Ganesh Chaturthi, which begins this year on August 29, is celebrated as the birthday of the beloved Hindu elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha, who is widely worshiped for his wisdom, ability to remove obstacles and bring good fortune. It is believed that during this spectacular festival, Lord Ganesh bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees.
The festival takes places in late August or early September, depending on the cycle of the moon. It falls on the fourth day after new moon in the Hindu month of Bhadrapada. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated for 11 days (ending on September 8, 2014), with the biggest spectacle taking place on the last day, Anant Chaturdasi day.
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One of the best places to experience the festival is in Mumbai. Celebrations take place in a special way at the towering Siddhivinayak temple, located in the central suburb of Prabhadevi, which is dedicated to Lord Ganesha. An incalculable number of devotees visit the temple to join in prayers and pay their respects to the God during the festival. In addition, around 10,000 statues of Lord Ganesh are displayed at various locations in the city. Check out this great slideshow of people preparing Lord Ganesh statues
The festival begins with the installation of huge elaborately crafted statutes of Ganesha in homes and podiums, which have been especially constructed and beautifully decorated. Artisans put months of effort into making the statues. It’s forbidden to look at the moon on this first night as legend had it the moon laughed at Lord Ganesha when he fell from his vehicle, the rat. On Ananta Chaturdasi (the last day), the statues are paraded through the streets, accompanied by much singing and dancing, and then immersed in the ocean or other bodies of water. In Mumbai alone, more than 150,000 statues are immersed each year!
Once a statue of Lord Ganesh is installed, a ceremony is undertaken to invoke his holy presence into the statue. This ritual is called the Pranapratishhtha Puja, during which a number of mantras are recited. Following this a special worship is performed. Offerings of sweets, flowers, rice, coconut, jaggery and coins are made to the God. The statue is also anointed with red chandan powder. Prayers are offered to Lord Ganesha every day during the festival. Temples devoted to Lord Ganesha also organize special events and prayers. Those who have a Ganesha statue in their house treat and care for him as a much loved guest.
Hindus worship idols, or statues, of their gods because it gives them a visible form to pray to. They also recognise that the universe is in a constant state of change. Form eventually gives away to formlessness. However, the energy still remains. The immersion of the statues in the ocean, or other bodies of water, and subsequent destruction of them serves as a reminder of this belief.
The festival is celebrated in a very public manner. Local communities compete with each other to put up the biggest and best Ganesha statue and display. Expect very crowded streets, filled with boisterous devotees, and lots of music!
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