Hindus and non-Hindus alike recently celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi. This 10-day festival commemorates the birthday of the elephant-headed god Ganesh, the god of wisdom and good fortune. It is considered an auspicious time to start new activities and pray that Ganesh, the “remover of obstacles,” will ensure success.
Central to most activities are statues of Ganesh. Traditionally fashioned from mud or clay, these figures range in height from a few inches, for use in a home shrine, to over 70 feet for public celebrations.
People bring home murtis (Idols) of Lord Ganesha and celebrate the festival by worshiping the Lord in a special way for a day and a half, 3 days, 5 days, 7 days or 11 days depending on the family tradition and commitment of each individual.
The Murti is treated as a beloved guest, with his hosts feeding him his favorite food, inviting people to see him, decorating the house and making a special traditional sweet called Modak, small steamed dumplings with a coconut and jaggery filling.
In addition, communities host larger figures which are often painted and adorned and displayed in pandals, decorated temporary shelters which also host worship, singing, dancing and theatre.
At the end of the 10 days the images are carried to water – the sea, rivers, lakes or artificial ponds created just for the occasion – in festive but slow-moving processions accompanied by music, dancing, drumming and firecrackers.
They are submerged in water and left to disintegrate and return to the earth.
Ganesh Chaturthi is also a time to socialize with family and friends and exchange special sweets. Ganesh himself is generally depicted holding a sweet delicacy in one of his hands!