Vinayaka Chaturthi, also known as Ganesh Chaturthi, is the birthday of Lord Ganesha the younger son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. It falls on the fourth day of the Shukla paksha of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (mid-August to mid-September). And, it is one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar.
Vinayaka Chaturthi is celebrated with traditional pomp and gaiety in many parts of India, particularly in the western part of the country. It is most popular in states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh.
Vinayaka – the Lord of Obstacles
According to the Hindu scriptures, Vinayaka or Ganesha is the destructor of all obstacles. This is the reason why Ganesha is the first recipient of poojas by devotees doing anything auspicious in their life. Be it starting a new business or moving to a new house or buying a new vehicle, Ganesha is believed to have them protected. And, he will remove all hurdles on their way and help them achieve success.
So, people are delighted to celebrate his birthday- Vinayaka Chaturthi- by offering him poojas for divine protection.
The devotional fervour and excitement about Vinayaka Chaturthi are at its height in Maharashtra. Here, the festivity lasts 10 long days or more. People become overly enthusiastic about the event from the beginning to the end. During these days, their whole world is fully occupied with nothing but rejoicing the event the best way possible.
The Story Behind Vinayaka Chaturthi
There are so many stories related to the birth of Vinayaka. In some tales, he was created by Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati; while in another, he was born from the elephant-headed Goddess Malini or so. Another legend is that Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati created Ganesha on the request of the Devas for a special purpose. Devas wanted Ganesha to be Vighnakartaa or obstacle-creator for rakshasas or demons and a Vighnahartaa or obstacle-averter for Devas.
The most popular version about the birth of Vinayaka goes like this.
Once Goddess Parvathy made a doll out of the turmeric paste she had applied over her body and gave life to it. Thus turned the doll into an attractive small boy. Lord Shiva and his cortege were away. So, she instructed the boy to guard the door of her palace, while she would take a bath.
By then, Lord Shiva returned from his trip and was about to enter the palace. The boy guarding the entrance could not recognise the visitor and he blocked his entry.
This led to an argument between the two. In a fit of fury, Lord Shiva chopped the head of the boy with his trident. Goddess Parvathy came to the scene and was shocked and saddened to see the boy dead. Lord Shiva realized what had actually happened and wanted to make amends to his action.
Then he ordered soldiers to bring the head of an animal sleeping with its head placed northwards. The soldiers could find only an elephant in that condition and brought its head. Lord Shiva placed the head on the boy’s dead body and gave him life again. Pleased with Ganesha’s loyalty and belligerence, Lord Shiva made him the chief of his army.
Today, people celebrate Vinayaka Chaturthi to commemorate the day of Vinayaka’s resurrection.
10 Things you need to know about Vinayaka
- Vinayaka is revered as the destroyer of all obstacles. Also, he is considered as the patron of arts and sciences and the deity of letters and learning.
- In Sanskrit, Ganapati, Vinayak’s another name, is a compound word of Ganas (troop) plus Pati (lord, chief). Meaning, he is the leader of the divine group that makes out his father’s army.
- Normally, Ganesha is shown as four-handed, holding an axe or a goad in one upper arm and a pasha (noose) in the other upper arm.
- The elephant head and a protruding belly are the key identities of Ganesha. Certain versions say he was born elephant-headed, while others say he acquired it later as explained above.
- Ganesha’s potbelly earned him the names of Lambodara (hanging belly) and Mahodara (big belly). According to Brahmanda Purana, his hanging belly implies the presence of all the universes (the past, present, and future) in him.
- Ganesha has a moon-shaped third eye or a tilaka consisting of three horizontal lines upon his forehead. Thus, he is called Bhalachandra (Moon on the Forehead).
- Rat is the principal vehicle of Ganesha. And, the rat is said to represent greed and destruction. This connects with Vinayaka’s function to reign in these negative elements. Because he forces these negativities to remain subdued.
- Ganesha personifies the fundamental sound of Hindu sacred mantra Om (Aum). Thus, he is referred to as Oṃkaraswaroopa.
- According to Kundalini yoga, Ganesha resides in the first chakra, (Muladhara) or the base foundation in every being. Thus, Ganesha happens to be the driving force of all living entities.
- In north India, it is believed that Ganesha is the younger son of Lord Shiva and Goddes Parvathi. Whereas, the south believes that his brother Karthikeya (Skanda) is the younger one. There are several stories of siblings rivalry between the two brothers.
What is Special About Vinayaka Chaturthi Celebration in Maharashtra
In Maharastra, Vinayaka Chaturthi is celebrated in the most colourful manner with maximum people participation. The historical documents reveal that Vinayaka Chaturthi was celebrated during 271BCE to 1190CE. Later, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj encouraged to celebrate Vinayaka Chaturthi on a grand scale to promote the cultural identity and nationalism.
In modern time, freedom fighter Bala Gangadhar Tilak contributed significantly to revive the festival and turned it as a big mass movement. He utilised Vinayaka Chaturthi as a means to infuse a sense of unity and nationalism in the minds of people. Thus, he believed that this could help rally the people together which in turn could propel the freedom struggle significantly.
Ganesha a Non-Sectarian Deity
Over the years, Vinayaka Chaturthi has emerged as a great event of social, religious and cultural unification. And, there are so many factors that led to raising the festivity to this magnitude.
First off, Ganesha is a non-sectarian deity. He is worshipped by people across various Hindu denominations.
Again, there is nearly a universal acceptability of Ganesha as a symbol of virtues, fortune and prosperity. To invoke the diety has become a practice at the beginning of prayers, new ventures, art or religious ceremonies.
Vinayaka Chaturthi Pooja Vidhanam
Normally Vinayaka Chaturthi falls in August- September every year. Preparation for the celebration of the festival begins at least a month before.
It is believed that Lord Ganesha visits every home and stays there as a guest during the 10day festival. People make elaborate arrangements to welcome him. Homes and surroundings are kept neat and clean.
They bring home Idols of Ganesha made of clay or other materials. On the Chaturthi day, a beautifully adorned idol of Ganesha is placed on an elevated platform. Members observe Vrat or fasting, usually from dawn to dusk.
The family conducts Ganesh pooja every day, morning and evening. And treat him with offerings including cooked food items (Bhog). Honey, milk, Durva grass, flowers and various sweet dishes including his favourite Modak, Karanji, etc are some of the common items. People invite friends and family to their home to honour Ganesha and celebrate the occasion. The gathering spends time chanting mantras and conducting bhajans etc..
There are also public celebrations in various places, with specially erected community pandals, installing large idols of Lord Ganesha, offering prayers and chanting his praises. A large number of devotees gather at temples to attend special poojas for the occasion.
The final day is the farewell day or the Visarjan day. People keep the idol home for 2,5,7 or 10 days. After offering Uttarpuja, the idol is taken out in a procession and immersed in sea or river or any flowing water.
Apart from the month-long feverish excitement, the festival leaves the people with a sense of unity and fraternity. It generates a lot of enthusiasm triggering aspirations of yet another prosperous year ahead.