Ganesh or Vinayak Chaturthi is one of the most popular Hindu festival, celebrated all over
India as the birthday of Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed God. It falls on the fourth day
of the bright half of Bhadra (August-September). The clay-moulded figure of Lord Ganesh is
worshipped during this festival and then immersed into a sea, river, or pool.
Ganesh is the
God of wisdom, learning, prudence, success and power. He is invoked or propitiated at the
beginning of every thing. Being the Vighnesha or the remover of the obstacles, he is propitiated
at the start of every activity, whether it is a journey, marriage, initiation, house construction,
the writing of a book or even writing a letter.
He is a great scribe and a scholar of the religious lore and scriptures. Ganesh acted as the
scribe and wrote down the Mahabharata as dictated by the Seer Vyas. He is also the Lord of Ganas,
the hosts of Shiva. He bears a single tusk (ekdanta) and holds in his four hands a shell, a discus,
a goad and a lotus and is always accompanied by his mount, the rat. Ganesh is a great lover of sweets
and fruits. He is also the presiding deity of Muladhara Chakra (plexus) or the psychic centre in the
human body where the Kundalini Shakti resides.
There are two very interesting myths about his birth and how he came to possess the head of an elephant.
One myth relates that disliking Lord Shiva's surprise visits during her baths, Parvati formed a human figure
out of her scurf into a man's figure and gave it life.
Then, she placed Ganesh to guard her bath-house entrance.
Shiva came and tried to enter but when Ganesh barred his way, he cut off his head. It greatly angered Parvati,
and so ultimately Shiva had to send someone to fetch another head for Ganesh. The first creature found by him
was an elephant. Its head was brought and planted on Ganesha's shoulders.
Another version says that Parvati was blessed with a beautiful son. All the gods assembled to
see and admire the son of Shiva-Parvati except Shani. Shani desisted from it because he was under
the curse that, whomsoever he beheld will be burnt to ashes. But Parvati insisted that Shani should
also see and admire her son.
As soon as he had a glimpse of Ganesh, Ganesha's head was burnt to ashes.
Parvati cursed Shani for having killed her son, but Brahma intervened and consoled her by saying that if
the first available head was planted on her son's shoulders, he would be alive again. So Vishnu set forth
on his Garuda in search of it and the first creature he found was an elephant sleeping beside a river. He
cut off its head and it was fixed on Ganesha's body.
Similarly there are numerous interesting legendary stories accounting for Ganesha's birth and his having only
one tusk. On Ganesh Chaturthi, the images of Ganesh are worshipped with the offerings of sweet balls (laddoos or modakas),
water, new raiments, incense, flowers, scent, betel leaf and naivedya. He is worshipped by the chanting of mantras and by
meditating upon him and the naivedya is distributed as Prasad. Brahmins are given food and gifts. In Maharashtra, this
festival is observed with great religious fervour, pomp and gaiety.