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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ganesh Chaturthi


The Hindu community around the world celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi between August 23 and September 3rd, a ten day festival.

Among Hindus there is beautiful tradition of invoking that aspect of God which removes barriers and paves the way for a smoother life. The icon that represents this aspect of God is known as Ganesh, Ganesha, or Vinayak depending on the region, most Hindus around the world invoke Ganesh before they start any thing in life from starting their day, to opening a new business or wearing new clothes or starting a social ceremony.

I see the essence in a ritual, rather than the ritual itself. The act of invoking the creator sets oneself on a positive path. One starts out with a good feeling that God is with him or her and will remove the barriers for him. That is the power of positive thinking that Napoleon Hill has talked about; it is psyching oneself up to do the right thing and succeed.

Every faith finds value in rituals, indeed the rituals are pathways to spiritual attainment. From the moment we are born to the last rites of our life and every moment in between is loaded with rituals whether we admit or not. Whether we go to the gym, eat our food; go to sleep, wake up, wear our clothes, drive some place or in our intimate moments; we follow rituals.

The great Hindu sage Sri Ramakrishna shares this, "There can be as many spiritual paths as there are spiritual aspirants, and as many Gods as there are devotees." One of the hallmarks of Hindu spirituality is the worship of this infinite diversity of the One Unknowable God in a multiplicity of forms. To this I am pleased to add that as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, faith is in the heart of the believer.

Ganesh Chaturthi is a ten day festival commencing on August 23rd and ending on September 3rd Every evening people gather around the Icon of Ganesh made out of clay and celebrate it with devotion, entertainment and community gatherings.

I grew up in Yelahanka my mother town, a suburb of Bangalore. Every year the Ganesha Chaturthi was celebrated for nearly ten days. A huge tent was set up on the main street across my home, and big clay Icon of Ganesha was placed in the tent. For ten nights different music bands came and sang the most popular Kannada and Bollywood songs, or a learned Hindu scholar would share the wisdom of Hinduism known as Hari Katha. I remember a Hari Krishn Pahwal, the Qawwali singer from North India who would sing Qawwali in Urdu in praise of Ganesh at least one of the 9 nights. It was quite a treat for us kids.

On the tenth day, the Ganesh Icon is carried on a chariot with pomp and gaiety to the lake and immersed in the water to dissolve.

On the culinary side it was a delightful time, as kids we looked forward to it every year. We visited many homes in that month; particularly my father’s buddy Bellur Muniyappa’s home. They fixed the “obbattu” the pancake like item with sweet and sour soup called “saaru” and the “Kanola’s” the dumpling made out of Jaggery, coconut and flour. I fondly remember my Grandmother making delicious Obbattu, Saar and Kanola’s. Heck, I long for it.

Ganesh Chaturthi has its origins at the beginning of Sanatana Dharma, usually known as Hinduism. However, the festival took its present form in 1893 when Lokmanya Tilak, the Hindu Social reformer initiated it.

Tilak wanted to build bridges between different Hindu communities and saw the commonality of worshiping Ganesh among different sects. “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.

Under Tilak's encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performances of plays, musical concerts, and folk dances. 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 Rule discouraged social and political gatherings.

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!

If you are in Dallas, please attend the UnityDay USA – details at http://www.unitydayusa.com/ on Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Mike Ghouse is a thinker, writer speaker and an activist of pluralism, interfaith, co-existence, peace, Islam and India. He is a frequent guest at the TV, radio and print media offering pluralistic solutions to issues of the day. His websites and Blogs are listed on http://www.mikeghouse.net/



  1. Dear Mr. Mike Ghouse
    Yes you are right about the God Ganesha and its importance to Hindus across the world. Hindus celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi as the prayer to God Ganesh the God of removal of obstacles in the life of the devotees.

    One thing I did not understand in your expression that your said "Icon Ganesh" usually the westerners ( Christians ) call Idol to any Hindu God or Goddess. I personally feel that if the Indian Gods and Goddess are addressed as "Deity " rather than Idol or Icon would suit better and respectful to Hindus.

    Dr. Ambekar.

