Ganesh Chaturthi: Hindus celebrate Ganesha with vibrant colors, figures & treats

Pink elephant statue close-up with bangles and jewels and paint

Lord Ganesha. Photo by Kaushal Jangid, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13: The sight of thousands of colorful, detailed elephant-type figures and the scent of sweet modak treats signal that Ganesha Chaturthi has arrived in India!

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the grandest, most beloved and longest festivals of India, and the Hindu god Ganesha is honored during this time, known also as Vinayaka Chaturthi. For 10 days—until Anant Chaturdashi—many Jain, Christian and Muslim families across India join Hindus in celebrating the event. Images of Ganesha are temporarily installed in public pandals (shrines) and in homes, and worshipped for several days, until they are taken to a local body of water and immersed.

Did you know? Lord Ganesha is believed to be the giver of fortune and one who can remove all obstacles to success.

Months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artists mold models of the elephant-god. Figures may range in size from less than one inch to almost 100 feet, most of them made of clay, Plaster-of-Paris, papier-mache or organic materials. In many areas of India, artists and industries earn a considerable portion of their yearly income preparing for Ganesh Chaturthi. Some regions host fairs, concerts, skits and dancing during the festival. Where an image of Ganesh is installed, the surrounding area is decorated with floral garlands, lights and more. Priests chant mantras to invoke Ganesha’s presence into the statues.

From a Hindu scholar: Hindu scholar, writer and activist Padma Kuppa writes a guest column in FeedTheSpirit this week, sharing her perspective on the holiday. And, Padma includes a delicious, traditional recipe as well. She includes in this column additional links to learn more about the holiday and its beloved foods.


Though clay models used to be the primary material of Ganesh figures, demand and price led to the use of Plaster-of-Paris, which is not biodegradable. When Plaster-of-Paris Ganesh statues were immersed into water—also covered in chemical paints that contain heavy metals—water pollution began threatening the environment and statues began washing up onto sandy beaches. In response, green initiatives have been launched across India. In Goa, the sale of Ganesh figures made of PoP was banned and a return to traditional clay or reusable figures is growing in popularity. In some areas, pools are set up for the safe immersion of statues.

Tens of thousands of Hindus in the UK publicly observe Ganesh Chaturthi, from Paris to London and beyond. In the U.S., temples and associations mark the festival, and the Philadelphia Ganesh Festival (PGF) is the largest Hindu festival in North America. Ganesha is also celebrated across Canada, in Malaysia and Singapore and in Indian populations around the world.

NEWS UPDATES: Get all the latest news on Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations with an article from The Hindu; a footage video from the Times of India; and a recipe from the Mumbai Mirror.

Anant Chaturdashi: Jains practice forgiveness, Hindus immerse Ganesha

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27: For Hindus and across India, the past 10 days have filled homes, temples and the streets with colorful and vivid Ganeshotav figures, offerings of sweet modak treats and prayers to the beloved deity. Today, thousands of figures of Lord Ganesh are carried to rivers, lakes and other bodies of water in singing and dancing processions, to complete a final ritual for Ganesh Chaturthi. Today is known as Anant Chaturdashi—the day that Lord Ganesha departs, until next year’s festival.

Did you know? Lokmanya Tilak (1856-1920 CE) changed Ganesh Chaturthi from a private to a public event, to “bridge the gaps between Brahmins and non-Brahmins.”

On Anant Chaturdashi, Hindus carry Ganesh statues to bodies of water for immersion. In parts of India, a special bowl containing milk, curd, jaggery, honey and ghee is meant to symbolize an “Ocean of Milk.” (Wikipedia has details.) A thread containing 14 knots—and representing Lord Anant—is swirled through the milk mixture, and then tied to the right arm (for a man) or the left arm (for a woman). The Anant thread is kept tied to the arm for 14 days.

The legend behind Anant Chaturdashi tells of a woman named Sushila and her husband, Kaundinya. While journeying, Sushila came across a group of women performing “Anant’s Vow,” which included, among other things, the 14-knot string tied to the arm. Sushila took the vow, and she and Kaundinya became very wealthy—until Kaundinya doubted the power of Sushila’s thread and threw it into the fire. Courses turned, and the couple came to live in extreme poverty. Finally, Kaundinya realized his error and attempted penance. After much effort, Kaundinya realized that Vishnu was Anant. Vishnu promised Kaundinya that if he would make a 14-year vow, his sins would be forgiven and he would obtain wealth and happiness, once again.


