Ganesha is India's cutest god. He has the head of an elephant on which is perched a dainty tiara. Four podgy hands are joined to a sizeable belly with each hand holding its own symbolic object. One has a trishul, or a trident, the second, an ankush, or goad made from his very own broken tooth. The third hand elegantly holds a lotus. The fourth has a rosary (which is sometimes replaced by modaks, his favourite sweet)
The devotees of Ganesha are known as 'Ganapatyas', and the festival to celebrate and glorify him is called Ganesh Chaturthi.
Ganesha's head symbolises the Aatma or the soul. It is the ultimate supreme reality of human existence. His human body signifies Maya or the earthly existence of human beings. The elephant head denotes wisdom. The trunk represents Om, the sound symbol of cosmic reality. In his upper right hand Ganesha holds a goad. It helps him propel mankind forward on the eternal path and remove obstacles from the way. The noose in Ganesha's left hand is a gentle implement to capture all difficulties.
The broken tusk that Ganesha holds like a pen in his lower right hand is a symbol of sacrifice. It is said he broke it for writing the Mahabharata. The rosary in his other hand suggests that the pursuit of knowledge should be continuous. The laddoo (sweet) he holds in his trunk indicates that one must discover the sweetness of the Atman.
His fan-like ears convey that he hears all our prayers and requests. The snake that runs round his waist represents energy in all forms. He is humble enough to ride the lowest of creatures, a mouse.
The story of the birth of this deity is depicted in the Shiva Purana. It goes like this: One morning goddess Parvati was going to take bath. There was nobody to guard the door. She created a boy out of the dirt of her body. She assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When Shiva, her husband returned, he was surprised to find a stranger denying him access. He struck off the boy's head in rage.
Parvati broke down in utter grief. To soothe her, Shiva sent out his squads (gana) to fetch the head of any sleeping being, which was facing north.
The guards found a sleeping elephant and brought back its severed head. It was then attached to the body of the boy. Shiva restored its life. He made him the leader (pati) of his troops. Hence, his name is 'Ganapati'. Shiva also bestowed a boon that people would worship him. They will worship his name before undertaking any venture.
However, there's another less popular story of his origin. It is found in the Brahma Vaivarta Puran: Shiva asked Parvati to observe the punyaka vrata for a year to appease Vishnu in order to have a son. When a son was born to her, all the gods and goddesses assembled to rejoice on its birth. Lord Shani, the son of Surya (Sun-God) was also present. But he refused to look at the infant.
Perturbed at this behaviour, Parvati asked him the reason. Shani replied that his looking at baby would harm the newborn. However, on Parvati's insistence, Shani eyed the baby. The child's head was severed instantly. All the gods star to bemoan. Upon this, Vishnu hurried to the bank of river Pushpabhadra. From there he brought back the head of a young elephant. He joined it to the baby's body, thus reviving it.
Destroyer of Pride
Ganesha is also the destroyer of vanity, selfishness and pride. He is the personification of material universe in all its various magnificent manifestations. All Hindus worship Ganesha regardless of their sectarian belief. He is both the beginning of the religion and the meeting ground for all Hindus.
Curse of the Moon
It is said that anyone who looks at the moon on the night of the Ganesh Chaturthi will be falsely accused. If someone inadvertently sees the moon on this night, he/she may remedy the situation by listening to (or reciting) the story of the syamantaka jewel found in the Puranas.
The story is like this. Satrajit had secured a jewel from Surya. When Lord Krishna asked for it, saying it would be safe with him, Satrajit refused to give it. Prasena's brother Satrajit went out hunting wearing the jewel but was killed by a lion. Jambavant, the Ram Bhakt, killed the lion and gave the jewel to his son to play with.
When Prasena did not return, Satrajit falsely accused Krishna of killing Prasena for the sake of the jewel. Krishna did not like the stain on his reputation. He set out in search of the jewel. He found it in Jambavant's cave, with his child.
Jambavant attacked Krishna thinking him to be an intruder who' had come to take away the jewel. They fought each other for 28 days. Jambavant was terribly weakened from the hammering of Krishna's fists. He finally recognised Him as Lord Rama.
Jambavant repented that he had fought with the Lord. He gave the jewel to Krishna. He also gave his daughter Jambavati in marriage to him. Krishna returned to Dwaraka with Jambavati and the jewel.
He returned the jewel to Satrajit. In turn Satraji repented for his false accusation. He promptly offered to give Krishna the jewel and his daughter Satyabhama in marriage. Krishna accepted Satyabhama as his wife but did not accept the jewel.
A life-like clay model of Lord Ganesha is made 2-3 months prior to the day of Ganesh Chaturthi. The size of this idol may vary from 3/4th of an inch to over 25 feet.
On the day of the festival, it is placed on raised platforms in home; or in elaborately decorated outdoor tents. People view it and pay their homage. The priest then invokes life into the idol amidst the chanting of mantras.
This ritual is the pranapratishtha. After this the shodashopachar (16 ways of paying tribute) follows, coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas (rice flour preparation), 21 durva (trefoil) blades and red flowers are offered The idol is anointed with red unguent (rakta chandan). Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns are chanted. They are from the Rig Veda Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana.
Ganesha is worshipped for 10 days. It is from Bhadrapad Shud Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi. On the 11th day, the image is taking through the streets in a procession. It is accompanied with dancing a singing. It is to be immersed in a river or the sea. This ritual is performed to see off the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash. He required taking with him the misfortunes of all men.
All join in this final procession shouting "Ganapathi Bappa Mory Purchya Varshi Laukariya" (O father Ganesha, come again early ne year). After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor is mad people carry the idol to the river to immerse it.
The whole community comes to worship Ganesha in beautifully done tents. During the days of the festival, these also serve as the venue for from medical checkup, blood donation camps, and charity for the poor, drama performances, films, devotional songs, etc.