Ganeshotsav 2018: Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, is perhaps the most loved among the many deities in Hinduism. A favourite among children, mainly because of the story of his birth, Lord Ganesha, also known as the ‘God of education, wisdom and wealth’, is worshipped before any other deity at the beginning of an auspicious task.

Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chaturthi is a 10-day festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Ganesha. Celebrated mainly in states like Maharastra, Karnataka, Goa, Telangana and Gujarat, this festival sees the coming together of communities as people install Ganesha idols in elaborate pandals or at homes and worship together over the 10 days of festivities.

Modak, which is believed to be a favourite of Lord Ganesha, is distributed among the devotees on all days. On the tenth day, the idol is carried by a crowd and immersed in a water body. The story of the birth of an elephant-headed god who rides a mouse is known to always inspire intrigue in people. A famous tale told through generations goes like this.

Ganesh Chaturthi 2018 | Dates, significance and celebrations

The year, the festival will be celebrated from September 13 to September 23.

According to Hindu mythology, once Lord Shiva had gone out and Goddess Parvati had to take a bath. Since there was no guard, she created a small figure from sandalwood paste and asked him to guard the gate.

When Lord Shiva came back, he wished to see his wife but Ganesha following the orders of Parvati did not let him enter. Enraged by this act, Lord Shiva cut the head of Ganesha only realising his mistake later. He instructed his guards to find the head of the first living creature they could find. They found an elephant and this is how Lord Ganesha became the elephant-headed God we know.

The origins of Ganesh Chaturthi as a festival is not particularly known. Historical records show that these celebrations were initiated by Chatrapati Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler, to promote feelings of unity and nationalism. Lord Ganesha was also believed to be the family deity of the Peshwas. After the Peshwa rule ended, the festival lost its importance and was celebrated privately by families.

Ganesh Chaturthi became the cultural phenomenon we know it today with the help of Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

In 1892, when a Pune resident visited Gwalior, a state ruled by the Marathas, he witnessed Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. Inspired by this, he installed the first public Ganesha idol. When it came to the notice of Tilak, he praised their efforts in his newspaper Kesari. He was also the first to install large statues of Lord Ganesha at public places and started the custom of immersion of idols in rivers, sea or other water bodies.

Tilak wanted to unite the population against the British rule and thought of Ganesha as “the god for everybody”. He popularised Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival to generate nationalistic feelings among the people to oppose the British rule.

At a time where the British discouraged any public gatherings to control population, Ganesh Chaturthi became a meeting ground for Indians of all castes and creed. After seeing the success of Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai, he spread the idea in other parts of the country.

Ganesh Utsav Mandals were set up in each town for collecting funds and subsequently, this became a nationwide celebration.

India celebrated its 72nd Independence Day this year. While Indians no longer need a Ganesh Chaturthi as a meeting ground to spread ideas of independence, people of different castes continue to come together to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi to keep alive the spirit of togetherness.

For those 10 days, people forget their differences and stand together to worship the God of wisdom.