Last updated on 19th Sept. 2015
Ganesh Chaturthi festival started yesterday (17th Sept. 2015). Some info. about it from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh_Chaturthi:
Ganesha Chaturthi (Gaṇēśa Caturthī or Vināyaka Caviti) is the Hindu festival celebrated in honour of the god Ganesha, who has an elephant-head. The festival, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between August and September. The festival usually lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the waxing moon period).
The modern festival involves installing clay images of Ganesha in public pandals (temporary shrines), which are worshipped for ten days. These are immersed at the end of the festival in a body of water such as a lake, along with the idol. Some Hindus also install the clay images of Ganesha in their homes. The festival was celebrated as a public event since the days of Maratha King Shivaji (1630–1680). However, the public festival as celebrated in Maharashtra today, was introduced by Bhausaheb Laxman Javale in 1892 by installing first Sarvajanik (Public) Ganesh idol- Shrimant Bhausaheb Rangari Ganpati, Bhudwar Peth, in Pune. The first meeting regarding starting the Sarvajanik Ganesh utsav took place under the leadership of Bhausaheb Laxman Javale at his residence (Bhudwar Peth) now known as Bhau Rangari Bhavan. In 1893 Lokmanya Tilak praised the concept of Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav in Kesari Newspaper. In 1894, he installed Ganesh idol in Kesari wada, Pune too and started preaching Ganesh Utsav.
While celebrated all over India, the festivities are grand and elaborate especially in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Odisha and in other parts of Western India and Southern India. Outside India, it is celebrated widely in Terai region of Nepal and by the Hindu diaspora in the United States, Canada, Mauritius, and other places.
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Ravi: From personal experience, I can say that Ganesh Chaturthi is the really big Hindu community getting together festival of the year for Hindus in and around Mumbai. There are other big Hindu festivals in the year like Diwali and Dassera, but, at least in and around Mumbai, they are more family festivals rather than community festivals. For Ganesh Chaturthi, people in an apartment society or locality get together, form some informal committees, collect money for the festivities, create a pandal (stage & temporary shelter) for the Ganesh idol, bring the Ganesha idol ceremoniously, have regular Aarthi functions for the idol during its stay in the apartment society or locality etc. [From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aarti, "Aarti also spelled arati, arathi, aarthi (from the Sanskrit word aratrika with the same meaning) is a Hindu religious ritual of worship, a part of puja, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities. Aartis also refer to the songs sung in praise of the deity, when lamps are being offered."]
For these community Ganesha festivities and functions, all in the apartment society or locality are welcome to participate as some functionary or the other, or just as a devotee during Aarthi (or to simply take Darshan anytime during the day). The Aarthi is not limited to any ritual specialists like Hindu Brahmins. It is open to all Hindus (and those of other religions too, if they are interested) who can sing the Aarthi. Even those who cannot sing the Aarthi can simply be a silent member of the group. That makes the Ganesha God a very, very approachable God for all Hindus. I mean, now any interested person in the apartment society or locality can sit close to the idol (as it his/her society's Ganesha idol) which is not possible with idols in a temple. Further, he/she can even do the job of giving Prasad (sanctified sweet offering) to devotee-visitors! In a regular temple, the temple priest do such tasks. So, the community Ganesha festival provides Hindus in an apartment society or locality to get as (physically) close to their idol-God as Hindu temple priests get to the idol-Gods in their temples!!! I think that is a very significant part of the attraction of so many Hindus towards the community Ganesha festival.
Kids have a great time! Besides the community Ganesha, many homes have individual home Ganeshas. All of these Ganeshas have associated Aarthis (at least once a day, but perhaps more times in a day; I don't recall clearly). So a gang of kids and elders go from house to house (those that have home Ganeshas) to sing the Aarthi (and, especially attractive for the kids, to eat the Prasad as well :-)).
After a certain number of days, varying from 5, 7 or 11 days, for significantly large community Ganesha festivities, the idol is ceremoniously taken for immersion into the sea (in areas of Mumbai where the seashore is not very far) or some other water body. This is also a community affair with a fair amount of singing about Ganesha and pujas prior to Ganesha idol immersion.
The community bonding during this period is FANTASTIC! No other Hindu festival comes close to the community bonding that Ganesh Chaturthi accomplishes in and around Mumbai (Bombay) (and many other places too, I guess).
I have very clear and very fond memories of various community Ganesha (and individual home Ganesha in neighbours' and friends homes) festivities, in and around Mumbai, right from when I was a primary school going kid till I moved away from Dombivli (near Mumbai) to Puttaparthi when I was around 40 years old. How wonderfully my Maharashtrian friends and neighbours welcomed me to their home Ganeshas, how Maharashtrain and other elders welcomed us to community Ganeshas, taught us the Aarthis and made us feel part of the Hindu community worshipping Ganesha!! I am deeply grateful to so many of these Maharashtrian friends from various parts of Mumbai and Dombivli who made me so welcome and made me feel an important part of these Ganesha festivals.[My family are Tamil speaking Hindu Brahmins from Kerala who migrated to Mumbai one or two generations earlier to my generation. We don't have the practice of keeping a Ganesha idol at home. Though we do worship Ganesha (Vinayaka) as an important God on various occasions during the year.] During my youth I did not properly understand the Ganesha festival impact on my life. It was an important part of life in and around Mumbai and I just went with the flow then. Today, as I look back and analyze the impact of this festival on me, I can see clearly that my life has been deeply enriched by this wonderful Hindu community festival of Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra and the love and devotion of Maharashtrians which I was privileged to receive and experience.
