The Flavour of the Festival
As Ganesh Chaturthi approaches, Indians are gearing up to welcome Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and bestower of good fortune, into their homes. This festival holds immense significance in the country and has witnessed a remarkable surge in popularity over the last three decades.
The popularity of Ganesh Chaturthi also stems from the fact that it is a time for social and community gatherings, decoration, and gaiety, all of which lend it a celebratory flavor. The ‘Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav’ – or public celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthi in pandals – were started in 1893 by Lokmanya Tilak and other revolutionaries. The 10-day period has continued to be seen as a time for gatherings, celebrations, performances, processions, and extravaganza.
During this festival, people express their devotion to Lord Ganesha by offering his favorite sweets, flowers, fruits, and coconuts. For those inclined towards rituals, they conduct the 16-step Hindu pooja – Shodashopachar – every morning and evening throughout the ten days of the festival.
The southern part of India, especially Andhra and Telangana, celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi somewhat differently. They begin by constructing a ‘Palavelli’ – a wooden grid placed above the idol – decorated with mango leaves and various fruits. It symbolizes the universe, with Lord Ganesha as its central force, the fruits representing stars, and the ‘Wood apple’ (the Bel fruit) representing our Earth. Lord Ganesha is adorned with a dhoti, and offerings of 21 kinds of leaves, including the Durva grass and the thorny ‘Dhatura,’ are made. If immersion in a river or lake is not possible, a symbolic immersion is performed in a large vessel within the home compound.
Significance of the Festival
Various scriptures, such as the Ganesh Purana, Mudgala Purana, and Matsya Purana, mention a ‘Ganesha Chaturthi Navaratri,’ similar to the Devi Navratris. In Hyderabad, the festival is even called ‘Ganapathi Navratri Utsavam.’ Just like the nine days of Devi Navratri are meant for the worship of nine forms of the Goddess, these nine days are dedicated to the worship of Lord Ganesha to ward off nine types of evils, including anger, passion, attachment, greed, and intoxication.
Tilak’s transformation of the festival into a public event had multiple objectives. One was to unite people and foster patriotism, while the main purpose was to rid Indians of tamasic tendencies and inspire them to work for the freedom of the country.
Lord Vinayaka: Vighna-harta and Vighna-karta
For those seeking material prosperity, Lord Ganesha is the remover of obstacles. An interesting aspect is revealed by Yuvraj Krishan in his book ‘Ganesa: Unravelling an Enigma,’ where he discusses the dual role of Ganesha: the Ganesha from the Puranas who is worshipped as Vighna-harta (the remover of obstacles) and the pre-Pauranic Vinayaka, who was supposed to be a Vighna-karta (the cause of obstacles).
Renowned spiritual leader and Vedic scholar Dr. Satguru Sivananda Murty has similarly said that Ganesha is not just ‘Vighna Nashaka,’ but also ‘Vighna-Karaka.’ Therefore, he is not only the destroyer of obstacles but also the cause of obstacles. According to Dr. Murty, “The failures which come on our paths are the right obstacles. Lord Ganesha gives us the understanding to see failures in the right spirit. So, we pray to Ganesha as Vigna Karaka to save us from our unworthy attempts.”
Lord Ganesha’s significance goes far beyond the Puranic texts, with references to him dating back to the Rigveda. The Ribhu Gita describes Vinayaka as ‘the dispeller of all impediments to freedom.’ Here, freedom refers to ‘mukti’ or liberation, giving Lord Ganesha a different meaning as the ‘remover of obstacles.’ Swami Sivananda from the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, refers to Lord Ganesha as ‘the leader of obstacles’ for the spiritual aspirant. He said, “He is the Lord who removes all obstacles on the path of the spiritual aspirant and bestows worldly and spiritual success. Hence, he is called Vighna Nayaka or the leader of obstacles.”
Begin Everything and End Everything with Him
‘Om’ or Pranava is the Supreme Godhead whose presence is required whenever anything new is commenced. Ganesha represents Om, and thus, He is invoked at the start of any prayer, venture, or ceremony. According to Dr. David Frawley, founder of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, Ganesha, after his head was replaced with the head of an elephant, gained access to higher knowledge. Consequently, he functions as the great guru and the bestower of wisdom through Shiva’s power within him. Ganesha can impart that infinite truth to us. Dr. Frawley has said, “But for this to occur, we must worship Ganesha to become Ganesha – to let go of our outer minds and embrace the unknown higher knowledge.”
Dr. Sivananda Murty suggests that everyone should perform this pooja. For those who cannot recite mantras, simply invoking his presence through the word ‘Gam’ suffices. According to Upanishads, Ganesha’s essence resides in the word ‘Gam,’ and He is immediately present when you utter it. Dr. Sivananda Murty adds, “This way, you keep Him with you throughout the year and can take advantage of His presence. Think of His form and say ‘Gam’ whenever you start something – any journey, any activity, sending children to school, even daily cooking. Utter the word, think of his form, and He is there immediately and takes care of everything for you.”