Jains observe Anant Chaturdashi as the end of das lakshan parva, or Paryushana—the eight-day festival of meditation, fasting and purification. Many adherents take measures to observe all religious restrictions on Anant Chaturdashi (fasting, observing the 10 Virtues, etc.), and temples are filled with Jains in prayer and meditation. The faithful ask forgiveness of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and enemies, with some offering puja to the Tirthankars (spiritual exemplars).


Authorities are issuing warnings in anticipation of possible conflicts between the Muslim Eid al-Adha (Sept. 23, sunset) and Ganesh Chaturthi (Sept. 17-27). (Times of India has the story.) As both are major holidays for their respective religions, authorities urge groups to keep to themselves and take respective measures, such as keeping Anant processions on traditional routes.

This year, more than five Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states of India have banned the sale of meat during the Jain festival of Paryushana and, in some regions, on Anant Chaturdashi. (Hindustan Times reported.) The slaughter and sale of meat, fish and poultry has been banned during these festival days, and hotels and restaurants may not serve any non-vegetarian dishes.



Ganesh Chaturthi: Hindus observe beloved deity’s rebirth with pomp and color

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29: Months of preparation and the handiwork of thousands of artisans culminate today with the launch of the Hindu festival: Ganesh Chaturthi. Named for its principle deity, Lord Ganesha, Ganesh Chaturthi lasts 10 days in most of India, although the extent of this festival varies by region.

The auspicious festival promises sweet dishes, spiked with coconut and dried fruit; processions, singing and dancing; colorful statuary in every size; and vibrantly decorated homes. For Hindus, Lord Ganesh is a god for everybody. Wealth, class or caste placement bears no interest in the eyes of Ganesh and for this trait the deity has earned many followers. He is known as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune—and, if invoked during his festival, brings fortune to any devotee beginning a new venture. In Hindu legend, Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati.


Though traditions vary, legend has it that while taking a bath one day, Parvati wished for someone to stand guard by her door. Sculpting a son of sandalwood paste and breathing life into him, Parvati set her creation—Ganesha—to stand guard. Ganesha turned away every stranger who came by the door, including Parvati’s husband, Lord Shiva, when he returned home. Though the young boy did not know Lord Shiva, Parvati’s husband became enraged when forbidden from entering his own home. Finally, Lord Shiva severed Ganesha’s head. (Read more from Taj Online.)

Upon seeing her headless son, Parvati was distressed. Shiva promised to bring the boy back to life, but upon searching the lands, no human head could be found. Only the head of an elephant was available to save the boy. Shiva secured the elephant’s head onto Ganesha’s body.


Months before the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, artisans craft models of Lord Ganesh, in all sizes and of varying materials: clay, Plaster of Paris, papier mache, stone and more. Intricately detailed and painted in a palette of bold colors, the models serve as sacred statues that are ceremoniously installed and, later, immersed in water.

Lord Ganesh is depicted in a variety of poses, in models ranging from less than an inch to 117 feet tall. (Wikipedia has details.) Many communities host a pandal (temporary structure), which is lavishly decorated and set in high competition against the pandals of nearby localities. Priests chant mantras, invoke the presence of Ganesha into the statues, and laypersons make offerings to the statues.

For several days, participants feast on sweets like modak (a dumpling of rice flour, stuffed with coconut and dried fruits) and karanji. From India to Nepal, Indonesia and Thailand to Europe, the United States and Canada, Hindus celebrate in temples and close the festival by immersing the Ganesha statues into local bodies of water.

In recent decades, devotees have been urged to discontinue some of the non-biodegradable Plaster of Paris figures that were causing environmental concern. Today, more and more adherents are choosing to immerse their idols into a tub or bucket; or, others are producing idols made of environmentally friendly materials. In Goa, the sale of Ganesh figures made from Plaster of Paris is banned by the state government.


A festival in Hounslow for Ganesh Chaturthi, now in its seventh year, attracts thousands of people, according to London news reports. Claiming the title of “largest in west London,” this party for Ganesh brought in more than 4,000 visitors during the festival weekend last year. In 2014, events will kick off with the arrival of a Lord Ganesh—straight from India.

Artisans in Hyderabad, India, are wrapping up one of the tallest figures of Ganesha for this year’s celebrations, as the statue pushes a height of 60 feet. Crafted by 125 workers for more than 50 days, the figure began as a 1-foot model in 1954, and has been slowly built upon and utilized for Ganesh Chaturthi every year since. (Read the story here.) Organizers say the sacred statue now reaches 60 ft. high and 28 ft. wide, weighing in somewhere between 45 and 50 tons.