Mythology Behind Ganesh Chaturthi:
Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most popular festivals in India. It is a 10 day-long celebration and during this period all offices, schools, colleges and commercial establishments remain closed on the first and last day. Hindu devotees celebrate this festival by worshipping Lord Ganesha’s idol at home. Pujas and regular Arti are performed, followed by offerings of modak, the favorite sweet delicacy of Lord Ganesha. This annual festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm all over the country, particularly in the state of Maharashtra as they believe that it was Chatrapati Shivaji who initiated this festival several years ago.
Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and there are several legends associated with his birth. As per mythology, when Parvati was taking bathe, she instructed Ganesha not to allow anybody to enter there. After a while, Shiva came there but Little Ganesha stopped him and denied entry. The angry Shiva cut off Ganesha’s head from his body. Goddess Parvati became upset and furious and transformed herself into Goddess Kali, ready to destroy the entire world. Realizing his mistake and to save the world, Lord Shiva ordered his attendants to bring the head of the first living creature they could find. They found an elephant first and cut off its head and brought to Lord Shiva. Shiva placed the elephant’s head on Ganesh’s body and brought him back to life. All gods blessed Ganesh and since then Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated which signifies his rebirth.
How Ganesh Chaturthi is Celebrated:
Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated on the anniversary of the day Ganesha was revived in his elephant-headed form. Around this time there is a huge celebration where believers ‘bring’ Ganesha into the house, or temple, or Pandal (temporary shrine) as a guest in the form of an idol. He is worshipped with elaborate rituals for 10 days, so as to invoke his blessings and when his stay is over, the statue is ceremoniously immersed in a water body. This is called visarjan.
Why is Ganesh Visrjan Done?
The ritual is done to signify the birth cycle of Lord Ganesha; just as he was created from clay/Earth, his symbolic statue is as well. The idol is immersed in water so that Ganesha may return to his home after his ‘stay’ at the devotees’ home or temple where the Ganesha Chaturthi rituals are conducted. While it might seem like a good idea to skip the visarjan and keep hosting the God for fortune and prosperity, it is said that the power that suffuses the statue after 10 days of worship is all a human can bear. So it is not to be kept longer.
Since discarding or breaking would be disrespectful, the statue is ritualistically immersed in the water so it may break down to the clay from whence it came. Some statues are prepared as such that their constituent materials actually benefit the ecosystem they enter.
However, in recent years the immersion of Ganesha idols made of non-biodegradable materials and the use of poisonous substances in the paints has led to pollution of water bodies and takes away from the positive symbolism and impact of the ritual. As we pray to Lord Ganesha, we must remember to do so responsibly.