The Legend and History of Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi Legend

Ganesh Chaturthi is a Hindu festival celebrated every year. This festival, also known as Vinayaka Chavithi, honours the birth of Lord Ganesha in the Hindu calendar’s Bhadra month, which runs from August to September. This celebration is known as Vinayaka Chavithi or Vinayaka Chaturthi in popular culture. About ten days of festivities culminate on Anant Chaturdashi, the fourteenth day of the waxing moon phase. It is held in honour of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity revered as the god of beginnings, wisdom, and the removal of obstacles. During Ganesha Chaturthi, clay representations of Ganesha are placed in pandals or private residences, where they are worshiped for up to ten days before submerging in a water body. During this festival, Ganesha is said to grant all of his devotees his physical presence on earth. The festival is celebrated all over India, particularly in Maharashtra, with blustering zeal and ecstasy. Let’s trace the history of Ganesh Chaturthi, and how it became a worldwide phenomenon.

The Legend of Ganesh Chaturthi

The Legend of Ganesh Chaturthi

There are many legends surrounding the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi. The most well-known of these are related to Lord Shiva and Parvati. According to legend, Parvati used sandalwood to create Ganesha while her husband, Shiva was away. She designated Ganesha to watch over her house’s entrance while taking a bath. When he returned, Ganesha blocked Shiva from entering the building, eager to meet Parvati. This caused the two of them to fight. He initially makes vain attempts to persuade the boy. Shiva, the god of destruction, finally cuts off Ganesha’s head.

When Parvati caught sight of this scene, she transformed into the goddess Kali and declared that she would end the world. Everyone was concerned about this and prayed to Lord Shiva to find a solution and subdue Goddess Kali’s rage. Shiva then commanded all his followers to run off and find a child whose mother was neglectful, turning her back on her child and bringing his head. The followers saw the first child as an elephant, so they cut off his head and brought it to Lord Shiva as instructed.

The head was immediately placed on Ganesha’s body by Lord Shiva, who then revived it. Goddess Parvati was once more overpowered as Maa Kali’s rage subsided. Ganesha or Ganapati, the chief of the ganas or the attendants of Shiva, was given a warm welcome into the first family of the Hindu heavens and given the elephant-headed god’s name. The most important god in the Hindu pantheon is Ganesha. This valiant doorkeeper for Parvati’s bath is revered as the most auspicious deity of fresh starts. He is worshiped before people travel or start a new project and during all festivals. You will also see him carefully guarding entrances to temples and homes, peeping out of calendars and happily gracing marriages and other such occasions.

[Also Read: How it’s Done: Ganesh Chaturthi in Pune]

The History of Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrations in India

History of Ganesh Chaturthi During the Maratha Empire

Ganesh Chaturthi, Maratha empire
In 1792, a Scottish artist came to paint a Peshwa during Ganesh Chaturthi. This is the painting. Image credit: Better India

India’s links to the festival date back hundreds of years, with references to Ganapati being found in the Rigveda. The earliest Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, according to historian Shri Rajwade, date back to the eras of the Satavahana, Rashtrakuta, and Chalukya dynasties.

According to historical accounts, the great Maratha ruler Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaja started Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Maharashtra to advance culture and nationalism. Since then, it has continued. History has also made mention of celebrations akin to these during the Peshwa era in Pune. Lord Ganapati is thought to have been the Peshwas’ family god. Ganesh Chaturthi continued to be a family celebration in Maharashtra following the end of Peshwa rule from 1818 to 1892.

[Also Read: Ganesh Chaturthi food guide – Ganesha loves food, so should you]

History of Ganesh Chaturthi During India’s Freedom Struggle

History of Ganesh Chaturthi in the freedom struggle began in 1892, when a Pune citizen named Krishnajipant Khasgiwale travelled to Maratha-ruled Gwalior and watched a traditional public festival, which he drew to the attention of his companions Bhausaheb Laxman Javale and Balasaheb Natu back in Pune. Javale, also known as Bhau Rangari, then installed the first sarvajanik, or public Ganesha idol, and held gatherings to celebrate Lord Ganesha.

