Lord Ganesh, the jolly elephant-headed god, is one of the foremost gods in the Hindu Pantheon. The son of Lord Shiva and Parvati, no important event takes place without first invoking his blessings. It is unsurprising then, that his birthday is enthusiastically celebrated throughout India. Beginning with the bringing home of his idol on the eve of his birthday and ending with the immersion of the idol upto ten days later, the festivities are colourful, and deeply religious.
In Goa, the Chaturthi is commonly called Chovoth. As with many other religious festivities the people have their own traditions and observances that add a distinctly Goan flavour to the festival.
Lord Ganesha is the elephant headed god, beloved of the Hindu people. He is very fond of sweets, especially modaks and his vehicle is a rat, called ‘Mooshak’. He is the god of wisdom and power and is also known as the ‘Remover of Obstacles’. He is always invoked first in any prayers that take place or before starting auspicious work or at festive occasions like weddings etc.
He is the eldest son of Shiva, also known as the son of Shankar and Umadevi, because he is the energy of Lord Shiva. He is worshipped in all incarnations, and has eight avatars. Read more +
Ganesh is said to have been created from white clay, by the Goddess Parvati and she asked him to not allow anyone to enter whilst she was having her bath especially when Shiva was away travelling. When Shiva returned, the boy Ganesha was guarding the door whilst Parvati had her bath. Annoyed at being denied entrance into his own home, and not knowing who Ganesh was, Shiva struck off his head.
When Parvati heard the commotion, she came out and was extremely distressed and Shiva, much chastised, sent his servants forth with the command to bring home the head of any animal facing north. The only one they found was an elephant. They brought back the head and Shiva merged it with Ganesha’s fallen body.
Another story told about Lord Ganesha involves the moon. One night, after feasting at his birthday, going from house to house and devouring a great many modaks and ladoos, Ganesha mounted his rat to ride home. It was darkest night and his rat was suddenly startled by a snake. This caused Ganesha to fall off and his stomach burst open, spilling out the ladoos and modaks.
Lord Ganesha, however, quickly stuffed them back in and tied his stomach closed with the snake. Seeing this the moon was highly amused and began to laugh. Annoyed at being laughed at, Ganesha hurled one of his tusks at the moon and cursed it, saying that during Ganesh Chaturthi, anyone looking up at the moon would surely earn for himself a bad name.
There are recorded instances of the worship of Lord Ganesha as far back as the Peshwas. However, the festival gained widespread popularity thanks to the auspices of Lokmanya Tilak at the time of the freedom struggle.
Prior to this the festival was celebrated on a much smaller scale, with modest idols being worshipped by each family rather than on a community-wide level. Tilak popularised the festival on a community level in order to unite the people and give them a sense of shared understanding and purpose.
This festival marks the end of the monsoon season and takes place on the fourth day of ‘Bhadarva Shukla-Paksh’ on the Hindu calendar, which usually falls at the end of August or beginning of September. Starting the day before Chovoth, the idols are kept for 1½, 3, 5, 7, 9 or 10 days, when the festival ends with Anant Chaturdashi.
The families that keep the Ganesh idols, do pooja morning and evening and always keep out bowls of fresh fruit, several vegetables and sweets before them. After a few days (the length of time varies) the idol is then taken in procession and immersed in either the river or the sea accompanied by chants of ‘Ganapati Bap’pa moria, fuddchea vorsa lovkar eia’ as well as the beating of goomats and other such instruments. Read more +
The celebrations start on the eve of Chovoth, when the idols are brought home. A pandal called a ‘matov’ of betel nut, coconut and banana palms as well as mango branches is made in the place where the idol is to be installed. The next day being the first day of the festival starts with a puja to Ganesh along with Mahadev and Gauri.
This fervently celebrated festival is a joy to observe, especially the colourful, music and dancing-filled revelry at the time of the immersions. Additionally, people of all faiths are welcome to visit the Ganapati Mandals that are established near the various temples, to pay their respects and hope for a little wisdom and guidance.
One should be aware though, that the immersion processions can make traffic slow down a great deal on the festival days and plan accordingly.