An extract from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh_Chaturthi#Celebration_at_Home about Home Ganesha festivities in the state of Maharashtra (whose capital is Mumbai), India:
In Maharashtra, most Hindu families install their own small clay statues for worship on Ganesh Chaturthi. The idol is worshiped in every morning and evening until the departure. The worship involves various offerings to the idol including flowers and durva. Each durva bunch has 21 shoots and the shoots have either three or five strands. Other offerings like modak also have to number 21 in Ganesh worship, The daily worship ceremonies ends with the worshipers singing the Aarti in honor of Ganesh, other Gods and saints. The Ganesh aarti sung in Maharashtra was composed by the 17th century, saint Samarth Ramdas. As per the tradition of their respective families, the domestic celebrations come to an end after 1, 3, 5, 7 or 11 days when the statue is taken in a procession to a large body of water such as a lake, river or the sea for immersion. Due to environmental concerns, a number of families now avoid the large water bodies and instead let the clay statue disintegrate in a bucket or tub of water at home. After a few days the clay is used in the home garden. In some cities, a public eco-friendly process is used for immersion.
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Ravi: The public/community Ganesha festivities of Maharashtra are on a VERY BIG SCALE. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh_Chaturthi#Public_celebrations:
Public celebrations of the festival are hugely popular especially in Maharashtra. These are organised by local youth groups (Tarun Mandal), neighborhood associations or group of traders. An example of the latter is the celebrations organized by the vegetable market traders in Pune. The Mandai Ganpati as it is called has been installed every year since the 1890s. The funds for the public festival are collected from members of the association arranging the celebration, local residents or local businesses. The Ganesh and accompanying statues are installed in temporary shelter called mandap or pandals. The local Festival Committees vie with each other to put up the biggest statue and the best pandal. The festival is also the time for cultural activities like singing and theater performances, orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, and charity for the poor.
Today, the Ganesh Festival is not only a popular festival, it has become a very critical and important economic activity for Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. Many artists, industries, and businesses earn a significant amount of their living from this Festival. Ganesh Festival also provides a stage for budding artists to present their art to the public. In Maharashtra, not only Hindus but many other religions also participate in the celebration like Muslims, Jains, Christian and others.
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A couple of extracts having Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's words about Ganesha (Vinayaka) Chaturthi, and moving from idol-God to ONE God (Divine Atmic principle) dwelling in all of us, from Sanathana Sarathi, Sept. 2015, appealed to me very much. I have given them below:
Students! There is need for observing festivals like Vinayaka Chaturthi for external satsifaction, but what is more important is to realise the inner significance of Vinayaka worship which is likely to have lasting effect. The worship of inanimate idols should lead to contemplation on the subtle spiritual entity represented by the idol. This is the process by which realisation of the Atma takes place.
If a deep enquiry is made, it will be realised that there is only one God and He is present in all. Vinayaka is not separate from us. The indwelling principle in our hearts is the Divine Atmic Principle.
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After I moved to Puttaparthi in Oct. 2002, I observed with quite a lot of interest that Ganesh Chaturthi was and is a notable festival in Puttaparthi as well! I feel that a lot of what I wrote above about the festival in Maharashtra applies to Puttaparthi too. In particular, it provides an occasion for people in a locality to get together and handle the whole function. All Hindus (as well as people from other religions) in the locality get to be part of the festival, sit close to the idol, (have not noted the Aarthi bit; perhaps here they have a Puja done by a priest), give Prasad to visitor-devotees, go together for immersion of the idol etc. Individual home Ganeshas seem to be quite limited in Puttaparthi. But I am not sure.
Yesterday I took a few pics of Community Ganeshas in outside-ashram Puttaparthi which I have given below:
Above pic: Chitravathi Road (Down) Ganesha
Above pic: Chitravathi Road Ganesha
Above pic: Samadhi Road Ganesha
Above pic: Off Main Road, after Sai Towers, Ganesha
Above pic: Road to Karnatakanagapalli bridge, Ganeshas
Above pic: Road to Karnatakanagapalli bridge, small Ganeshas managed by small kids
Above pic: Chitravathi bypass road Ganesha (Sorry about the plant and decoration blocking view of Ganesha)
Update on 19th Sept. 2015:
A correspondent wrote over email (and was OK with it being shared publicly):
You talk about your experiences of the Ganpati period in Bombay/Mumbai. When I was in college (early 1960s) [Ravi: in Mumbai], the big Ganpati used to be Shantaram's and it would come in a truck down Girgaum Road to Chowpatty, accompanied by huge crowds. I really cannot say how big the image was but it seemed to overflow the truck. Of course, Girgaum Road was smaller and quieter in those days so my memory may be exaggerated.
Today the big Ganpati in Mumbai is Lalbaugcha Raja and in Pune, where of course Tilak encouraged these celebrations, is Dagdusheth Halwai's Ganpati.
It took no time for politicians to join in and just in Koregaon Park, where we live, there must be ten Ganpatis when there used to be just two.
It's a happy time in Maharashtra -- something to be very glad about.
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[I thank Wikipedia and Santhana Sarathi magazine and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts from their website/magazine (only small extracts from Sanathana Sarathi magazine) on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]