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Ganesha Chaturthi: Symbolisms and Celebrations

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By Nithin Sridhar

Ganesha Chaturthi, also called Vinayaka Chaturthi, is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Hindus worldwide. The auspicious festival is especially observed in the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.

Ganesh_Visarjan_Chinawal_2It marks the birth of Lord Ganesha which falls on the Chaturthi of the Shukla Paksha (bright lunar fortnight) of Bhadrapada month. This year, the festival falls on Thursday- September 17.

The festival is celebrated both privately at homes and publicly at gran pandals (public stages). The public celebration was popularized by Balagangadara Tilak in Maharashtra during India’s struggle for freedom from the British. But, the festival itself is much older.

Every Hindu festival has a meaning and symbolisms associated with it. But, these symbols are not dry metaphors or mere representations of abstract philosophies. Instead, every festival is deeply associated with the living presence of the deities.

Lord Ganesha is the personification of Ganesha tattva (principle) manifested in the Universe on Ganesh Chaturthi. Hence, this aspect of God can be most intimately realized by worshiping Him on that day.

Therefore, Ganesha Chaturthi is not just a festival of merriment. Instead, it is a day when one should worship and contemplate on Ganesha tattva, so that one attains both material welfare and spiritual progress. But, a proper worship is only possible when one understands the deity one is worshipping. So let us look into who Lord Ganesha really is and what does his birth signify.

Who is Lord Ganesha?

Lord Ganesha is popularly known as the remover of obstacles. Thus, he is called as “vigna-harta.” He helps people accomplish their desires and goals by helping them overcome the obstacles that obstruct their paths.

He is also called as “muladhara-stitah”- the one who is seated in muladhara chakra. Muladhara chakra refers to physical Universe. Hence, Ganesha sustains this whole physical universe.

The scriptures say that Lord Ganesha has two consorts- Siddhi and Buddhi. Siddhi represents material accomplishments and Buddhi represents spiritual intelligence.

Therefore, the uniqueness of this form of God is that Ganesha can grant both material prosperity as well as spiritual emancipation. If worshiped sincerely, He will remove the obstacles in one’s path and take one to the ultimate goal of Moksha (Liberation).

Symbolism behind Lord Ganesha’s birth

The events surrounding the birth of Lord Ganesha are well known. Goddess Parvati manifested Ganesha out of her own sweat and asked him to guard the entrance of the cave while she was having a bath. Meanwhile, Lord Shiva came and wanted to enter the cave. But, Ganesha who did not recognize Lord Shiva refused to allow Shiva. Shiva then beheaded Ganesha.

Goddess Parvati came out and saw her dead son. This enraged her and she became very fierce. Lord Shiva promised his wife that he would revive Ganesha. He asked other gods to bring suitable head that is fresh and is present in the northern direction. The gods were able to locate only the head of an elephant that had recently died.

Lord Shiva attached the elephant’s head to Ganesha’s body and revived him. Thus, Ganesha was alive again and he was given a boon that he would be worshiped first before any other worship is started.

These events, though usually dismissed as mere “stories”, have deep symbolism and significance at many levels. The events not only correspond to cosmic principles and the manifestation of Ganesha tattva, it also corresponds to the ascent of a spiritual practitioner from bondage to emancipation and the subsequent descent as a liberated being.

Goddess Parvati is none other than the Cosmic Prakriti, the Shakti, or the Maya (the cosmic energy principle). The son she created out of herself, refers to tattvas (principles) created from this Maya. Hence, internally, the Ganesha who was originally created by Parvati represents the physical and the subtle bodies into which a jiva (individual self) is bound by. Jiva is limited. The Kundalini (the serpent power, the power of ego) is strongly identified with the body.

Therefore, the initial creation of Ganesha represents individual jiva who is in bondage being devoid of consciousness (Shiva Tattva).

The beheading of Ganesha by Shiva denotes the slaying of the false ego that happens, when Kundalini rises from her base in Muladharachakra (physical plane) to the SahasraraChakra in the head. Sahasrara is the seat of Shiva and when Shakti merges in Shiva, the false identifications with body dies.

Elephant denotes “intelligence”. Here, it refers to “Atma-Jnana” or “Brahma-Jnana”. The individual jiva now descends from the Sahasrara chakra into Muladhara chakra (Physical universe), but this time, there is no bondage. The individual jiva, on its return stays as “Jivanmukta”- liberated even while having a body.

But, there is a small difference even here between Ganesha and the path of normal jivanmuktas. Normal jivanmuktas when they return, their power or Shakti is limited to the power that their bodies can hold. In the case of Ganesha, he returns as Brahman itself. He at once, represents the unity of Shiva and Shakti.

It is for this reason that Ganesha is described as “pratyaksham brahmasi”- Brahman who can be directly perceived here itself. Therefore, Ganesha should be worshipped not just as a remover of obstacles, but as the supreme Brahman itself, who has in Himself both the essence of Shiva which is consciousness and the essence of Shakti which is movement.

Worshipping Ganesha

Lord Ganesha is offered various offerings- flowers, fruits, clothes, food, etc. These offerings are modes of expression of one’s devotion and surrendering. At the end of the worship, the life force of the deity present in the idol is requested to return back to its cosmic aspect.

