As the birthday of the much loved and adored elephant-headed god Ganesha, today marks an important day in the Hindu calendar.
Hindus all across India and indeed around the world will be celebrating this occasion with pomp and piety. However, the biggest and the grandest party will take place in the state of Maharashtra and the partying will last a fortnight.
The preparations for the day begin months ago. In villages and towns across the state, thousands of skilled artisans spend months sculpting elaborate and beautiful idols of the deity from clay before they are painted and embellished, ready to be sold in the markets.
Often interpreted in the artist’s own vision, Ganeshas will take on various avatars from the traditional to the contemporary. From a few inches to nearly 100 feet tall Each one unique and a joy to behold.
Shouts of “Ganpati Bappa Morya” will ring out in the streets as people carry home their own Ganesha.
Once home, the idol will be placed on a beautifully decorated altar with great love and devotion. Every morning and evening a pooja will be performed with incense and flowers and offerings of his favourite foods like the sweet modak. A treat to be shared with friends and neighbours come calling to see him and pay their respects.
During India’s independence struggle Lokmanya Tilak started the practice of communal celebrations. A legacy that lives on to this day. people gather together as they go from pandal to pandal checking out the many colourful avatars of their adored god.
And although I have to admit while the public celebrations are commercialised like everything else in our times, it is still an occasion for festivities and joy.
After ten days of festivities, it will be time to bid farewell. The many idols of Ganesha, small and large, will be carried through the streets again to the shouts of “Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukar ya” (O Ganesha, come back soon next year). Singing and dancing, the devotees will take their beloved Ganesha to for his immersion in a lake, river or the sea.
The festival is observed in the month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon). The date usually falls between 19 August and 20 September. The festival lasts for 10 or 12 days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi.