Who is Ganesha?
Mythology has it that Ganesha, who is also known as Vinayak or Pillayar, was created by Parvati. She made the figure out of sandalwood paste and breathed life into him. Parvati set him to the work of guarding her when she bathed.
Later, when Shiva came home, Ganesha and Shiva got into a tussle which resulted in Shiva severing Ganesha's head. Parvati, enraged at this act of Shiva, demanded that Ganesha be brought back to life.
Shiva, who promised Parvati, searched for the severed head. Even after the combined effort of Shiva and the devas, the head could not be found. Instead, they found the head of an elephant. The elephant's head was fixed on to Ganesha's body and thus, Lord Ganesha came into existence.
What is Ganesh Chaturthi?
Ganesh Chaturthi is the Hindu festival which observes the birthday of Lord Ganesha. The festival falls on the Hindu month of Bhaadrapada (mid August- mid September). The festival lasts for ten days and ends on the fourteenth day of the waxing moon period.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated throughout India. However, it is celebrated elaborately in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Goa. It is also celebrated in places outside India which have a fair share of the Hindu diaspora.
How is it celebrated?
Many weeks or months before Ganesh Chaturthi, sculptors start making life-sized clay models of the idol. Many idols of varying sizes and colours adorn the streets. They are placed on pedastals under temporary pandals or mandaps.
The Ganesha idols are decorated with garlands and lights, fruits and flowers are offered. Money is collected from the respective neighbourhood for the pandal erections and decorations.
Prasad, which also come as contributions from different households, are distributed after the evening pooja.
Celebrations at home
Simple clay models of Lord Ganesha are also available in the markets. Even to this day, traditional and orthodox families make these clay statues at home.
Flowers and durva grass or arukampul are used during the pooja along with chanting of mantras.
Modak, a steamed preparation made using rice flour dumpling stuffed with jaggery, grated coconut and dry fruits is offered to Lord Ganesha on this special day. Laddu, paayasam are other delicacies made on this occasion and are offered along with the modak.
As per traditions followed in different states and different families, the celebrations come to an end after 1, 3, 5, 7, or 11 days. By the end of the celebration, the idol is taken to a large water body for immersion. Usually, there is a long procession involved in taking the huge idols to the lake, river, or sea. People dance, sing, and celebrate during this procession. Now-a-days, due to environmental reasons, families immerse the clay statue inside a bucket of water and let it disintegrate.