Honoring the Lord of Beginnings
During Ganesha Chaturthi, a ten-day festival in August/September, elaborate puja ceremonies are held in Hindu temples around the world honoring Ganesha, the benevolent, elephant-faced Lord of Obstacles. In millions of home shrines, worship is also offered to a clay image of Ganesha that the family makes or obtains. At the end of ten days, Hindus join in a grand parade, called visarjana in Sanskrit, to a river, temple tank, lake or seashore, where His image is ceremonially immersed, symbolizing Ganesha's merging into universal consciousness.
Who is Ganesha?
Perennially happy, playful, unperturbed and wise, this rotund Deity removes obstacles to good endeavors and obstructs negative ventures, thus guiding and protecting the lives of devotees. He is the patron of art and science, the God inhabiting all entryways, the gatekeeper who blesses all beginnings. When initiating anything--whether learning, business, weddings, travel, building and more--Hindus seek His grace for success. He is undoubtedly the most endearing, popular and widely worshiped of all the Hindu Deities. Ganesha Chaturthi (also called Vinayaka Chaturthi) falls on the fourth day in the waxing fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada in the sacred Hindu lunar calendar, which translates to a certain day in August-September. It is essentially a birthday celebrating Ganesha's divine appearance.
What do people do on Ganesha Chaturthi?
Devotees often fashion or purchase a Ganesha statue out of unbaked clay. Many sculpt Him out of a special mixture of turmeric, sandalwood paste, cow dung, soil from an anthill and palm sugar. The Deity image is placed in the home shrine amongst traditional decorations. A rite of worship and prayer, called puja, is conducted daily, invoking the energies of the Deity and inviting Him to reside in the clay image. Mantras are chanted and offerings are made throughout the puja, including incense, lighted lamps, cooked food (naivedya), fruits, durva grass, tulasi and pomegranate leaves--and flowers, especially red ones. After ten days, a simple puja is performed before the statue is taken for a formal departure (visarjana). Often entire communities, from dozens to tens of thousands of devotees, gather each year for this final day of ceremony. The icons are carried on an ornate metal tray--larger images are borne on a palanquin by several strong men--to a lake, a river or the sea. There Ganesha is consigned to the water after removing non-degradable paraphernalia.
What foods are offered?
Sumptuous foods are specially prepared for Ganesha, keeping in mind His elephantine nature and prodigious appetite. People offer several varieties of fruits such as mangos, bananas and sugarcane. Sweets are the elephant-headed Deity's delight, so to express their love families take great pains to make special tasty treats. Each family has its recipes.
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