Today is Ganesha Chaturthi, also known as the birthday of Lord Ganesha! This holiday can fall anytime between August and September and the festival itself is known as Vinayaka Chaturthi. The date varies only because the start of the celebration begins on the fourth day of the waxing moon. The waxing moon is important because this is when the moon begins to grow into the full moon, bringing a time for new beginnings, positive change, and good luck!
It is important to remember not to look at the moon on the night of Ganesha Chaturthi. There is a legend where Lord Ganesha cursed the Moon and since then it is believed that anyone who lays eyes on the moon this night will be condemned to face false accusations in the year ahead.
Lord Ganesha is one of the five prime Hindu deities and is known for being the remover of obstacles, associated with new beginnings, and wisdom. He is easily able to be recognized because his head is that of an elephant, which symbolized the Atman, meaning soul. There is a long story behind how Ganesha came to harness the head of an elephant, and I’ll tell you the more popular, shortened version. His mother, Parvati (the Hindu Goddess of love and devotion), while going for her bath she created a boy from her own dirt and oil (I’ve also heard sandalwood) and instilled in him… life. Parvati informed him that he was her son and asked that he protect the house and not allow anyone to enter while she bathed.
As he was guarding the door, Lord Shiva (Parvati’s husband, and the most powerful Hindu deity, the destroyer) came home and was told he was not allowed to enter his own home. Coming from a strange lad he had never seen before he became infuriated. Not knowing this was his son, Lord Shiva severed the boy’s head, killing him instantly. Parvati became so enraged after seeing what happened to her son that she threatened to destroy the world and creation itself. Lord Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) of course had a problem with this and pleaded with Parvati to reconsider.
She thought about it for a while and decided to reconsider on account of two conditions being met. The first was that Ganesha be brought back to life, and the second was that he would be forever worshipped first, before all the other deities. Lord Shiva agreed and instructed his army to bring back the head of the first creature they saw on their way. Once his army returned with the elephant’s head, Lord Shiva placed it on the body of the boy, breathing life into him once again. Shiva then named Ganesha, claiming him as his son, and bestowed upon him leadership of all the ganas (supernatural beings).
This celebration of Ganesha Chaturthi lasts for 10 days and usually starts by placing a clay image (often made weeks before the festival) or statue of Lord Ganesha in your home, and into temples and shrines. Garlands of colorful flowers such as jasmine, lotus, or red flowers along with bright lights are used for décor to add beauty to the statue. Prayers are said along with mantras to invoke the spirit of Lord Ganesha and offerings are made, usually in the form of food, known as “Prasad” and has a sweet taste. There are different types of Prasad offered ranging from coconut, kheer (rice pudding), other fruits, and Lord Ganesha’s favorite modaks. These are sweet dumplings made from rice flour and has a candied filling of grated coconut mixed with jaggery— similar to a cross between a spiced syrup and buttery caramel.
Traditionally to end this devotional festival, on the 11th day, the statue of Lord Ganesha is paraded throughout the streets accompanied by people dancing and singing! He is then submerged into a body of water believed to carry away and dissolve all of worries and misfortune.
Lord Ganesha has always been very dear to me and I am excited to be here in India during the time of this festival. I remember it was probably around 4 years ago when I started reciting one of the mantras in dedication to him. It always helped me get through some of the tough times life would throw at me. I knew these overwhelming moments were tests helping to grow a stronger person inside of me. I always asked Lord Ganesha to help me through them, to help me overcome and remove whatever obstacles were in my way. I want to share this mantra with you all and I’m sure most of my readers in India will be familiar with it. However, for those that aren’t, whenever you find yourself caught amidst this battlefield of life I hope that this mantra will bring you a little comfort, just like it did for me.
Often times a mantra is not just chanted once but in a repetition of 3, 11, 21, 27, 54 or 108 times.
“Om gam ganapataye namaha” // “ॐ गम गणपतये नमः”
Om (Aum) – A vibration awakening the eternal source of creation.
Gam (Gahm) – Bija mantra, used to evoke Ganesha’s energy.
Ganapataye (Gah-Nah-Paht-Ah-Yeh) – Meaning Ganesha
Namaha (Nah-Mah-Hah) – To give praise and honor