Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most popular of Hindu festivals, since it is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesh. It falls on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada (August-September). It is also called Vinayaka Chaturthi and devoted Hindus observed it throughout India, as well as in all parts of the world. Lord Ganesh is the elephant-headed God. He is worshipped first in any prayers. Lord Ganesh`s prayer invokes Lord Ganesh to remove all obstacles, which normally come our way when we start any new work. Thus, he is also called Vighnaharta or Vighneshwara. Few legends are prevalent concerning Ganesh`s birth.
Visitors, while taking her bath, often disturbed Parvati, thus she created Ganesh out of the mud of Her body and oil she was using and infused life into it. Then she placed him at the entrance of the house and she told him not to allow anyone to enter while she went inside for a bath. Lord Shiva returned home and tried to enter the place, but was stopped by Ganesh at the gate. Shiva became angry and cut off Ganesh`s head, as he thought Ganesh was an outsider. When Parvati came to know of this she was sorely grieved and she persuaded Shiva to grant her son`s life. To console her grief, Shiva ordered his servants to cut off and bring the head of any creature that might be sleeping with its head facing north. The servants went on their mission and found only an elephant in that position. The sacrifice was thus, made and the elephant`s head was brought before Shiva. The Lord then joined the elephant`s head onto the body of Ganesh.
It was then that Lord Shiva made his son worthy of worship at the beginning of all undertakings, marriages, expeditions, studies, etc. He ordained that the annual worship of Ganesh should take place on the 4th day of the bright half of Bhadrapada and the Vinayakas should exalt him as their leader. He is the first recipient of adoration in all the rituals as the removal of obstacles (Vignaharta).
It is also a common saying that on Ganesh Chaturthi day, devotees are forbidden to look at the moon because the moon had laughed at Ganesh. It is said, that anyone who looks at the moon on the night of the Ganesh Chaturthi will be falsely accused. If someone sees the moon on this night, he/she may remedy the situation by listening to (or reciting) the story of the syamantaka jewel found in the Puranas. However, one can prevent its effects by getting himself abused by neighbours. The legend behind this practice is as follows:
Ganesh was known for his ravenous appetite and once, he ate more modaks than he could digest, due to which he felt uncomfortable and decided to go for an airing into the forest. He was riding his mouse. Suddenly, a snake crossed their path. The mouse took fright and reared, throwing Ganesh down. At this sudden fall, his over-stuffed belly burst and all modaks rolled out. Ganesh rose and hurried after the rolling modaks. He picked them up one by one and stuffed them back into his stomach. Then, he tied up his stomach using the snake Vasuki to prevent them from falling out again. Watching this, the moon and his wives started laughing.
The Moon demi-God laughed and ridiculed Ganesh. Ganesh retaliated by causing the Moon to disappear. Without the Moon the balance of Nature would be affected, hence Shiva requested Ganesh to alter his curse. Shiva also compelled the Moon to apologize. Ganesh said that Moon would not disappear at once but slowly diminish. And, after being absent for a day he would regain his power slowly. This cycle would continue forever. So, that people would remain warned at all times not to make fun of Ganesh. One of the purposes of mythology is to explain natural phenomena. This myth explains the disappearance and the appearance of the moon every day and night respectively.
Ganesh Chaturthi was started as a public festival by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, since one of Tilak`s strongest movements was to evoke nationalism through religious festivals. This gave rise to the organization, of the festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra. This inspired the feelings of Hindu unity in Maharashtra. Thus, from that day, Ganesh Chaturthi became a major festival of Maharashtra and the festival has now gained popularity all over India. Celebrations in south India and Gujarat are as spectacular as those of Maharashtra. Huge processions immerse thousands of idols of Lord Ganesh in the Arabian Sea. Worshipers are heard shouting, "Ganpati Bapa Morya".
A life-like clay model of Lord Ganesha is made 2-3 months prior to the day of Ganesh Chaturthi. The size of this idol may vary from 3/4th of an inch to over 25 feet. On the day of the festival, Ganesh`s idol is placed on raised platforms in homes or in elaborately decorated outdoor tents for people to view and pay their homage. The priest, wearing red silk dhoti and shawl starts the puja by chanting mantras, which is the ritual of the `Pranapratishtha`. After this the `Shodashopachara` follows, where coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva blades and red hibiscus flowers are offered. The idol is anointed with rakta chandan. Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda and Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted.
The festival comes to an end on the day of Anant Chaturdashi. On this day, the idols of Ganesh are taken from various, localities and puja rooms for a truly royal ride. The streets of Mumbai are packed with multitudes as each locality comes out on the streets with its Ganesh. Amidst shouts of `Ganpati Bappa Moriya Pudhchya Varshi Lavkarya`, a sea of humanity carries the idols to the waters of Arabian Sea or a river. The idols are carried into the holy waters, and face the direction of the local community centers, where they started their journey, after which, they are immersed. This immersion is called `Visarjan`. In other towns and villages, folks carry the idols to the local rivers or tank for the Visarjan ceremony. In some parts, Ganesha is considered as the god of good harvest. Thus, clay is brought from the waterside and thrown into barns and storerooms for luck and plenty.
According to the scriptures, Ganesh should be worshipped ritualistically and immersed immediately thereafter. Since divinity in the sculpt made from mud remains only for one day one can immediately immerse them on second day. Man enjoys celebrating festivals and was not satisfied with celebrating it for only one day. Thus, he began festivities by keeping the idol for one and a half, five, seven or ten days. According to the custom, Ganesh should be immersed on the first, second, third, sixth, seventh or tenth day. People take fresh spiritual resolves and pray to Lord Ganesh for inner spiritual strength to attain success in all their undertakings.