Hindus Celebrate the Birthday of Ganesh
The 10-day festival of Hinduism's 'remover of all obstacles,' Ganesh Chaturthi.
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In addition, for those 10 days every residential complex and subdivision, as well as every cultural organization, mounts musical concerts, dramas and dances, some traditional and sublime, others in the raucous vein of the city's extremely popular film culture, known as Bollywood.
Some of the city's biggest movie studios organize their own mandals, or floats, and come immersion day, when the streets are filled with ocean-bound processions, people vie for prime viewing spots.
"We'd wait in the roadside for two or three hours to see the RK Studio Ganapathi," said Menon, referring to the movie studio established by one of India's most famous actors and directors, Raj Kapoor. "When I was young we'd stand in the rain or sun. It would be very grand. Even the truck would look so lovely. Sometimes you get to see some film stars also."
Elsewhere, you will see mandals that speak to the pressing issues of the day, with elaborate tableaux of soldiers or wily politicians surrounding the Ganesh idol.
"In India, Ganesh festival is observed as a cultural festival," said K.L. Seshagiri Rao, professor emeritus of Hinduism at the University of Virginia and the chief editor of the upcoming Encyclopedia of Hinduism.
"People have ... seminars, lectures, social service projects. It is very helpful for the welfare of the people. Ganesh is not just about ritualistic worship," he said.
The roots of Ganesh worship go back many centuries. According to legend, Ganesh was created by the goddess Parvati, wife of Shiva. Parvati, wanting privacy, created a young boy who would stand guard as she bathed. When Shiva, the God of Destruction, came home, he was prevented from entering his own home and duly chopped off the head of Ganesh.
Penitent and seeking domestic damage control, Shiva sent his attendants out in search of a replacement head, which they took from an elephant. Ganesh's life was renewed, as was Shiva and Parvati's marriage.
References to Ganesh can be found in the most ancient Hindu scriptures, but "the belief in Ganesh increased in particular in the fifth century, and in the eighth and ninth centuries spread through Southeast Asia," said Vasudha Narayanan, a professor of Hinduism at the University of Florida and the president-elect of the American Academy of Religion.
In time, Ganesh became one of the most popular deities in the Hindu pantheon.
"It's easy for people to understand the concept of Ganesh," said Arumugaswami. "It's a god who inspires fondness so easily. Strange as it may seem, my experience is that Americans relate more easily to Ganesh. Everybody loves an elephant."