The Symbolism of Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesha is one of the most popular forms of the divine in India. Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the popular festivals in Maharashtra. Here a major holiday is celebrated in honor of Ganesha. It is celebrated for ten days, starting from Vinayaka Chaturthi. It was started during the era of Shivaji and then reintroduced by Bal Gangadhar Tilak as a means of promoting nationalistic feelings when India was occupied by the British.

Here countless small or huge Ganesh statues are erected of mud on altars in houses and streets for a few days to worship it amidst prayers, music, and dances. In honor of Ganesha, it is customary to prepare sweets like model, ladoo, kadubu, karanjis. It is offered to the deity on home altars, in temples or in the streets.

Ganesh Chaturthi falls on the fourth day of the waxing moon of the month of Bhadrapada, according to the Indian calendar during September or October.

Artisans prepare statues with terracotta, plaster or papier mache. Ganesh is well adorned with a red dhoti, flower garlands, silk fabrics and covered with red sandalwood paste. This ritual is called Prana Pratishtha and includes the chanting of Vedic hymns of the Rig Veda, Upanishads, and Puranas. People organize theater performances with the theme of the content of the sacred texts.

Ganesh Chaturthi culminates in the Anant Chaturdashi day. The murti of Ganesha is immersed into the nearest water reserve on this day. In Mumbai, in the last day, the idols are brought in joyous processions to the Arabian sea. In Pune, they are carried to the Mula-Mutha river. While in various Indian cities in the north and east, such as Kolkata, the murti is immersed in the river Ganges, where people sunk it amidst huge cheers.

Lalbaugcha Raja is the most popular Ganapati kept at Lalbaug, an unmistakable region in Mumbai amidst Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. It was established in 1934. It is trusted that this idol of Ganesha is Navsacha Ganpati which implies he satisfies all desires. Consequently, more than a million individuals visit this Ganesh Pandal every day amid the 10-day Ganesha celebration.

Scholars agree that the origins of Ganesha precede the Vedic age. The theory assumes that the elephant-headed god was first worshiped both as a scribe and as a deity of the harvests by the tribes. The earliest figures of Ganesha are found in the Deccan region of South India, where sugar cane was, and still is, the main crop.

These images are often related to the Seven Mothers or the Saptamatrika, a group of fertility goddesses. Primitive images of Ganesha, particularly those found under trees, are often accompanied by Naga stones describing coiled snakes. The Naga tribes were animists, worshiping countless nature spirits known as Yakshas or Ganas. Texts like the Mahabharata and the Grihyasutras describe these nature spirits as malevolent and ruthless temperaments.

Hidden within such descriptions are the echoes of the confrontation between Aryans, the sun worshipers, and the dark, mysterious people of the woods and mountains. The Vedic tradition is impregnated by an ambivalent repulsion and attraction towards the mysteries of nature, magic and the unknown. Ganesha's relationship to Gananas is particularly interesting, as these quasi-dwarf entities (often misidentified as demons).

One legend says that the Ganas were once human, who had won the favor of Shiva. Ganesha emerged as a distinct deity and clearly recognizable form between the fourth and fifth century, during the Gupta Empire, although he inherited Vedic traits from precursors. His popularity grew rapidly and in the ninth century AD and was included among the top five deities. Ganesha has the biggest presence and popularity outside India.

The worship of Ganesha in Japan has been dated to the year 806 AD. The Japanese name is Shoten or Kangiten. Japanese Buddhism considers it a manifestation of Shō Kannon Bosatsu. In Japanese, Kanji is used as the equivalent of the Hindu Deva. He is also revered in Buddhism and Jainism.

In this period there arose a sect called ganapatya, who worshiped Ganapati as the supreme deity. In India, the statues are expressions of symbolic meanings and therefore have never been passed off as exact replicas of a living figure.

Ganesha appears as a hybrid of man and elephant. Other common names include Ganapati, Vinayaka, Vighnesha, Vigneshwara, Vighnantaka, Varada, Siddhita and Ekadanta or Pillayar in southern India. Under the name Vinayaka, he is also worshiped in Tantrism. Here he is considered as a gifted dancer who can bless several women at the same time.

Ganesha is presented as gracious, kind, friendly, humorous, jovial, intelligent, playful, and mischievous. Each morning many Indians begins the day with a prayer to Ganesha. Ganesha is invoked at the opening rituals of many Indian dance and drama genres. Ganesha is worshiped when people need success or good luck for the beginning of a new business, a trip, wedding, construction, financial audit, exam or the start of a new day.

His affairs include poetry, music, dance, writing, and literature. Most merchants regard him as their patron and almost every shop has a Ganesha statue. For many devout Indians, the first thing that comes into a new house is a statue of Ganesha. He can also be found on almost every Indian wedding invitation card.

Ganesha is represented as a small, red, stout man, or a child with a big, fat elephant head, who has only one tusk, often sitting on a lotus flower. His ears are shown larger than life. His eyes are small and his eyes are piercing and penetrating. With him is always his vahana, a mouse or rat.

In other representations, he carries a book and a prayer chain. According to legend, he lost his second tusk in a fight against Parashurama. A bowl of Indian sweet Modak and laddus, signify Ganesha's weakness to eat. He is often represented with a snake.

An anecdote from the Purana narrates that Kubera, a rich man went one day to meet Shiva. He invited him to a dinner in his opulent mansion so that he can exhibit all his riches. Shiva denied but instead sent Ganesha, a voracious eater. Unconcerned, Kubera felt ready to meet his insatiable hunger. He took Ganesha around the city and offered him a ceremonial bath and dressed him in sumptuous clothing.

After these initial rites, the great banquet began. While the servants of Kubera undertook at best to serve all the dishes, the little Ganesha began eating, eating and eating. Ganesha devoured everything and with signs of impatience, waited for new food. Terrified, Kubera prostrated himself before the little omnivorous and begged him to relent. Kubera desperately rushed him to Shiva.

Many myths are about Ganesha's infinite wisdom and his great ingenuity. They tell, for example, of how Shiva and Parvati call Ganesha and Karttikeya on to a competition in which the winner will receive a fruit as a reward. The task was to come first by circumnavigating a selected location. Kartikeya took his peacock and managed it within a day. The wise Ganesha simply circled three times around his parents, who represented the universe for him. Impressed by his shrewdness his parents announced Ganesha as the winner.

About the question of Ganesha's marriage status, there is no consensus in India. In northern India, he is considered married. In southern India, the god is however considered a bachelor. For being represented throughout history with breasts and bulging belly, Ganesha has also been worshiped as Goddess. In its female form, Ganapati or Vinayaka takes the name of Gananayika or Vinayaki.

Ganesha is considered as a homosexual, bisexual or transsexual deity by many people and groups, or at least as a deity that embodies sexual ambiguity or non-heterosexual forms of sexuality.

The principal scriptures dedicated to Ganesha are the Ganapati Upanishad of the Rishi Atharva, Ganapati Atharva Sirsha, the Ganesha Purana and Mudgala Purana. The prayer recited in his honor is called Ganesha Chalisa. Pancha Ganapati is celebrated in December to coincide with the winter solstice festival.

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