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What is Ganesh Chaturthi and why is it celebrated?

Festival Date

On the 4th day of the bright half of Bhadrapad, the great festival of Ganesh or Ganpati is celebrated. This festival marked the birthday of Lord Ganesh. Ganpati is one of the most popular deities. He is worshipped by both Shaivites and Vaishnavites. Even Buddhists and Jains have respect for Ganpati. He is considered to be an avatar of both Shiva and Vishnu. Ganpati is the god of learning. He is addressed as the "Remover of Obstacles" ("Vignaharta"). His devotees believe that no enterprise will succeed unless he is invoked. The picture of Ganpati is often found on the doors of houses and printed on wedding cards. On the occasion of the Ganpati festival a large number of images are made of all possible sizes, and people buy them to keep in their houses as a divine guest for one and a half, five, seven, or ten days, after which the image is taken out ceremoniously and thrown into the river, sea or well for immersion or "visarjan". When he is immersed in the water, people sing, "'GANPATI BAPPA MORYA, AGLE BARAS TO JALDI AA," ("father Ganpati, next year come again.")

The mythological basis of the celebration is found in the Puranas. One day Parvati was taking bath. She wanted someone to watch outside. She got the idea of making an idol out of the dirt that came from her body. She placed the idol outside. Then her husband Shankar came. The idol dutifully did not allow him to enter. Shankar was furious. In an instant he severed the head of the idol. Parvati finished her bath and came out. She explained to her husband the reason for placing the idol before the door. It was an idol of her own making. In fact the idol was her son ("manas putra"), and consequently also Shankar's son. Shankar felt sorry for what he had done. His servant Gan was standing nearby. Shankar ordered him to go and bring the head of the first living being he would meet. The servant saw an elephant, and he at once cut his head and took it to Shankar. Shankar joined the elephant's head to the body of Parvati's son. "Gaj' means elephant and "anan" means head, so Parvati's son became known as "Gajanan". Shankar made him the deity of his armies and thus his name became Ganesh ("Gan" = army, "Ish" = god) or Ganpati which means "The Lord of Hosts" .

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