India is a very diverse country and every city has its own rich history and culture. A particularly striking aspect of this is the range of different festivals celebrated throughout the country.
One of the biggest festivals celebrated around this time of the year in Mumbai is “Ganesh Chaturti”. Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. He is one of the most famous Hindu Gods and easily identified by his elephant head. He is known as the God of Wisdom and Intellect, but also as “Ek Dant”- one tooth – and “Vighnaharta”- vanquisher of obstacles.
But how did Ganesha come to have the head of an elephant?
According to one legend, goddess Parvati was at home alone while her husband Lord Shiva had gone to the forest for meditation. She wanted to take a bath but there was nobody to secure the door for her, so she created a statue of a boy using turmeric and sandalwood paste and blessed the statue to come alive. This is how Ganesha was born. Parvati then gave a command to Ganesha that no one should enter the door, and so he stood by the door to guard it. Soon after, Lord Shiva returned home and was stopped by Ganesha as he was coming in. Ganesha said that he had been commanded by his mother order not to let anyone through the door. Lord Shiva explained to Ganesha that it was good he was obeying his mother’s order, but that this command did not apply to him as Parvati was his wife. But Ganesha held firm and didn’t listen to any excuse.
After a long argument with Ganesha, Lord Shiva got very angry. He took his lethal sword out and cut off Ganesha’s head. When Goddess Parvati came out and saw Ganesha’s body on the ground without his head and Shiva with his sword in hand, she started crying. She explained to Lord Shiva that Ganesha was their son and he was only obeying her command. She asked Lord Shiva to bring him back to life. Lord Shiva felt sorry for what he had done in anger to the small boy, so together with Parvati, they took Ganesha’s body to Lord Bramha (the Creator of the Universe) and asked for his help to fix Ganesha’s head. Lord Brahma explained to both of them that anything destroyed by Lord Shiva’s lethal sword could not be fixed. He said that Ganesha’s original head could only be replaced by someone else’s head who would be found with their back to their mother. And all this must be done before sunset. Time was running out, so Lord Shiva hurriedly sent his men out in search of someone whose back was turned to face their mother. His men kept searching in the forest but couldn’t find anyone until they saw a baby elephant with its back facing its mother’s. So they decided to take the baby elephant’s head back with them and presented it to Lord Shiva.
It was just about before sunset, so there was not much time left. Lord Brahma had no other option but to attach the elephant’s head to Ganesha’s body. But when Ganesha came to life, his mother Goddess Parvati didn’t like the look of her son anymore. Hence Lord Bramha explained that he would give him some special blessings and powers so that nobody would ever comment about his unusual look. Since then Ganesha became a much revered God. There is always, for example, a Ganesh ritual before any inauguration of a new business, the purchase of a new house or any other beginning.
How did the Ganesh festival start?
The Ganesh ritual has been observed by many people for centuries, originally only inside houses. The first time Ganesh festival that was celebrated in public was in 1893 and this was an anti-British act. In that era, the British government declared an evening curfew for which no one was allowed to come together and discuss anything as the revolution for the independence of India was at its peak. At this time, Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak, a social reformer and a scholar, mislead the British by introducing the Ganesh Chaturthi festival: a 10 day festival in which the whole community was required to gather together to recite prayers. This was a ruse, however, as most of the talking were used to exchange news related to the independence movement. This festival was celebrated for 10 days and the secret information of the independence was passed from person to person.
How it is celebrated in Mumbai?
In Mumbai people celebrate this festival with great energy. Weeks before the festival the preparations start with people going shopping for all the ritualistic items. Statue artist from all over the country come to Mumbai to show off their skills. Some Ganesh idols can be up to 15 to 20 feet high. It can take weeks to complete an idol of that size! To create the statues, artists initially mould a basic shape with clay and plaster that comes all the way from Paris, and then some of the more detailed and fine work is done. Skilled painters are also needed to paint the idols once the clay and plaster is dry.
People who celebrate this festival then bring the idols back to their homes, to their communities, or even to their offices. The statues are adorned with flowers, sweets, offerings and lights. When the Ganesh festival is celebrated in the house, the family usually keep the idols for either 1 and half days, 5 days or 7 days, but some keep it for up to 10 days. Most of the Communal Ganesh festivals last for 10 days as there are more people to bring together. During this period people say special prayers for Ganesh.
The final day of the festival is the day when the idol is immersed in the sea. In the evening people wear new clothes, say the final prayer and then start the procession. During the procession the idol is carried towards the sea whilst being accompanied with music and dancing. The procession is so loud and catching that even people who don’t participate in this festival still come out of their houses to view the incredible energy of those celebrating. Once the procession reaches the sea, the idol is immersed in the water. The immersion serves to signify how Ganesh is sent away with all the worries and troubles, and the people hope that he will come back early the next year to bring new relief and joy.
I am one of the guides at Reality Tours that lead the special tour we organize during this festival. If you want to come along and experience Ganesh Chaturti together with us please get in touch.
About the author: Suraj Hattarkal has been working as a tour guide at Reality Tours for the past 5 years. He lives in Dharavi with his parents and studied Commerce at the Mumbai University. He is very enthusiastic and likes communication and people hence his decision to work with Reality Tours allows him to follow his passions.