THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: If you see elephants during the next 10 days, fear not—it’s the elaborate Hindu festival of Ganesha Chaturthi, the birthday celebration of the elephant god, Ganesha.
Ganesha falls somewhere between humans and higher deities, such as Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, and perhaps it’s for this reason that Ganesha’s birthday is observed with such widespread cheer. (Learn more at GaneshaChaturthi.com.) Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated across all of India, as well as by Hindus in the United States, Canada and other countries around the world. Nowhere in the world is Ganesha Chaturthi more appreciated, though, than in India, where the god has long been worshipped by people of every status. (I Love India has more on this festival.) Statues and images of Ganesha color Indian pavilions and public spaces every day of the year, but it’s during this festival that “the god for everybody” is sculpted into thousands of statues for a final water immersion.
For 10 days, Hindus believe Ganesha resides on Earth for his devotees—and his welcome greeting is unleashed accordingly! People take part in parades and prayers, community theater performances and singing. (How is the Indian media celebrating? BollywoodLife.com has the scoop.) Free medical checkups and blood donation camps ensure a healthy celebration for all, and many artists and businesses thrive during these vital 10 days of the year. (Wikipedia has details.) Although statues of Ganesha used to be made in the home with clay and other natural substances, artists now make the majority of statues, beginning several months prior to the celebrations.
Unfortunately, the shift toward commercially made statues has had a dramatic effect on the environment: Some Plaster of Paris icons release dangerous toxins into the water when they are immersed, and the chemicals in the paints release heavy metals. It’s not uncommon to find dead fish floating atop bodies of water around India the day after the immersion of the Ganesha icons, but leaders are hoping to change that. Amid several suggestions such as the use of reusable, stone icons, police are now requiring prior permission for anyone hoping to immerse a statue this year. (Times of India has an article.) Officials will be keeping a close check on pollution levels during the entirety of the 2011 festival.