Ganesh Chathurthi – History behind celebration


Ganesh Chaturthi is the Hindu festival celebrated on the birthday (rebirth) of the Lord Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati and a prominent god.

Lord Ganesha

Ganesh Chaturthi

It is believed that Lord Ganesh bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees during this festival. Ganesha is worshiped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of every new venture or at the start of travel. The festival also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi “festival of Ganesha” is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The festival lasts for ten days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the waxing moon period).

It is celebrated all over India, but it is most elaborate in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and Mauritius, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Fiji, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana etc., wherever Hindus reside.


Lord Shiva beheading Ganesha

According to Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha was created by goddess Parvati consort of Shiva Parvati consort of Shiva. Parvati created Ganesha out of sandalwood paste which she used for her bath and breathed life into the figure. She then set him to stand guard at her door while she bathed. Lord Shiva, who had gone out, returned and as Ganesha didn’t know him and didn’t allow him to enter. Lord Shiva became enraged by this and asked his Ganas to teach the child. Ganesha who was very powerful, the embodiment of shakti, defeated Shiva’s followers and declared that nobody was allowed to enter while his mother was bathing.

The sage of heavens, Narada along with the Saptarishis sensed the growing turmoil and went to appease the boy with no results. Angry Shiva severed  the head of the child. Paravati seeing this became enraged. Seeing  Paravati in anger Shiva promised that her son will be alive again. The devas searched for the head of dead person facing North. But they found only the head of child elephant. They brought the head of the elephant and Shiva put it on the child’s body and brought him back to life. Lord Shiva also declared that from this day onwards the boy will be known as Ganesha (Gana Isha : Lord of Ganas).

Date of Ganesh Chaturthi

The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi and lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi. This festival is observed in the lunar month of bhadrapada shukla paksha chathurthi. If Chaturthi prevails on both days, the first day should be observed. Even if Chaturthi prevails for the complete duration of madhyanha on the second day.


Few weeks before, Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesh are made. They are beautifully decorated and depict Lord Ganesh in vivid poses. The size of these statues vary ten cms to thirty mtrs.

Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colorfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures mandapas (pandals) in every locality. The pandals are erected by the people or a specific society of the locality. The pandals are decorated by using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc. or theme based decorations, which depict religious themes or current events.

The priest, usually clad in red or white dhoti and uttareeyam (Shawl), then with the chanting of mantras invokes the presence of Ganesh using the statue as a channel, or body for his energy. This ritual is the Prana Pratishtha. After this the ritual called as shodashopachara (sixteen ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, twenty one modaks, twenty one durva (trefoil) blades of grass and red flowers are offered, The statue is anointed with red unguent, made of kumkum and sandalwood paste. Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns are chanted.

Few people buy their own small clay statue of Ganesh and after 1, 3, 5,7 or 11 days immerse it in a bucket or tub at home, so as not to pollute public lakes or rivers. After a few days the clay is used in the home garden.

Ganesha Chathurthi Special Food - Ganesh Chaturthi

The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak (modak in Marathi, modakam/kudumulu in Telugu, modaka/kabubu in Kannada and modagam in Tamil). A modak is a dumpling made from rice/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments, it is either steam-cooked or fried. Another popular sweet dish is the karanji (karjikai in kannada) which is similar to the modak in composition and taste but has a semicircular shape.

In Andhra Pradesh, kudumu (rice flour dumplings stuffed with coconut and jaggery mixture), Undrallu (steamed coarsely grounded rice flour balls), Panakam (jaggery, black pepper and cardamom flavored drink), Vadapappu (soaked and moong lentils), Chalimidi (cooked rice flour and jaggery mixture), etc., are offered to Ganesh along with Modakams. These offerings to god are called Naivedyam in Telugu.

In Andhra Pradesh. Clay Ganesh (Matti Vinayakudu in Telugu) and Turmeric Ganesh (Siddhi Vinayakudu in Telugu) is usually worshipped at homes along with plaster of paris Ganesh.

Public celebrations of the festival are widely popular, with local communities (mandalas) vying with each other to put up the biggest statue and the best pandal. The festival is also the time for cultural activities like singing and theater performances, orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps,charity for the poor, etc.,

Today, the Ganesh Festival is not only a popular festival. Many artists,industries and businesses survive on this mega-event. Ganesh Festival provides a stage for budding artists to present their art to the public.In Maharashtra, not only Hindus but others also participate in the celebration like Muslims, Jains, Christians and others. In Mangalore, there is a belief that the eldest son of the home should be present during pooja.


It is not known when and how Ganesh Chaturthi was first celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi is being celebrated as a public event in Pune since the times of Shivaji (1630-1680). The Peshwas, the de facto hereditary administrations of the Empire from 1749 till its end in 1818, encouraged the celebrations in their administrative seat Pune as Ganesh was their family deity (Kuladevata). With the fall of the Peshwas, Ganesh Chaturthi lost state patronage and became a domestic celebration till its revival by Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.


In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual domestic festival into a large, well-organised public event. Bal Gangadhar Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesha as “the god for every-body”, and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order “to bridge the gap between Brahmins and ‘non-Brahmins’ and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them” , and generate nationalistic fervour among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first to install large public images  of Ganesha in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in rivers, sea, or other pools of water all public images of the deity on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi.

Under Bal gangadhar Tilak’s encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performance of plays, musical concerts, and folk dances. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities, in order to exercise control over the population, the British discouraged social and political gatherings.


‘’The most serious impact of the festival on the environment is due to the immersion of idols made of Plaster of Paris into lakes,rivers and the sea. Traditionally, the idol was sculpted out of mud taken from nearby one’s home. After the festival, it was returned to the earth by immersing it in a nearby water pond, river or sea. This was meant to represent the cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature.

Khairatabad Ganesha Nimarjan - Ganesh Chaturthi

As the production of Ganesha idols on a commercial basis grew, the earthen or natural clay (shadu maati in Marathi and b anka matti in Telugu) has been replaced by Plaster of paris. Plaster is a man-made material, easier to mould,lighter and less expensive than clay. Plaster of paris is non-biodegradable, and insoluble in water. The chemical paints used to adorn these plaster idols themselves contain heavy metals like mercury and cadmium, causing water pollution. Also, on immersion, non-biodegradable accessories that originally adorned the idol accumulate in the layers of sand on the beach. Clay Lord Ganeshas have been encouraged to be used for immersion into the water courses to prevent any harmful environmental impacts.

In Goa, People are urged to buy traditional clay idols made by artisans.

On the final day of the Ganesha festival thousands of idols are immersed into water ponds, rivers and sea. These increase the level of acidity in the water and the content of heavy metals. To save the water from pollution the solutions proposed are as follows:

  • Return to the traditional use of natural clay idols and immerse the icon in a bucket of water at home.
  • Use of a permanent icon made of stone and brass, used every year and a symbolic immersion only.
  • Recycling of plaster of paris idols to repaint them and use them again the following year.
  • Ban on the immersion of plaster of paris idols into lakes, rivers and the sea.
  • Creative use of other biodegradable materials such as papiermache to create Ganesha idols.
  • Encouraging people to immerse the idols in tanks of water rather than in natural water resources.

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