Happy Ganesh Chaturthi! What is the meaning behind the Hindu Festival?

·3-min read
It is an important festival in Hindu religion and runs across 10 days  (AFP/Getty Images)
It is an important festival in Hindu religion and runs across 10 days (AFP/Getty Images)

This week, Hindus around the world will be enjoying the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, an Indian festival that runs from August 31 to September 9 this year.

The festival will celebrate and worship Lord Ganesha, to seek his blessings, and is highly important in Hinduism. Here is everything you need to know about Ganesh Chaturthi.

What is Ganesh Chaturthi?

Ganesh Chaturthi marks the birth of the Hindu god Ganesh. Ganesha is the younger son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. There are various stories behind his birth but, according to the most popular tale, Lord Ganesha was created by Parvati out of dirt from her body to guard her in the absence of Shiva.

She gave him the task of guarding her bathroom door while she took a bath. In the meantime, Shiva returned home and Ganesha, who didn’t know who Shiva was, stopped him.

This angered Shiva and he severed Ganesha’s head after an argument between the two. Parvati was not happy when she found out and, in turn, Lord Shiva promised to bring Ganesha back to life. The devas were sent to search for a child’s head facing north but they could only find an elephant’s head. Shiva fixed the elephant’s head on the child’s body, and that is allegedly how Ganesha was born.

Today, the elephant-headed deity is known as the god of prosperity, good fortune, and wisdom, and the 10-day festival reflects how important he is in Hinduism.

The festival lasts up to 10 days and begins on the fourth day (chaturthi) of the month of Bhadrapada, which is the sixth month of the Hindu calendar. It usually falls between mid-August and mid-September.

In the UK, it is not observed as a national holiday, but in India it is an optional holiday. It is majorly celebrated in states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana.

Employment and holiday laws in India allow employees to choose a limited number of holidays from a list of options; some may choose to take the day off to celebrate, though most offices and businesses will remain open.

How is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?

Clay statues of Lord Ganesha, ranging from less than an inch tall to more than dozens of feet high, are made in the months leading up to the festival. Many are put into specially made pavilions and decorated with flowers and lights, or are displayed inside homes.

Many Hindus attend temple on the first day of the festival and offer Lord Ganesha coconut and sweet puddings, as well as 21 modak dumplings, which are the god’s favourite food.

Over the next several days, the festival will include many public activities, such as local communities competing to put up the biggest statue, singing, art presentations, and yoga demonstrations, as well as community services including free medical check-ups and blood donation.

Ganesha is worshipped for 10 days and, on the 11th day, flower garlands and scented candles are made, to be used in processions that take statues of the god to local rivers or the sea. They are immersed in the water to symbolise the god’s journey back to his home in Kailash, and to his parents, Shiva and Parvati.

Various different foods are eaten during the celebration, including sweet dumplings known as modaks. Made with rice flour, the filling usually consists of a mixture of coconut, jaggery, and saffron. Other traditional delicacies made for the occasion include puran poli, a stuffed flatbread filled with chana dal, sugar, and nutmeg.