India is one of the most diverse countries in the world, packed with culture and tradition which is rooted in its art, religions, numerous languages and most importantly it’s festivals. These traditions all vary slightly depending on where in India they’re being celebrated, with each state having its own customs and traditions. However for me, coming from Mumbai, Ganesh Chaturthi has to be my favourite! Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated by Hindus all over world and is one of the most popular Hindu festivals.
Lord Ganesh is a Hindu God of prosperity, wisdom, intelligence and Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates his re-birth. As a kid my mum would always tell me stories about Lord Ganesh, the one about his re-birth follows when Goddess Parvathi gives life to a statue she made out of sandalwood paste, baby Ganesh, and asks him to guard the entrance of their home while she took a bath. When Lord Shiva asks to enter, Ganesh wouldn’t allow him, enraged and unaware that Ganesh is his and Goddess Parvathi’s child, Lord Shiva cuts the child’s head off. Goddess Parvathi is heartbroken when she realises what had happened, to which Lord Shiva promises to bring baby Ganesh back to life and replaces the severed head with one of a baby elephant, hence Lord Ganesh is reborn with the head of an elephant.
Traditions in Mumbai
At this 10-day festival, we welcome Lord Ganesh by bringing his idol into our homes, which is usually made of clay and adorned with lots of jewels. In Mumbai, we actually also hold competitions as to who has the best mandaps/pandals, which is basically a temporary pavilion heavily decorated during this time for Lord Ganesh as a community rather than just in our homes, making this festival a grand social affair since communities tend to celebrate together. The most famous mandap in Mumbai has to be Lalbaugcha Raja, this is a massive public event with the biggest idol, the whole city participates in celebrating Lord Ganesh and getting his blessings.
As mentioned previously, bringing Lord Ganesh home/at the mandaps is a big celebration, welcomed by loud cheers and ‘Dhol Tasha’ which is another tourist attraction within itself, as all the drummers gather to perform for Lord Ganesh and take him home. Therefore, if you visit Mumbai during late August/September, you are bound to run into them no matter where you’re heading.
After the idol is installed at the mandap, a priest performs rituals and chant mantras which are said to put life into the idol and variety of fruits and sweets are offered to the God especially modak, which are sweet fried/steamed dumplings, they are his favourite! Prayers/Aarti takes place every morning and evening the following 10 days, with some places even having special dance or music performances.
The final day, known as Ganesh Visarjan, we all gather to pray to Lord Ganesh one last time before the idol is immersed in water. This acts as a reminder for all Hindus of the cycle of life, and since Ganesh is the remover of all obstacles, it is believed that when we immerse the idol water, he takes with him all the obstacles of the people and these are destroyed. According to the legend, it is also believed that this day Lord Ganesh returns back from Earth to Lord Shiva at Mount Kailash, where they reside, along with Goddess Parvathi. Thousands of idols are immersed into the sea at Mumbai each year, this is again symbolic since God is omnipresent.
How I celebrated
My family didn’t originally host the deity at our home, me and my cousins would get jealous of our other friends who did and so we never missed an opportunity to visit their homes or the local community mandaps during this time.
However, recently we started hosting too, although we only host it for a day and a half, it was still very exciting as I get to do all the decor for the makhar, which is where we keep Lord Ganesh’s idol and in an effort to be eco-friendly, I make the idol out of turmeric as well as Lord Ganesh’s vahana (vehicle) and his Mushakraja (mouse). Since we host for such a small period of time, both days are just as important. Last year due to Covid we weren’t able to invite anyone visit, nevertheless the rest of the traditions stayed the same.
We got dressed up and worshipped by offering fruits, flowers, modak and durva, which is three bladed grass, known to be auspicious and attract Lord Ganesh’s energy. We also prayed before and while installing the idol into the makhar, as well as placing flowers at his feet and finished off with aarti which is the most important part of the ritual. As for the Prasad, my mum made modak, of course, and karanji which is another type of sweet, as well as a full plate of all the other food known to be Lord Ganesh’s favourite.
The next day, we again prayed in the morning and proceeded to prepare for his visarjan. Since we couldn’t really go to the sea, we just immersed the idol in a bowl of water, also decorated with flowers, whilst praying to Lord Ganesh once last time and asking him to come earlier next year. We concluded the day by calling the rest of the family to celebrate virtually.