However, as the British took over large swaths of India, the festival lost its public nature and state patronage. It was only a private celebration held by a few people in Maharashtra for a time. All of this changed when Indian freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak championed the festival as a means of uniting Indians and instilling national pride. Tilak fought to make the Ganapati festival a social event for the entire Hindu community as the British banned public assemblies and cracked down on sedition.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Bal Gangadhar Tilak

In an article in his newspaper Kesari in 1893, Lokmanya Tilak complimented Javale’s efforts. He even erected a Ganesha statue in the news publication’s headquarters the following year, and his efforts transformed the yearly family festival into a significant, well-organized public event. Tilak was the first to build big public representations of Ganesha in pavilions, and he began the practice of immersing the idols on the tenth day of the celebration in rivers, the sea, or other bodies of water.

Ganesh Chaturthi, encouraged by him, became a meeting place for people of all castes and communities when the British prohibited social and political meetings to control the populace. The event encouraged community involvement and participation in intellectual dialogue, poetry recitals, plays, concerts, and traditional dances. Even Muslim leaders attended these annual gatherings and offered speeches exhorting citizens to strive for independence.

Tilak acknowledged Ganesha’s appeal as “the god for everyone.” He popularised Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival to “cross the divide between Brahmins and ‘non-Brahmins’ and find a framework to build a new grassroots unity amongst them,” fostering nationalistic fervour in the Maharashtra people in opposition to British colonial control.

Since then, Ganesh Chaturthi has been celebrated with enormous community excitement and participation throughout Maharashtra and other states. It was declared a national festival following India’s independence in 1947. Ganesh Chaturthi is now celebrated throughout Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and many other places in India. Because the celebration is so popular, preparations begin months in advance. Homes are cleaned days before the actual worship, and marquees are built on street corners to host the Lord’s idols. Lighting, decorating, mirrors, and flowers are all elaborately arranged. 

The artisans who create Ganesh idols compete to create larger and better sculptures. The relatively larger ones have heights ranging from 10 metres to 30 metres. The Lord is worshiped with great devotion during the festival days, and prayer services are held regularly. Modak and neuri, as well as other sweet and savoury treats, are relished and distributed. The length of the Lord’s visit varies by location; once the devotion is finished, the statues are taken on ornate floats and drowned in the sea. Thousands of people gather on the beaches to immerse the sacred idols in the sea.

Dancers and the sounds of frenetic drum beats, devotional music, and exploding firecrackers accompany the procession and immersion. The ceremony concludes with shouts of “Ganesh Maharaj Ki Jai!” (Hail Lord Ganesh!) when the idol is immersed, and with requests to the Lord to return the next year, with chanting of “Ganpati bappa morya, pudcha varshi laukar ya” (Hail Lord Ganesh, return soon next year). Tourists from all over the world go to Maharashtra’s sun-kissed beaches to see this amazing spectacle. Book a local cab in Mumbai to witness the festivities in all their glory.

The Ganesh Chaturthi Trail Pandals to witness the celebrations in Mumbai

Ganesh Chathurti Pandals

Check out this for a list of destinations one could visit to join in the celebrations. Here’s the list:

PlacePandals
Diveagar, MaharastraVisit the 300-year old Suvarna Ganesh Temple that houses a pure gold idol of Lord Ganesha.
HedviVisit the Ganesh Temple of Hedvi, considered to be a ‘Jagrut Devasthan’ where you can feel the presence of Lord Ganesha. 
GanpatipuleVisit the 400-year-old Swayambhoo Ganesh temple, which is located on the shores of a pristine sandy beach. 
PuneThe must-visit Ganpati Pandal here is Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati where you can find replicas of famous Indian monuments and temples.
MumbaiSome of the famous Ganesh Chaturthi Pandals here include Lalbaughcha Raja and Siddivinayak Temple. The major place for immersion of idol is Chowpatti Beach.

Rent a car in Pune and conveniently cover your religious circuit without any difficulties. Visit the manaches and gather the blessings of Lord Ganesha. In case you want to explore the picturesque getaways near Pune, you may want to take a trip to Mahabaleshwar or Lonavala.

About the author

I grew up sneaking away to read the well-worn travel magazines I found at my grandfather's house. Today I write stories of my travel experiences and adventures.

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