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Ganesh Chaturthi or Ganesh Festival is a day on which Lord Ganesh, the son of Shiva and Parvati, is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees. It is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chavithi in Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, Chavath in Konkani and as Chatha in Nepali. It is celebrated as it is the birthday of Lord Ganesh. The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, starting on the Shukla Chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). Typically, the day usually falls between 20 August and 15 September. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi.
Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is widely worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
While celebrated all over India, it is most elaborate in Maharashtra, Goa (Biggest festival for Konkani people all over the world), Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and other areas which were former states of the Maratha Empire. Outside India, it is celebrated by Newars in Nepal and Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka.
According to the legend, Lord Shiva was away at a war. His wife Parvati, wanted to bathe and having no-one to guard the door of her house, conceived of the idea of creating a son who could guard her. Parvati created Ganesh out of the sandalwood paste that she used for her bath and breathed life into the figure. She then set him to stand guard at her door and instructed him not to let anyone enter.
In the meantime, Lord Shiva returned from the battle but as Ganesh did not know him, stopped Shiva from entering Parvati’s chamber. Shiva, enraged by Ganesh’s impudence, drew his trident and cut off Ganesh’s head. Parvati emerged to find Ganesh decapitated and flew into a rage. She took of the form of the Goddess Kali and threatened destruction of the three worlds of Heaven, Earth and the Bottom World (Patal Lok).
Parvati was in a dangerous mood. Seeing her in this mood, the other Gods were afraid and Shiva, in an attempt to pacify Parvati, sent out his ganas, or hordes, to find a child whose mother is facing another direction in neglegence, cut off his head and bring it quickly. The first living thing they came across was an elephant. That elephant was facing north(the auspicious direction associated with wisdom). So they brought the head of this elephant and Shiva placed it on the trunk of Parvati’s son and breathed life into him. Parvati was overjoyed and embraced her son, the elephant-headed boy whom Shiva named Ganesh, the lord of his ganas. Parvati was still upset so Lord Shiva announced that everyone who worships Ganesh before any other form of God is favoured by Him. So Ganesh is worshipped first in all Hindu occasions and festivals.
In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak, a social reformer and freedom fighter reshaped the annual Ganesh festival from private family celebrations into a grand public event. It is interesting to note that the festival was not celebrated in a public manner till then but was a family affair among Hindus, who used to celebrate it in a traditional manner.
Tilak was the first to install large public images of Ganesh in pavilions, and he established the practice of submerging all the public images on the tenth day. The festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of learned discourses, dance dramas, poetry recital, musical concerts, debates, etc. It served as a meeting ground for common people of all castes and communities, in a time when social and political gatherings were forbidden by the British Rule to exercise their control.
2-3 months prior to Ganesh Chaturthi, life-like clay idols of Lord Ganesh are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated and depict Lord Ganesh in various poses. The size of these statues may vary from 3/4th of an inch to over 25 feet.
Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh idols in colourfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures called mandaps (pandals) in every locality. The pandals are erected by the people or a specific society or locality or group by collecting monetary contributions. The mandaps 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 idols are worshipped with families and friends.
For 10 days, from Bhadrapada Shudha Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, Ganesh is worshipped. On the 11th day, the idol is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, and fanfare to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash while taking away with him the misfortunes of his devotees.

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