| VakratundaMahakaySuryakotiSamaprabha |
|| NirvidhnamKarumedevSarvKaryeshuSarvada ||
Meaning: O Lord Ganesh, of Curved Trunk, Large Body and with the Brilliance of a Million Suns, Please bless me and always make all my work free of Obstacles.
Ganesh Chaturthi is the Hindu festival celebrated in honour of the god Ganesh, the elephant-headed, remover of obstacles and the god of beginnings and wisdom. The festival, also known as VinayakChaturthi, is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the Shukla Chaturthi. The date usually falls between August and September. The festival lasts of 10 days, ending on AnantChaturdashi.
The modern festival involves installing clay images of Ganesh in public pandals, which are worshipped for ten days with different variety of herbal leaves, plants. These are immersed at the end of the festival in a body of water such as a lake, along with the Idol. After adding herbal and medicated plants and leaves in lakes, the water in the lake becomes purified. This was in practice because, in early days people used to drink lake water, and to protect from infections and viral diseases especially in this season, this tradition was introduced. Some Hindus also install the clay images of Ganesh in their homes. It is believed that Ganesh bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees during this festival.
Centuries ago during a war between the Gods and the Demons, Lord Shiva was away for a long time. His wife, Goddess Parvati, afraid of being alone for an extended period used her divine powers and created a son, Ganesh and gave him the responsibility of protecting the house. When Lord Shiva and his army, returned victorious to his home, Parvati was in her bath and Lord Ganesh had been strictly instructed not to allow anyone in. Angered by Ganesh’s refusal to allow him in to the house, Lord Shiva and his army chopped off the boy’s head. When Parvaticame out of her bath, she was shocked and grieved to see her son dead. Lord Shiva, to pacify, her proclaimed that the head of Ganesh would be replaced by that of the first creature that came up the hill. As luck would have it the first visitor to the hill was an elephant and his head was promptly cut off and placed on that of Lord Ganesh, and life was restored to the son of Lord Shiva and goddess Pravati. To pacify his wife further and compensate for the act of killing own son. Lord Shiva bestowed upon Ganesh the powers of a God and blessed him that henceforth no activity will begin without invoking your name and blessings. Since then, it is said no new venture – the inauguration of accompany, the opening of a shop, the foundation of a building, entering a new home – is deemed complete by Hindus without a Ganesh Puja.
Celebration, Rituals and Tradition
Ganesh is remembered on chauth or chaturthi, the 4th day of every month of the Hindu calendered, but most of all on Ganesh Chaturthi which is celebrated as his birthday. Ladoos are distributed on the day-by tradition ladoos were placed in different corners of the house and eaten before the meal. Milk is offered to idols of lord Ganesh at home and at temples, and Ganesh puja is performed at all temples and hi-house prayer rooms. Fasting, feasting and distribution of sweets offered to Lord Ganesh are important aspects of Ganesh chaturthi rituals in India. Hindus pray to images of Lord Ganesh, large and small, many of them made especially for the occasion by cottage industries and street side artisans, and those that do not wish to keep the idols alive by daily prayers, offerings and lighting oil lamps, immerse them in the nearest water body (all rivers, lakes and the sea which are sacred to Hindus).
Weeks or even months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesh are made for sale by especially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated and depict Lord Ganesh in vivid poses. The size of these statues may vary from ¾ of an inch to over 70. Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colourfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures mandapas in every locality. The pandals are erected by the people or a specific society or locality or group by collecting monetary contributions. The pandals are decorated specially for the festival, either by using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc. or are theme based decorations, which depict religious themes or current events.
The most serious impact of the festival on the environment is due to the immersion of idols made of plaster of Paris into lakes, rivers and the sea. Traditionally, the idol was sculpted out of mud taken from nearby one’s home. After the festival, it was returned to the Earth by immersing it in a nearby water body. This cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature. However, as the production of Ganesh idols on a commercial basis grew, the earthen or nature clay was replaced by Plaster of Paris. Plaster is a man-made material, easier to mould, lighter and less expensive than clay. However, plaster is non-biodegradable, and insoluble in water. Moreover, the chemical plants used to adorn these plaster idols themselves contain heavy metals like mercury and cadmium, causing water pollution. Also, on immersion, non-biodegradable accessories that originally adorned the idol accumulate in the layers of sand on the beach. On the final day of the Ganesh festival thousands of plaster idols are immersed into water bodies by devotees. These increase the level of acidity in the water and the content of heavy metals. Several non-governmental and governmental bodies have been addressing this issue. Amongst the solutions proposed are as follows:
- Return to the traditional use of natural clay idols and immerse the icon in a bucket of water at home.
- Use of a permanent icon made of stone and brass, used every year and a symbolic immersion only.
- Recycling of plaster idols to repaint them again the following year.
- Ban on the immersion of plaster idols into lakes, rivers and the sea.
- Creative use of other biodegradable materials such as papier-mache to create Ganesh idols.
- Encouraging people to immerse the idols in tanks of water rather than in natural water bodies.
To handle religious sentimates sensitively, some temples and spiritual groups have taken up the cause.