Clay Models of Ganesha
Sculptors make clay models – or murtis – of Ganesha, in sizes from mere inches to as much as 20 feet, months in advance. These colourful idols can be seen displayed on streets or placed on raised, elaborately decorated platforms called mandaps in shops and homes. Prayers and offerings are made to the idol by priests, and then by devotees under his guidance. Food offerings including coconut, jaggery and homemade sweets are made to the deity and then distributed to guests as Prasad. While some homes may host such celebrations only on the actual day of the festival, it may be a two-week affair for others.
Immersing the Idol
The end of celebration is marked by a tradition of immersing the clay models of Ganesha in water (Ganesh Visarjan). Long processions involving singing and dancing devotees carry the idols to a river, and then with prayers let it dissolve in the water. This marks the deity’s send-off from their homes. The ritual has various meanings to devotees, for example a dissolution of their own obstacles and problems, or a purification of their conscience.
Don’t Look At The Moon
Devotees of Ganesha are warned not to look at the moon on the day of the festival. The story behind this peculiar tradition involves the moon having laughed at Ganesha having seen him travel on his vehicle – a mouse – after a night of heavy feasting. Ganesha, in anger, curses the moon. Though he later revokes his curse, after persuasion from other gods, he maintained that no one on earth was to look at the moon during the day of Chaturthi. According to worshippers, repercussions of having looked at the moon may include having to face unjust criticism or false allegations during the following year.
Celebrations in South India
The festival is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi or Pillayar Chaturthi in Tamil Nadu, and as Lamboodhara Piranalu in Kerala. In recent years, Tamil Nadu has seen eco-friendly Ganesh idols made out of coconuts, but it has also seen ten-foot idols carved out of black stone. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have seen an increasing popularity in turmeric Ganesh idols. Kerala celebrates the festival a month in advance during certain years due to differences in its calendar to that of other states. Regardless, traditions of massive clay idols and visarjan – or immersion – are carried with the same pomp and excitement.
Celebrations in Mumbai
Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations are markedly extravagant in the city of dreams. Public Ganesh pandals (temporary temple-like structures) are set up across the city – around 10,000 are built every year. These carry huge, colorful idols of the deity, and host daily prayers and celebrations. You may even hear Bollywood music being blasted out from them. The Lalbaugcha Raja in Lalbaug is the most iconic among Mumbai’s pandals. Hundreds of thousands of devotees have been lining up to see this idol since this pandal was first created in 1934. The Shree Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal at the Keshavji Naik Chawl in Girgaum is Mumbai’s oldest Ganesh pandal, having first been created by freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1893 to unite Indians against colonial rule.