It is that time of the year when life-size idols of Lord Ganesha adorn decorated pandal and homes; when devotees invoke the deity by singing ‘Ganapati Bappa Morya’; when modak (sweet dumplings) are offered to appease the god. Ganesh Chaturthi, also known as Vinayaka Chaviti or Vinayaka Chaturthi, is a 10-day festival that marks the birthday of Lord Ganesha. It is celebrated in the Hindu month of Bhadra.
Son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, Ganesha or Ganapati is the god of new beginnings, eliminator of all obstacles, and bringer of prosperity and wisdom. According to Hindu mythology, Ganesha is a formless divinity that is given a shape for the benefit of the devotees. His elephantine head represents the soul or atman, his trunk the universal sound Om, and his feet the power of knowledge and action. The mouse he rides signifies the ego we humans carry with us.
It is not just the symbolism of this deity’s earthly form that is interesting. Legends about Ganesha are just as fascinating. This Ganesh Chaturthi, Soulveda explores stories associated with the elephant god’s birth and the celebration of the occasion.
The eternal curse
It is a common belief that if one sees the moon during Ganesh Chaturthi, one is doomed. One may wonder where such a belief stems from. According to a legend, during one Chaturthi, Lord Ganapati was visiting his devotees’ houses and accepting laddoos–his favourite sweet. Once he had satiated his ravenous appetite with the laddoos, Ganesha made his way from one house to another on his vehicle–the mouse. On the way, suddenly sensing the presence of a snake in the vicinity, the mouse trembled in fear and stumbled. Ganesha fell flat on the ground and his stomach burst open. Laddoos fell out of it and rolled on the ground. Annoyed, Ganesha picked up all the laddoos and stuffed them back into his tummy. Then, fuming with anger, he caught the snake and tied it around his stomach to stop laddoos from falling out again.
Seeing this, the moon broke into a fit of laughter. Ganesha was livid. He pulled out one of his tusks, hurled it at the moon, and then cursed that anyone who looks at the moon on Ganesh Chaturthi will suffer a bad fate. The moon soon realised his mistake and begged Ganapati for forgiveness.
Ganapati is known as the eliminator of obstacles for a reason. His own life was not short of obstacles.
This belief exists among devotees even to this day. It is said that those who see the moon during the Chaturthi can rectify the situation by reading or listening to the story of Syamantaka Mani. According to mythology, the Syamantaka Mani is a piece of jewellery that once belonged to the Sun god. Its magical powers are said to make any land that possesses it perennially prosperous.
The tale of his birth
The legend associated with the birth of Lord Ganapati has fascinated many. How did the son of Shiva and Parvati end up with an elephant head? According to a legend in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Shiva and Parvati were a childless couple. So, Shiva asked his wife to maintain a year-long fast (Punyaka Vrata) to appease Lord Vishnu to grant her a son. Being a dutiful wife, Parvati followed Shiva’s instructions. Moved by Parvati’s devotion, Vishnu granted her a son. The couple then invited the gods to bless their child.
Every god wished the baby a good life. However, Lord Shani–son of Lord Surya–refused to look at the baby. This offended Parvati. Shani explained to her that if he looked at the baby, the baby would die as he was cursed with the gaze of destruction. But she did not take his warning seriously and continued to insist. When Shani relented and looked at a baby Ganesha, the child’s head got severed. Anguished, Parvati begged Shiva to bring her son back to life. Shiva then set off, only to return with a baby elephant’s head. He fixed it on the baby’s shoulder and breathed life into it. Thus, Ganapati got an elephant’s head on his human body.
These legends carry hidden lessons for humankind. Ganapati is known as the eliminator of obstacles for a reason. His own life was not short of obstacles. Ganapati lost his head when Shani looked at him; his stomach burst open when he fell down on the ground; he was ridiculed by the moon. And yet, he bounced back from every difficulty, stronger than before. Lord Ganesha is certainly an inspiration for us all to stay motivated through all the ups and downs of life. This Chaturthi, may Lord Ganapati give us the strength and courage to face life’s challenges and emerge victorious.