Indira S. Somani, journalist, PhD

Ganesh Chaturthi

I spent Wednesday (Aug. 31) and Thursday (Sept. 1) shooting (filming) Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Bangalore.  Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated as Lord Ganesha’s birthday.  Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is widely worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity, good fortune, remover of obstacles, and also known as the god of new beginnings.  Fasting, feasting and distribution of sweets offered to Lord Ganesh are important aspects of Ganesh Chaturthi rituals in India.

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The most spectacular celebrations, I’m told, are in the state of Maharastra, mainly Mumbai and Pune, but it is definitely celebrated in South India.  Typically giant idols of the elephant god are carried in processions around the city.  I decided to follow a family, the Srinivasans, in their practice of worship on this special day.  The festivities started with a puja to Ma Gauri (also known as Parvati), the Mother Goddess to Lord Ganesha on Wed. Aug. 31.  The Srinivasans brought a South Indian priest to their home, and I shot the entire puja.  That evening me and my camera followed the Srinivasans to the Jaynagar 4th block market, where they bought their eco-friendly clay sculpture of Lord Ganesha, garlands, flowers and much more.  It was packed with people shopping to prepare for their home celebration.  Many people stick with tradition and buy the painted idols (rather than the clay idols), made of Plaster of Paris.  However, the lead in the painted idols pollutes the water when the idols are immersed.  The next morning (Sept. 1st) I started the day by filming a giant Ganesha at the Dodda Ganesha Temple, located on the Bull Temple Road in Basavanagudi (neighborhood in Bangalore).  This idol is a single stone sculpted into Lord Ganesha about 18 ft tall in height and 16 ft wide.  The line was long, all the way around the block, with people there to receive darshan or blessings of the deity in the temple.  I stood with the other camera crews and got shots of the giant idol as well as people receiving darshan.  That was a true blessing to get to film so close to the idol.  I returned to the Srinivasans to film their own Ganesh Chaturthi puja at about 10:30am.  Later that day I returned to their home to film the display of 108 Ganapathis (another name for Ganesha).  In the evening (around 9pm) the residents of my housing complex walked around the campus carrying their own eco-friendly Ganesha idol chanting a bhajan (holy song) in praise of Lord Ganesha, called “Ganapati Bappa Moriya.”  It was hard to film this because it was so dark out and there are hardly any lights in this residential development.  Once in a while, a car would pull up with headlights on the idol making it easier to film.  Afterward, the idol was then immersed in a body of water.  All the residents then gathered in the club house for dinner.  I followed the Srinivasans back to their home to film them immerse their own eco-friendly Ganesha idol in water, completing their worship.  By immersing it in water, this symbolizes the idol has returned back to the earth.  Another way to understand this whole celebration is the creation (the birth of Lord Ganesha), preservation (in the form of puja), and dissolution (saying goodbye, departure), once again into non-existence, of Lord Ganesha.

It was an incredible day, and I wish I knew about the importance of this celebration in Maharastra before I arrived in India.  I have close relatives in Pune where Ganesh Chatuthi is big, and I could have celebrated with them and get even greater visuals of this festive occassion.  I guess being an Indian-American and having a Bengali mother (Ganesh Chaturthi is not as big in Kolkata or West Bengal).  Therefore, I didn’t know the significance of this celebration.  Please note this post was put together after researching the meaning of Ganesh Chaturthi from various websites.