Further Reading On Ganesh Chaturthi

The worship of Lord Ganesh is prevalent all over India. Lord Ganesh is generally worshipped before any religious festival. Ganesh Chaturthi (also called Ganesh utsav) falls on the fourth day of the bright half of the month of Bhadon or Bhadrapad

Social background: No other festival protrays so vividly the social evolution as the gradual evolution of Ganesh Chaturthi. The worship of Ganesh can be traced to the pre-aryan age. In the Northern regions Ganesh was a tribal God of the different Koms (tribes). Their totem was the elephant. The mouse that is seen with Ganesh was also a totem of the lesser tribes. Lord Shiv was also a pre-Aryan God, as is obvious from the seals of the Mohenjodaro and Harappa culture.

Ganesh Utsav has a totally new connotation in Maharashtra, India. It is the major festival of the state and starts on Ganesh Chaturthi. Here he is Siddi Vinayak, symbol of Hindu Kshatriya strength and power. The credit for establishing Ganesh Utsav as a national festival goes to Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Greek history taught him that the independent city states of Greece came together through the Olympic Games. Tilak established Ganesh Utsav as a social festival. The aim of doing so was to unite the people in their struggle against British imperialism. Bal Gangadhar Tilak established Ganapad Utsav in Maharashtra in 1892 as a festival of the common people.
Ganesh Chaturthi falls at the tail end of the monsoon. Ten days of festivities transform the life of the people into one of fun and laughter. Idols of Ganesh are installed in most houses. Community worship too is prevalent. The images come in a variety of colours, sizes and prices. Some are so large that they have to be set up at the time of installation. The images are carried in processions amidst the chanting of prayers. Homes are beautifully decorated. The streets look like fairyland. The images are installed on artistically decorated rostrums accompanied by religious rites. Public functions like plays, musical extravanganzas and so on are arranged. A devotee must keep a vigil through the night, near the image of Ganesh. The god is said to be fond of sweets like laddoos. People offer this 'prasad' to the lord.
Many devotees pay for the prasad on a particular day of the festival at community pujas. People and groups vie with one another to to make Ganesh Utsav as grand as possible. The whole of Maharashtra pours out on to the streets to see the images and the illuminations in the evenings. The tenth day is the day of immersion. All the images are lined up to be paraded through the city in the evening. The images of Ganesh are carried on all kinds of transport to the accompaniment of music. Cries of "Ganapati Bappa Moriya" rend the air, invoking the lord's blessings and wishing for his return the next year. Priests chant prayers and people dance and sing and sprinkle 'gulaT on each other. The images are immersed in the river, lakes and ponds. A pall of gloom and uneasy calm spreads over the entire state as people bid farewell to their lord. They wait anxiously and hopeftilly for his return the next year.
Gana means tribe or adivasi. Gana-isha means leader of the people. When the Aryans appeared on the scene, Ganesh was known as "Vignaraj" or leader of obstruction. The small tribal democracies were a challenge to the Aryan powerkingship and Brahmanism. It was the Mauryas who overcame the tribes and their destruction was advocated by none other than Chanyaka in Kautilya's 'Arthashashtra'. With the defeat of the hill tribes, the Ganesh cult which was already prevalent, was adopted by the Aryans to placate the people. Conflict and assimilation led to Ganesh becoming an Aryan God from a tribal one. Ganesh now became Sidhi Raj, symbol of success or Sidhidata Ganesh. From a tribal or local God, Ganesh was elevated to the higher echleons by the reference to his elephant's trunk as that of Indra's pet elephant, Airabat. There were fifty different forms of Ganesh within the different tribes. Ganesh is known by various names like Ekdanta, Kapil, Lamboder, Sumukh, Vighnashan, Ganadhyaksha and so on.

The word 'siddhi' literally means letter'. Ganesh's role in spreading writing was acknowledged long ago. In this context, the writing of the Mahabharata is important. Vyasdev could not write. He wanted someone to take down his dictation. Finally, Ganesh agreed to write on the condition that Vyasdev did not stop dictating. As this was an impossible proposition, Vyasdev also made a counter condition. Ganesh had to understand what he wrote. He used such difficult lines or 'slokas' that Ganesh had to stop and ponder. This gave Vyasdev time to think of his nextiines. In short, Ganesh was accepted by the Aryans as the propagator of learning. The worship of Ganesh at the start of any festival was established.

Mythological background:- The mythological background of Ganesh was developed much later in the Middle Ages. There are various interesting stories of the birth of Ganesh in the Matsya Purana, Varaha Purana, Shiva Purana and Brahmavaivarta Purana.

Matsya Purana is the source of the most popular story. In this story, the birth of Ganesh is attributed solely to Parvati. Once while bathing, Parvati created a man from the oil, ointments and impurities of her body. Parvati sprinkled Ganges water and breathed new life into him. She asked him to guard her from intruders. When Shiva appeared, Ganesh refused him entry. This infuriated Shiva and he cut off Ganesh's head. In order to calm Parvati who grieved over her Ganesh, Shiva ordered the head of whatever was seen first to be brought to him. It so happened, that an elephant's head was found and Shiva fitted it to the body of Ganesh. Parvati was not too pleased with the appearance of Ganesh. She was promised that Ganesh would be the leader of the Vinayakas (minor deides). Ganesh is therefore also known as Vinayaka. He was to be worshipped at the beginning of all religious rituals, to remove obstacles. Vignabarta is another name for Ganesh. Eventually Parvati was pacified.
Yet another story tells us how once the Gods went to Kailash, in the Himalayas to meet Shiva. Brahma rode on a swan, Vishnu on an eagle and Ganapati on his rat. When climbing up the mountain slope, Ganapati slipped and fell. Only the Moon or Chandra saw the incident and smiled at the spectacle of Ganapati rolling down the mountain slope. The enraged Ganapati cursed Chandra and said that whoever looked at Chandra would be accused of a crime and be looked down upon. Chandra, escorted by the other Gods, went to Ganapati and begged for mercy. At last Ganapati relented and agreed to take back his curse on one condition. The curse would remain effective for one day in the year-Ganesh Chaturthi. If anyone looks at the moon, then the best way to ward off the curse is to indulge in a small crime and thus besaved from being charged with a serious crime.

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