Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ganesh Chaturthi

The Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birth of Lord Ganesha. The festival begins this year on 9/15. I have come to especially enjoy learning about Hindu holidays - they have such colorful gods/goddesses, stories and rituals.

Ganesha (or Ganesh) is the Hindu god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. He is famous for being a trickster and for his sense of humor. He is the god of new beginnings and is worshiped before people undertake a journey or embark upon a new venture.

Lord Ganesha is the second son of the god Shiva and his second consort, the goddess Parvati [Incidentally, when Janice's character was introduced on the Sopranos, she was using the name Parvati and insisted everyone call her that. Her back story was that she had changed her name while living in an ashram in California. She later dropped the name, however.]

I am sure you have seen representations of Ganesha -- he is the one with the elephant head. I have wondered why he has such a head. I found conflicting stories.

The first story (which I found some variation of several places) is that Parvati created Ganesha out of a balm she used for her bath, then had him guard her door while she bathed. While she bathed, Lord Shiva returned. Ganesha didn't know him and refused him entry. Shiva got mad and cut off his head. Then he realized it was his wife's son, so he sent his attendants to get him the head of the first living creature they could find [or the first one facing north], and it turned out to be an elephant.

However, another story tells that Parvati was bored and started praying for a son. She gave birth to a beautiful boy she named Ganesha and was so proud of him she invited all the gods and goddesses to come and admire him. They all admired and blessed him, except for Parvati's brother, Sani (Saturn). It seems Sani had been cursed so that whenever he looked at someone, they were turned to ashes. So he didn't want to look at his nephew. But Parvati begged him to look at the baby just one time and when he did, Ganesha's head flew off. One of the gods said he would live live if the head of the first creature found was transplanted on Ganesha's neck, and another god went off and found an elephant.

So anyway.

During the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, statues of Ganesha are installed in homes and elaborately decorated mantapas (outdoor prayer halls or pavilions). The idols are worshiped with families and friends. A special puja (ritual) is performed twice a day. Public celebrations are also held, and it is a time for many cultural activities like songs, dramas and orchestra.

On the last (11th) day of the festival, the idols are taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing and singing for a send off. Everyone joins in the procession, shouting "Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya" (O father Ganesha, come again early next year). After the final offering is made, the idols are carried to a river or sea and immersed, symbolizing the start of Ganesha's journey to his home on Mount Kailash, while taking away with him the misfortunes of all man.

Unfortunately, this festival has a negative environmental impact. Traditionally, the idol was sculpted out of earth taken from near the home, then returned to the earth in a nearby water body, representing the cycle of life in nature. But eventually these idols began to be produced commercially using Plaster of Paris. Plaster of Paris takes longer to dissolve and releases toxic elements into the water, plus the paint contains heavy metals. There are groups trying to come up with solutions to this problem.



1 comment:

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    Happy Chaturthi 2008 !!