Ganesha Chaturthi also known as Vinayaga Chaturthi is the Hindu festival of Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati, who is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees in the duration of this festival. It is the birthday of Ganesha who is widely worshipped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between 20 August and 22 September. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the waxing moon period).
While celebrated all over India, it is most elaborate in western and southern India. Outside India, it is celebrated widely in Nepal and by Hindus in the United States, Canada and Fiji.
It is not known when and how Ganesh Chaturthi was first celebrated. But according to the historian Shri Rajwade, the earliest Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations can be traced back to the times of the reigns of dynasties as Satavahana, Rashtrakuta, and Chalukya.
Historical records reveal that Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations were initiated in Maharashtra by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaja, the great Maratha ruler, to promote culture and nationalism. And it had continued ever since. There are also references in history to similar celebrations during Peshwa times. It is believed that Lord Ganapati was the family deity of the Peshwas. After the end of Peshwa rule, Ganesh Chaturthi remained a family affair in Maharashtra from the period of 1818 to 1892.
In 1893, Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual festival into a large, well-organized public event.
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 discouraged social and political gatherings.
The festival is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period). The date usually falls between 20 August and 15 September. The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Anant Chaturdashi. This festival is observed in the lunar month of bhadrapada shukla paksha chathurthi madhyahana vyapini purvaviddha. If Chaturthi prevails on both days, the first day should be observed. Even if chaturthi prevails for the complete duration of madhyahana on the second day, if it prevails on the previous day's madhyahana period even for one ghatika (24 minutes), the previous day should be observed.
The priest, usually clad in red silk dhoti and shawl, then symbolically invokes life into the statue by chanting mantras. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the ritual called as Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva (trefoil) blades of grass and red flowers are offered. The statue is anointed with red unguent, typically made of Kumkum and Sandalwood paste . Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and the Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted.
The most serious impact of the Ganesh festival on the natural environment is due to the immersion of icons made of Plaster of Paris into lakes, rivers and the sea. Traditionally, the Ganesh icon was sculpted out of earth taken from nearby one’s home. After worshipping the divinity in this earth icon, it was returned back to the Earth by immersing it in a nearby water body. This cycle represented the cycle of creation and dissolution in Nature.
However, as the production of Ganesh icons on a commercial basis grew, the earthen or natural clay (shaadu maati in Marathi) was replaced by Plaster of Paris. Plaster is a man made material, easier to mould, lighter and less expensive than clay. However, plaster takes much longer to dissolve and in the process of dissolution releases toxic elements into the water body. The chemical paints used to adorn these plaster icons themselves contain heavy metals like mercury and cadmium.
On the final day of the Ganesh festival thousands of plaster icons are immersed into water bodies by devotees. These increase the level of acidity in the water and the content of heavy metals. The day after the immersion, shoals of dead fish can be seen floating on the surface of the water body as a result of this sudden increase.