Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated nationwide but nowhere are the festivities as rich, colourful and vibrant as they are in Maharashtra. In Maharashtra Lord Ganesha is considered to be the patron deity of the state. It is not known when and how Ganesh Chaturthi was first celebrated, but historical records reveal that it was initiated by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in Maharashtra. But now it has become the nationwide phenomenon.
Ganesh Chaturthi falls on the fourth day of the fortnight of Bhadrapada, which occurs sometime between August 20th to September 15th. People celebrate the festival both privately at their homes and in public where they put up a collective expression of their faith. The preparations for the festival are begun much earlier with the creation of Ganesh Idols. As the festival comes nearer these idols are put up for sale and devotees shop for them. The festival begins with the installation of clay idols of Ganesha. After this, the ceremony of ‘pranapratishtha’ comes, in which the vital breath is infused into the idol by priest amidst the chanting of mantras. After this ‘Shodashopachara puja’ takes place. Offerings of coconut, jaggery, 21 modaks, 21 blades of durva grass and red flowers are made to the the deity. The idol is worshipped for ten days. On the 11th day the idol is taken to the nearby river or sea to be immersed in the water. It is believed that Ganesha goes back to his celestial abode taking with him all the sufferings of his devotees. The atmosphere of visarjan ceremony is really enchanting. It appears as though entire population of Maharashtra has descended on the streets. Loud cries of ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudhchya Varshi Laukar Ya’ echoed in the air that captivates everyone with its energy and sheer atmosphere.
Ganesh festival has its historical significance also. In 1893 the noted freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak transformed the annual domestic festival into a large, well organized public event to bridge the gap between different castes and bring them together against the British rule. He encouraged people to install massive idols of Lord Ganesha in Pandals and immersing them in water bodies together. It was the turning point for the celebration of Ganesh festival in Maharashtra. Since then the Ganesh festival is being celebrated in the community pandals with great enthusiasm. Even the north Indians have started celebrating the festival.
In the national capital Delhi, the enthusiasm of celebrating Ganesh festival is no less than Maharashtra. Huge magnificent pandal are set up here by many committees like Sarvjanik Ganeshotsav Samiti, Maharashtra Sadan, Shri Ganesh Sewa Mandal, Lakshmi Nagar, Maratha Mitra Mandal etc. People of Maharashtra and local delhiites of different religions gather in the pandals to worship lord Ganesha. The celebrations are particularly grand in Maharashtrian housing societies like Anandvan, Raja Enclave and Sahaydri where Maharashtrian people reside in large number. In NCR region also like Gurgaon, Faridabad, Noida and Greater Noida, grand celebrations of Ganesha festival are organized. In the evening local Maharashtrian artists perform in the cultural events organized by the committees. This all make you feel like being in Maharashtra.
In Delhi, the atmosphere is as festive as in Maharashtra during Ganeshotsav. Apart from pandals people install the idols of Lord Ganesha at their homes also. For this purpose the Ganesh idols are sold in the markets. One appropriate place to buy the idols in Delhi is Trimourti Maharashtra Emporium located at Baba Kharaksingh Marg. The emporium offers lots of varieties of Ganesha idols to choose from. Ganesh Puja can not be complete without Modaks, favourite food of Ganesha, and these are also made available here. After ten days of holy atmosphere of devotion and celebration, the Ganesha idols are immersed in the river Yamuna with the sound of ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’ in the background.
In Maharashtra, during the span of ten days of festivities everyone enjoy the mood of celebration. In the evening the cultural events are organized. In recent years the Maharashtra State Tourism Department has added to the general merriment by organizing theatre shows, food fairs, folk dance competitions and bullock cart races, enhancing the festival’s appeal further. So, in the evening the pandals become the point for meetings and merry making. In big cities like Mumbai and Pune, when Lord Ganesha is taken out to be immersed in the river or sea, the procession is so grand that it takes two to two and half days to get there. The scene of immersion of towering Ganesha idols in the Arabian sea framed against the sunset is really something to remember and cherish forever.