Celebrating Ganesh: The Remover of Obstacles

Only two priests at a time conduct the daily prayer at the Ganesh Temple in Flushing, Queens, NYC, with no devotees as coronavirus regulations are implemented. (Photo: courtesy Ganesh Temple/Hindu Temple Society of North America)

It is strongly believed among devout Hindus that it is inauspicious to move the home altar and images of  God placed in it from place to place. True love can move him, however, and he can come to you. Ganesh devotees seem to have succeeded in bringing him to the U.S. and other countries, and once he arrives on Ganesh Chaturthi day, he reigns over the week-long or ten-day long festivities.

Ganesh festival, like other festivals, is a happy occasion for Indians in the U.S. as it offers  relaxed times when one can speak Indian, dress Indian, eat Indian food and go to temples and mingle with other Indians.

Every year in the U.S., Ganesh celebrations take place in California cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, Fremont and Concord, in Houston and Chicago. It has been a major festival for Indians in Philadelphia and Woodbridge, New Jersey.

In New York, the Maha Vallabha Ganesh Temple in Flushing holds a beautiful Ganesh festival each year with crowds of parents and children dressed in festive Indian clothes, bringing gifts of flowers and going back with free “prasadam” from the temple. More than 3000 “Prasad” boxes are given away daily. Hawans reminiscent of ancient Vedic yajnyas with Vedic chanting go on in one part of the temple while activities for children and adults take place in another. One can shop for all “pooja” things. The evening “aarati” is a visual treat for first time visitors as a team of priests swerve tall brass lamps, after which a smaller Ganesh image is carried for an outing around the whole temple. The final day, Ganesh rides the silver chariot. All this happens every year until this year.

This year, most regular activities of the festival held August 14 through 22, were virtual. But the temple was open for in person viewing and prayer for five hours with an extra one hour at night for 30 devotees at a time for ten minutes.

“Ganesh Utsav” was held in Bellerose, New York, on a grand scale for the past two years. Held at the YMCA grounds with free parking, the festive 14 feet tall image was in one tent, while in another, activities and talent competitions went on through the day. Ethnic artistry from India were sold in exhibition stalls, and Indian food was available at the food court. “Visarjan” or symbolic immersion of a small image took place in a tub of water. This year, viewing will be allowed with social distancing precautions for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. Virtual musical show, fashion show, ghazal concert, comedy show, and dance performances will continue for five days. info@ganeshutsavnewyork.org would give more information.

Celebrated all over India and overseas, Maharashtra in India can boast of the oldest ties with Ganesha. Ganesh festival was a public event for many years in Pune after Shivaji’s Maratha wars with the Mughals. Later, the festival became private during the British rule when the public festival was not supported by the State, until the Maharashtrian freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak revived it during the 1890s as a political move against the British banning of Hindu gatherings.

For Maharashtrians today, Ganesh is their dear God who grants all wishes, is kind and protective, and removes all obstacles in one’s path. For them, as Sant Samartha Ramdas wrote, Ganesh is “Sukhakarta Dukhharta”, bringing happiness and taking distress away. True to the story of his repentant father Shiva’s promise to his mother Parvati distraught at her son’s elephant head, Ganesha is always first worshipped at the beginning of any and all work and Hindu rituals – going to school, marriage, opening a new business, starting a new job, etc. He is believed to protect one from hurdles and leads one to success.

In Mumbai which boasts more than 150,000 Ganesh images annually, “Lalbaug cha Raja” is the most famous and much loved. Established in 1934 wearing customary fisher folk clothes, the particular temple image is believed to fulfils one’s wishes and desires, as he did for the Koli community in Lalbaug. Historically, the fisher folks were reduced to sell in the open after the Peru Chawl market in Lalbaug was closed in 1932. They prayed to Ganesh for a permanent enclosed space for them with a vow, the fulfillment of which desire involved establishment of the permanent Ganesh temple in Lalbaug. And the one who took away their worries and difficulties became lovingly known as “Lalbaug cha raja” or King of Lalbaug.

During the ten days of the festival, symbolic of Ganesha’s visit to the earth with this mother, terracotta images of Ganesh are installed in homes, and offerings are made of “modaka” or “laddoo” along with other festive meals. In Maharashtra, festivals are held on very large scale in huge tents and stages with tall images of Ganesh. These public festivals are funded by neighborhood community. After ten days, on Anant Chaturdashi, or the fourteenth day of the lunar month, Ganesh is bid good bye, with dancing and singing of “Ganpati Bappa Mor Ya, Pudhcha Varshi Laukar Ya” – Ganeshji please come again and again and early next year. He is then carried to the ocean to be immersed in the Arabian Sea. Individual homes host Ganesh for one, one and a half, five or seven days. Maharashtra also celebrates festivals  of Hartalika with fasting by women and the Gauri, whose images are also installed.  Maharashtrian Chitpavan Brahmins place pebbles from the river bank as symbols of Gauri.

Preparations for the festival begin many months in advance. Organizers seek funds, donations and sponsorships. Tents are constructed. Images begin to get created after “padya pooja” or worship of the feet of Ganesh ranging from less than an inch tall to 60 or 70 feet tall. In individual homes a special shrine is created with floral decorations.

Beside Maharashtra, Ganesh is clebrated all over India, in GoaKarnatakaMadhya PradeshAndhra PradeshKeralaTelanganaOdisha, West Bengal, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh and in Tamil Nadu. Ganesh Chaturthi or “Chavath” in Konkani language, begins one day early in Goa where traditional ocean-front Konkani celebrations are performed with accompaniment of musical instruments such as ghumots, “taal” or creash cymbals, and pakhvaj, a barrel-shaped two headed drum. In Maharashtra, along with these instruments, Lejim is mainly used.

In Andhra Pradesh, Ganesh Chaturthi marks the beginning of the “brahmotsavams” at Varasidhi Vinayaka Swamy Temple in Kanipakam. The remarkable thing about this 21 day festival is the daily outing of the image in different vehicles.  Individual homes have Ganesh image made of  clay and turmeric. Tamil Nadu celebrates “Pillayar Chaturthi” or “Vinayaka Chaturthi” with worship of images of Ganesh. In Kerala the festival, “Lamboodhara Piranalu”, is marked by a public procession.

Ganesh festivals are also held in Nepal, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Canada and the United States. Indians in the U.K. have been celebrating the Ganesh Chaturthi for many years with usual festival activities, while in France, Indians have been holding a public Ganesh procession every year since 1995. Ganesh festival is a regular annual festival from Sydney on the east coast to Melbourne to Adelaide in the South and in Perth on the West Coast of Australia.

 

 

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