Ganesh Chaturti (the festival of Lord Ganesh) – in Romania

The members of the Indian community in Romania celebrate for the next ten days the festival of Lord Ganesh. Ganesh (Sanskrit: Ganesha गणेश) is the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, two main deities in the Indian Pantheon. Ganesha is widely revered as the Remover of Obstacles and more generally as Lord of Beginnings and Lord of Obstacles (Vighnesha (Sanskrit:विघ्नेश), Vighneshvara (Sanskrit: विघ्नेश्वर), patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom. He is honoured at the beginning of rituals and ceremonies and invoked as Patron of Letters during writing sessions. He is also the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. In every Indian home aarti (a Hindu ritual, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee – purified butter – or camphor is offered to one or more deities)  is performed every evening.

The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shuklachaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between 20 August and 15 September. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the waxing moon period). This year the ceremony of Ganesh Visarjan (immersion into water) will take place on the 22nd of September 2010. The Indian community in Romania celebrates Ganesh Chaturti for a few years now at the Herastrau Lake.

History: Before 1893, Ganesh Chaturthi used to be an important family festival during the Peshwa rule in Maharashtra. It was transformed that year, by the Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak, into a large, well-organized public event. Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesh as „the god for everybody”, and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order „to bridge the gap between Brahmins and ‘non-Brahmins’ and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them”, and generate nationalistic fervor among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule. Tilak encouraged installation of large public images of Ganesh in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in rivers, sea, or other pools of water all public images of the deity on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi[6]. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in times when, in order to exercise control over the population, the British discouraged social and political gatherings.

Rituals and tradition in India: Two to three months prior to Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colorfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures mandapas (pandals) in every locality. The mandapas are decorated specially for the festival, either by using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc. or are theme based decorations, which depict religious themes or current events.

The priest, usually clad in red silk dhoti and shawl, then symbolically invokes life into the statue by chanting mantras. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the ritual called as Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva (trefoil) blades of grass and red flowers are offered. The statue is anointed with red unguent, typically made of Kumkum & Sandalwood paste . Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and the Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted.

For 10 days, from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, Ganesha is worshipped. On the 11th day, the statue is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, and fanfare to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash while taking away with him the misfortunes of his devotees, this is the ritual known as Ganesh Visarjan. At individual homes the Visarjan is also done on 3rd, 5th or 7th day as per the family tradition. All join in this final procession shouting „Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya” (O lord Ganesha, come again speedily next year). After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor is made, people carry the statue to the river to immerse it.

The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak (modagam or modakam in South India). A modak is a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments. It is either steam-cooked or fried. Another popular sweet dish is the karanji (karjikaiin Kannada) which is similar to the modak in composition and taste but has a semicircular shape.

The festival is also the time for cultural activities like singing and theater performances, orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, charity for the poor, etc.

Migrant Indian communities celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in the UK, France, Canada, US, etc.

In Romania, members of the Indian community gather every year in the Herastrau park to attend the immersion of the statue of Lord Ganesha into the lake (Ganesh Visarjan). I was invited last year to participate in this event and I can say I felt really welcomed among the Indian people. I was happy to sing with everybody, to follow the ritual of blessing of Ganesha and also I had the pleasure to taste the delicious Indian food and sweets. One Indian lady explained to me that Ganesha is to be invoqued whenever an action is started, he will bring success to that action, and so I did – looking back, I can say I had a rather good year.

(source for some paragraphs and pics:

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