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Lokmanya Tilak had no idea of what he was unleashing, back in 1893, when he reinvented Ganesh Chaturthi from a festival celebrated in homes to a sarvajanik utsav. His noble intention then was to utilize the deity’s acceptance by all ethnic communities as a rallying point against the colonial oppressors. Ever since, there’s been no looking back for Ganesha, who’s now outgrown his primary, religious avatar and become an omnipresent cultural icon.
Since time immemorial, Ganesha has always been an intrinsic part of daily life in India. Children commencing their education are taught to seek his blessings, as he is the patron god of knowledge. In the marketplace, accounts books maintained by shopkeepers bear the symbol of Ganesha, to ensure prosperity. And of course, he’s all over the country, protecting devotees from harm – under sacred banyans, at entrances to villages and outside the porches of homes.
What’s fascinating about Vinayaka is how, from his traditional base in religion and mythology, he continues to evolve with the times. Unfettered by excessive ritual, Ganesha is supremely adaptable, connecting smoothly with his devotees at both the personal and community level.
The innumerable Ganesh mandals with Ganesh Statues, who organize massive public celebrations of his birthday, compete fiercely to introduce variety and contemporaneity into their displays. So, alongside the traditionally decorated idol, it’s not unusual to find themes selected from currently popular or significant happenings. The contrast couldn’t be more mind-boggling. Sample this: Harry Potter, Mumbai’s dabbawallahs and...ahem…Disneyland!
The qualities that he’s renowned for – wisdom, benevolence and problem solving –
have ensured his growth into something of a commercial best-seller. During Ganesh Chaturthi, no stone is left unturned to mine this one-god industry as markets are flooded with knick-knacks and gifts: jeweled pendants, key chains, coins, statuettes in silver, crystal, bronze, copper, (studded, nowadays, with Swarovski crystals) and yes…Ganesha chocolates! Hindu wedding invitations invariably have a tiny Ganesha embossed or printed upon them. In terracotta, his idol makes for a charming addition to a garden. Many a lobby of corporate headquarters is graced with his exquisitely carved statue. For a pittance, you can also get yourself a Ganesha ringtone on your mobile.
Come Ganesh Utsav, he also morphs into a mascot for Hindutva-oriented political parties in Maharashtra; a rallying point to passionately reaffirm ethnic identity, nationalism and Hindu supremacy. Suketu Mehta, in his book, Maximum City, describes a Ganesh visarjan procession by the Shiv Sena:
“…Amol gets on top of the truck, grabs the mike and shouts out slogans in praise of Hindu kings and the Hindu country:
‘Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ki jai!’
The crowd responds with vigour.
‘Bharat Mata ki jai!’
Saffron flags are waved in wide arcs on tall poles.
‘Jai Bhavani! Jai Shivaji!’ This is the Sena slogan.
…As the drums pound, as the fireworks burst, as the flags wave…I realize what this is: it is a victory march.
Ganesha is an unlikely god for such provocation. In the Hindu legends, he is a pleasure-loving gourmand, not an angry god bent on slaughter. But in the Jogeshwari float, he is sitting on a throne, instead of the mouse that is his usual mascot, the throne is flanked by four ferocious plaster lions…”
From beloved divinity to cultural superstar, Ganesha displays a wondrous dexterity in keeping up with the times. Is that really surprising, when legend has it that his capacious frame contains the universe itself?
Lord Ganesha is believed to bless us with luck, wisdom, success and wealth. He removes obstacles and liberates us from desires. Amongst the scores of Gods in the Hindu pantheon, Ganesha is given prime importance.
It is common practice to invoke Lord Ganesha before starting anything new or important. Well begun is half done after all!
Lord Ganesha is believed to have got a boon from his father Lord Shiva that anyone who worships him at the beginning of anything new will not face any obstacles. And, Hindus do take this very seriously. Whenever prayers are rendered, hymns and verses in Lord Ganesha’s praise are said first. Even if there is a special day for any other God, still Lord Ganesha is worshipped first before that God. Any important occasion – be it a child’s first birthday, a new business venture, entry into a new house, beginning of a movie shoot…everything is started with a prayer to Lord Ganesha. A devout Hindu believes that any task started after invoking Lord Ganesha is bound to succeed.
In most Hindu temples, at the entrance, there is a sanctum exclusively for Lord Ganesha. Devotees first offer their prayers to Him and then go to the main deity of the temple.
If you have seen a Hindu wedding invite, you would have definitely seen Lord Ganesha’s image on it – a small one on the envelope or as the main theme of the card itself. It’s not only auspicious but also decorative, looking especially pretty in gold and silver.
During a Hindu wedding ceremony, the first step is the priest invoking Lord Ganesha to bless the couple. This is done so that the wedding ceremony can go ahead without any obstacles. Ganesha Puja (prayer to Ganesha) is carried out a few days before the wedding day or the previous evening, to give the proceedings an auspicious start.
Diwali, the festival of lights, which is another very important Hindu festival, is celebrated to mark the triumph of good over evil. Lord Ganesha, the Master of Wisdom, is worshipped during this festival, along with Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity. The Ganesha idol is placed on the right hand side of Goddess Lakshmi and it is believed that the combined strength of both these deities will bring the best for the devotees.
Ganesha is a lucky mascot for a lot of Hindus. His image also looks affable and is used by many people as a lucky charm in their cars, on key chains and the like. Everyone has Lord Ganesha in their homes – as idols at the altar and as figurines on display, why, even as lampshades and paperweights!! Colorful images of this God have made their way to T-shirts too! Ganesha appears in several different shapes in items like greeting cards, calendars, diaries, business cards, bookmarks and what not.
There are many people who collect Ganesha Statues as a hobby, for loads of luck as well as the endless variety they come in. It’s the best time of year to take out your collection of Ganeshas or even start collecting them – Jai Ganesh!
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