WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19: Artisans have been sweating out work for weeks, car dealers are throwing in high bids and gold prices are skyrocketing: it’s the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, a Hindu mega-event that will sweep the world for 10 days. Based on the legend of Lord Ganesh, a “god for everyone” with the head of an elephant, Ganesh Chaturthi brings hope, vigor and unity to celebrants—primarily because of Ganesha’s alleged good nature. (Get details at Wikipedia or I Love India.) Though rooted in Hinduism, this festival brings together members of other faiths, too, such as Muslims, Jains and Christians; during the British era, this holiday reunited previously segregated communities into an India-wide cultural vevent.
Tradition tells that Lord Ganesh was breathed into life by the goddess Parvati, a consort of Lord Shiva. Before bathing one day, Parvati molded sandalwood paste into the figure of a boy and had him stand guard during her bath; when Lord Shiva returned home and the boy refused his entrance, Shiva severed his head. Parvati rushed to his side, alarmingly telling Shiva that he had beheaded his own son. Shiva “fixed” the boy’s head with the head of an elephant and deemed him superior to all other gods. Today, devotees worship Ganesha as the god of wisdom and good fortune, finding his festival auspicious and ideal for major purchases and new ventures.
ARTISANS, CAR SALES, GOLD
… AND SMUGGLERS
Many artisans began painstakingly molding details in Lord Ganesh idols two or three months before the festival, and for most, this is much more than a fun pastime—it’s survival. Sculptors and painters wait the entire year for the buying frenzies of Ganesh Chaturthi. Car dealers are also betting big on the elephant god’s festivities, as they unveil new vehicles in showrooms today. (The Times of India reports.) Jewelers, likewise, await gold buyers—but, this year, with much anxiety.
Despite continued demand in India, gold prices are soaring to record highs and, experts predict, prices will climb even higher during the Ganesh festival. The problem? The dollar continues to appreciate worldwide gold values, while the Indian rupee has fallen in relative value. (Check out the India Times for more.) Therefore, the nation that buys the most gold is now paying far above worldwide market value. Rocketing gold prices have led to hoards of gold smugglers trying to enter India—a tenfold increase in criminal numbers, in fact. Gold demand is just gearing up, too, as Hindus enter the auspicious months of September, October and November for Ganesh Chaturthi, Dussehra and Diwali.
VAST CARNIVALS FOR GANESH
Covered in flower garlands and lights, Ganesha statues are everywhere—adorning tens of thousands of homes, temples and other buildings. Priests chant blessings to invoke life into the idols, and following offerings, people feast on sweet foods like modak (a dumpling filled with dry coconut and fruit). Communities rally to compete for the biggest, most elaborately decorated Ganesh, and music and dancing fill the streets. On the 11th day, processions carry the statues to bodies of water for submersion, symbolizing a seeing off of Lord Ganesh.
Aid the Environment as You Make Your Ganesh
When thousands of Plaster of Paris idols are immersed into bodies of water worldwide each year, results are detrimental—for the environment, that is. Though the traditional idols were made of mud and submersed to represent the cycle of nature, Plaster of Paris grew in popularity for its light weight, inexpensive cost and ease of molding. However, Plaster of Paris is non-biodegradable, and the paints used on the idols leach chemicals and heavy metals into the bodies of water. (Read more in The Hindu.) In response, state governments are releasing initiatives for promoting a return to clay idols; others are discussing eco-friendly alternatives like paper-mache or more permanent, reusable stone idols. Eco-Exist, a company out of Pune, has been making idols of clay and paper-mache for six years, adding touches of watercolor and employing budding artists in poor communities.
Interested in making your own eco-friendly Ganesh?
Try origami! Several websites offer instructions, like this one.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.