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Ganesha is the god of all beginnings. He’s an all-powerful, all-encompassing deity; yet, his appeal to millions lies in his everydayness. He’ll help you get through that tough math exam and he’ll see that you reach your destination safely. He’ll also hear your prayers for the success of just about any enterprise. It’s his benign approachability that attracts the many superlatives around his name. Is it any surprise that his birthday party is the biggest celebration that India throws every year?
There’s no corner of India that does not worship Ganesha. He’s everywhere. As a saffron-smeared stone under banyan trees along India’s national highways and tiny village squares. At the entrance to temples dedicated to other gods. And of course, his own temples, visited by millions of devotees.
Some famous examples of such places:
- The Rockfort Temple, Tiruchirapalli, and Sweta Vinayaka Temple, Kumbakonam, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu are over 1000 years old.
- The Bull Temple in Bangalore is dedicated to Nandi, mount of Lord Shiva, (Ganesha’s father in Hindu mythology). But get this – the temple also houses a huge Ganesha idol made of 110 kg of butter. Every four years, the idol is broken up and pieces of it are distributed to worshippers.
- The western state of Maharashtra, where Ganesha worship is supreme, boasts of 8 temples, collectively known as ‘Ashta Vinayak’ or the eight Ganeshas. Of these, the Siddhi Vinayak Temple, built in 1801 in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, is one of the oldest and wealthiest Ganesha temples in India.
- Some of the oldest Ganesha statues are to be found in the Indian Museum of Calcutta – two large idols from Indonesia dating back to the 8th or 9th century; an 11th century sculpture from the eastern state of Bihar; and a figure from a stone slab going back to the twelfth century, excavated in Halebid, an ancient temple site in Karnataka, south India.
In modern India – since pre-Independence days to be precise – the 11-day Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Mumbai continue to break numerical records as a socio-religious event of elephantine proportions:
- 11,000 pavilions for public viewing of the idols are set up in Mumbai currently, up from the 8,805 that existed in 2005.
- The most famous Ganesh pavilion is the Lalbaugcha Raja, where about 300,000 worshippers arrive daily for 11 days. That’s more than three times the number that filled the Bird’s Nest auditorium during the Beijing Olympics!
- This being the trust’s 75th anniversary, the decorations were more elaborate than usual, with a fabulous red-and-gold set created by a designer from Mumbai’s film industry (cost: US$650,000).
- For a glimpse of this idol, devotees often wait in queues for as long as 12 hours. The 20-foot high idol was insured for US$600,000. In these times of terrorism, the trust also insured the lives of devotees visiting the pavilion.
- The wealthiest religious trust is the Goud Saraswat Brahmin Sewa Mandal, whose members generously donate gold and silver ornaments for the idol. This year, their Ganesh idol sported a diamond-encrusted ornament on his forehead, estimated at US$ 30,000. The deity was seated on a gold-plated throne.
- The city corporation estimates a total of 161,995 idols were immersed in 2007. This year’s figure is 176,035.
- On Sunday, September 14, approximately 150,000 people visited Mumbai’s Chowpatty beach to witness the immersion ceremony. Time to bid a fond farewell to Ganesha – until next year.
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