Anant_Chaturdashi

The idol that is left behind is placed in water in a process called as “visarjan.” It is important to understand that visarjan does not mean dumping of or throwing away of idols into lakes and rivers. It is a respectful manner of disposing of the idol that represents the body occupied by the deity for a small duration.

Just as human bodies are respectfully cremated or buried with proper rituals, etc. The idols have to be respectfully submerged in water as well.

For the last few years the festival has been often associated with pollution in the media. But, the fact is that the pollution is a recent phenomenon that is itself a product of commercialization. Previously, people sold idols that were made from clay. In fact, many people used to prepare idols from their own hands and use them for worship.

It is only in the last few decades, that the number of people using Plaster of Paris (POP) has increased. In any case, in olden days there were neither POP nor any chemical paints. Ganesha festival as a public celebration itself is only around 125 years old. Therefore, no question of the festival being polluting by its very nature. The pollution is rooted only in some of the current practices that must be avoided.

The true essence of the festival is not in pandal hopping or buying very large idols. Instead, it is in worshipping Lord Ganesha with sincere devotion and surrendering. Hence, every person must attempt to connect with Lord Ganesha tomorrow through worship and contemplation.

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Mesmerising Temple Towns Near Bangalore

Due to a large influx of people from all over the world into the city, Bangalore is now a melting pot of culture and attracts people from various walks of life

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The center of India's high-tech industry, the city is also known for its parks and nightlife.
The center of India's high-tech industry, the city is also known for its parks and nightlife. Wikimedia Commons
  • Bangalore often referred as the Garden City and Silicon Valley
  • The city is also home to many temples that are regularly flocked by devotees

Bangalore is endowed with many titles that capture the essence of the city. Garden City and Silicon Valley are often used to refer to this culturally rich city. Due to a large influx of people from all over the world into the city, Bangalore is now a melting pot of culture and attracts people from various walks of life. The city is also home to many temples that are regularly flocked by devotees. Apart from these, there are quite a few places of worship around Bangalore that are worth a visit.

Bangalore taxi service is available to anyone wishing to make a journey to these temples.

Ghati Subramanya

Located on the outskirts of Bangalore, at distance of 60 km from the city, Ghati Subramanya temple has Lord Karthikeya as its primary deity. The temple also houses idols of Lord Narasimha and the idols of both these deities are believed to have emerged from the earth.

Subramanya temple has Lord Karthikeya as its primary deity.
Subramanya temple has Lord Karthikeya as its primary deity. Wikimedia Commons

The temple has a history that dates back to almost 600 years and is believed to be developed under the Ghorpade rulers of Sandur. Devotees believe that when couples having trouble conceiving take a vow at this temple, they will be blessed with children.

Also Read: These 5 Ancient Temples are Believed to be the Oldest in India

Chamundi Temple

Chamundi temple, located on the famous Chamundi Hills is a popular temple in Mysore and is visited by devotees and tourists alike throughout the year. The temple is located about 160 km from the city of Bangalore, which makes it a little over a 3-hour drive from the city.

The temple also has a flight of one thousand steps which were built in 1659 and leads to the summit of the 3000-foot hill.
The temple also has a flight of one thousand steps which were built in 1659 and leads to the summit of the 3000-foot hill. Wikimedia Commons

The temple is also believed to be one among the 18 Shakti Peethas. The construction of the temple is credited to the Hoysala rulers, who reportedly built it in the 12th century. However, the tower of the temple is believed to have been constructed by the Vijayanagara rulers in the 17th century. The temple also has a flight of one thousand steps which were built in 1659 and leads to the summit of the 3000-foot hill. The temple also has several idols of Nandi, but the biggest one is the one situated on the 800th step. This idol of Nandi is about 15 feet in height and 24 feet in length.

Also Read: Top 10 Famous Hindu Temples of Tamil Nadu

You can book cabs from Bangalore to Mysore to visit this marvellous temple perched on the top of the hill.

Kotilingeshwara

The Kotilingeshwara temple is located 96 km from the city of Bangalore, in the district of Kolar. You can reach the place in around two and a half hours by road. The temple is famous due to its huge lingams (Shiva idol), which is the largest lingam in the entire world, which stands 108 feet tall.

The Kotilingeshwara temple is located 96 km from the city of Bangalore, in the district of Kolar.
The Kotilingeshwara temple is located 96 km from the city of Bangalore, in the district of Kolar. Wikimedia Commons

The temple has ten million lingas as indicated by its name, where ‘Koti’ stands for crore or ten million. These were installed by Bhakta Manjunatha, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva with the help of Maharaja Ambikeshwaravarma and his family. Bhakta Manjunatha, born to a pious Shaiva family was an atheist who did not believe in Lord Shiva. He is believed to have insulted Lord Shiva ten million times. The ten million lingas installed by him were done as an act of repentance of this after he came to realize the divinity of Lord Shiva.

Also Read: 7 Most Famous Temples to Visit in Uttar Pradesh

All these temple towns are located at a short distance from the city of Bangalore and can be easily accessible in a taxi.