  2. Reach out and touch someone with your Love & Gratitude..

  3. Thank you, Mike Ghouse, for the greetings and the wonderful article. I attended one Ganesh festival in Delhi few years ago and I enjoyed it very well. Howecer, I must ask you to explain as to way the Elephant Nose is there on the face of Ganesh; explain, if you please. With your wide knowledge you are able to, i feel it.

    Many Thanks and Greetings in response

  4. Anyway, just imagine we as muslims tried to send
    this Ganesh Chaturthi to our Muslim brothers, just imajine would happen to our image.They'll shower curse on us.Sometimes, honestly speaking Mike, I worry for you for your such extremely sensitive job as a Muslim pluralist. What I mean is, suppose you lived in Islamic country, even in India you could not in your wildest dream
    ever have thought of doing this.


  5. Prophet Muhammad is my mentor and speaking the truth was his first model and I will do my best to follow it. Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and a few others.

    Islam flourishes when there is freedom and Iam blessed to have born in india and die in America. Where freedom is value.

    However,as a Muslim God wants me to know about others so we can co-exist in harmony (49:23) furthermore there are a lot of misunderstandings about Hinduism, as Religious Muslims we must speak up if some one makes a false statement about Hinduism or any faith, even if it does not suit us. Truth has much higher value in Islam than any other item.

    In God I trust

  6. Lois Lenz, CaliforniaAugust 23, 2009 at 7:35 PM

    Dear Ashok,

    Thank you once again, Ashok, for sharing this beautiful article by Mike Ghouse with us!

    I am better informed than ever before, especially with the description of the festivities he experienced as a child! The memories the evoked made one feel that they had
    lived at that time and place! I am especially touched by the dissolving of the clay in
    water at the conclusion of the festivities.

    Thank you so much for this enlightening information, which I only knew of very slightly!
    It was written in such a manner that I could envision the celebrations, and the joy associatedwith them.

    It was very beautiful, and I am sharing it with Lewis, and also Dr. Vinayak of California.

    This is universal, and will remain in my heart for a long time! Dallas is blessed with your

    Only Love Prevails,
    Lois Lenz

  7. Dear Lois,

    I am touched by your reflections, thanks for expressing them. As a pluralist, I see the beauty in every tradition and I cherish the essence and enjoy the rituals of all faiths.

    If you are in Dallas, please attend the Unity Day USA www.UnitydayUSA.com

  8. See my postings on Ganesha on my blog:


  9. Humanist,

    The Elephant nose has a story to it that's been mentioned in the Puranas or the Holy Scriptures of the Hindus.

    It is believed that once when Lord Shiva who resided in the holy Kailasa mountain was away at war, his wife Lord Parvati who was wanting to have a bath, was a bit worried about doing it with no one on guard. As a result of this, she created a small idol with Sandalwood paste used for bathing and breathed life into it. Next was born a young lad who was ready to guard the door while her mother bathed.

    While Parvati was bathing and as young Ganesha sat on Guard, Lord Shiva returned and was stopped midway from entering his own chambers. This was because Young Ganesha found him to be a stranger.

    Frustrated and angered at this Lord Shiva threw his trident at the young lad and severed his head. When Parvati came out and saw her son in such a state, she became enraged and took on the form of Goddess Kali. {P.S - We Hindus believe in the concept of One Unknowable Lord - and all our Goddesses are considered to be an incarnation of one Mother God}. Kali being the scariest of them all. Such was her rage that every one in the universe sat scared. She threatened to destroy the three worlds of Heaven, Earth and the Inner Earth. In order to pacify Parvati, Shiva ordered his Ganas to scour the world and look for a mother who had her back facing her newborn in negligence.

    As the Ganas spread through places and looked for such a mother, they found a female elephant facing the opposite direction of her newborn. She was facing north, which is considered an auspicious direction of Wisdom. The Ganas, left with no other option brought this newborn's head to Shiva, who placed it on the lad's head and breathed life into him.

    He also declared that anyone who worship's Ganesha before commencing anything would be favored always.

    And such is the story of the elephant headed god. :)