SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: It’s a joyous day for Hindus as today kicks off the 10-day Ganesha Chaturthi, the festival in honor of the god Ganesha. Ganesha—who bears the head of an elephant—is held in high regard as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune, and many devotees believe that his blessing is necessary before the start of any major endeavor. (TajOnline, an Indian site, has details.)
During these 10 days, Hindus believe that Lord Ganesha actually descends to Earth for this festival—so Hindus have a lot of reason to celebrate! (Check out wikipedia for more.) For 10 days, devotees make sweets (including Lord Ganesha’s favorite treat, modak—get the easy recipe here), attend community activities and cultural events and view the artwork of countless artisans. Several artists also view this festival as a time to officially display their talents before the public.
Ganesha Chaturthi wasn’t always such a major occasion in India and abroad—until the year 1893, that is. When Indian freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak encouraged the adoption of an elaborate public event in honor of this festival, Hindus took notice. The festival that had once been a small event for families soon became a time to bridge gaps between social classes, hold large-scale events and celebrate with hundreds of statues of Lord Ganesha. (Mangalorean Media published photos of Hindus preparing for the 2010 festival.) Tilak also suggested the submergence of Lord Ganesha statues into bodies of water following the festival—a tradition that still holds today, albeit with many environmental concerns.
Statues of Lord Ganesha were originally made of clay and Earthen materials. Today, however, Plaster of Paris idols are made by the thousands, and are sculpted for months prior to the festival. Toxic paints are used to decorate the idols, too. When devotees “send” Lord Ganesha back to his home in Kailash, rivers and other bodies of water become severely polluted. Alternatives to this popular tradition have been suggested, although no action has yet been taken on a large scale.