed in the sea, the non-biodegradable accessories used to adorn the idol accumulate in the layers of sand on the beach.
Measures for a safe Ganesh Chathurthi
The Government is aware of the need to protect the environment, and thus the following measures are already being followed or proposed.
• The sale of Ganesh idols made of Plaster of Paris has been banned by the State Government in Goa.
• People are being urged to use the traditional clay idols.
• People installing smaller idols at home are being encouraged to immerse the icon in a bucket of water or water tank at home.
• The idea of using a single Ganesh idol made of brass or stone every year is also being propagated.
• The artisans using PoP are being encouraged to recycle and repaint the material used the following year.
• There is a proposal to ban the immersion of idols made of PoP in any of the natural water bodies.
• There is also a proposal to make an artificial pool of water in communities for immersion of larger idols.
• There are eco friendly idols available in the market, which use natural pigments for painting and raw materials like clay and paper pulp. People are being encouraged to use the same.
Festivals are a celebration of life. And it is indeed important to secure the future by taking care of the environment while we celebrate. So let us pledge to celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi this year in a manner which is conducive to the environment, and thus securing a brighter future. Happy Ganesh Chathurthi.
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