Angarak Ganesh Sankashta Chaturti

Lord Ganesh is my favourite God, my Ishtadev and I love going to his temples to seek his blessings. My favourite Ganesh temple is the Siddhi Vinayak temple in Mumbai. When I first started work, the temple was an eight to ten-minute walking distance from the office. So every Tuesday, before I went to work, I would leave home early, and go to the temple to pay my respects to the Lord before going to work. Since Tuesdays are considered to be very special to Lord Ganesh, especially in Maharashtra and so there would be a line to enter the temple. It would usually take about an hour to line up and take the darshan, so I was never too worried about going in to the office late.

But one year, my mother also wanted to go to the temple on the occasion of Angarak Ganesh Sankashti and so we decided to leave about two hours earlier. I reasoned that it usually took me an hour and since it was the Angarak Sankashti, it will take double that time and so we left home around 6 am. When we reached the temple, nay, even before we reached the temple, we saw the huge line snaking out and into the road behind the temple. We got into the line and stood and stood and stood. We stood in line for almost six hours before we finally managed to see the Lord. I was super late for work and my mum had to still go home and make lunch. But we managed it that day and it was the first and last time I stood in a line that long to see the Lord.

So what makes this day so special that people spend hours waiting in line just for a glimpse of the Lord’s visage? The Angarika Chaturthi is a Sankashti Chaturthi falling on Tuesday and is considered highly auspicious among all Sankashti Chaturthi days. Sankashti Chaturthi, also known as Sankatahara Chaturthi, is an auspicious day dedicated to Lord Ganesha. This day is celebrated in every lunar Hindu calendar month on the fourth day of the Krishna Paksha which is the dark lunar phase or the waning fortnight of the moon.

According to Hindu teachings, Angarak, the son of Mother Earth and Bharadwaj Rishi, was an accomplished rishi and a great devotee of Lord Ganesha. He worshipped Lord Ganesha and sought his blessings. On Magh Krishna Chaturthi which fell on a Tuesday, Lord Ganesha blessed him and asked him for a wish. Angarak expressed that his only wish was to be associated with Lord Ganesha’s name forever. The Lord granted his wish and proclaimed that whoever worships Lord Ganesha on Angarika Chaturthi will be granted all that he or she prays for. From that day onwards, Magh Krishna Chaturthi came to be known as Angarak Chaturthi. Angarak in Sanskrit means red like burning coal embers and is also so known because Tuesdays are governed by the planet Mars or Mangal in Hinduism. Tomorrow is also an Angarak Sankhasthi Chaturthi and is the second one this year, after the one on April 19.

Another story is that the planet Mars or Mangal performed intense austerities and pleased Lord Ganesha. A happy Ganpati gave the boon to the planet that whenever Chaturthi falls on Tuesday it will be known as Angaraki Chaturthi. He also promised Mangal that those performing pujas on the day will have their wishes fulfilled. Mars who had got a bad reputation for creating trouble in people’s horoscopes was happy with the blessings.

On the day of Angarika Sankashti Chaturthi, devotees observe a strict fast from morning till evening. They break the fast at night after having a darshan or the auspicious sighting of the moon, preceded by prayers and a pooja for Lord Ganesha. The Angarika Chaturthi devotees believe their wishes will be fulfilled if they pray on this auspicious day. The fast of Sankashti Chaturthi is generally started from the day of Angarika Sankashti Chaturthi. Also, Angarika Sankashti means deliverance during troubled times, hence observing this fast is believed to reduce a person’s problems, as Lord Ganesha is the remover of all obstacles and the supreme Lord of intelligence. Before moonlight, the Ganapati Atharvashesha is recited to summon the blessings of Lord Ganesha.

The Brahmavaivarat Purana states that Lord Ganesha is a manifestation of the supreme consciousness and was destined to manifest as the remover of obstacles for men and gods, and he became the God of intellect and wisdom. According to Sage Vyasa, those performing puja, prayers, japa or chanting, and charity performed on this day will be blessed with peace and prosperity. They will never face any problems as the strength of the puja performed on this day is 10 million times stronger than those performed on ordinary days. Thus the benefits too are manifold. It is widely believed by Lord Ganesha devotees that observing the vrat or fast will bring material progress, happiness, and the fulfilment of desires. There is a huge rush to temples dedicated to Lord Ganesh on Angarak Ganesh Chaturthi, especially in Maharashtra. It is believed that those suffering Mangal dosh or blight of Mars in their Kundli or horoscope will get relief after offering prayers and charity on the day. Those who have financial problems will also find solutions to their issues and find relief from debt.

I used to fast for many years on Ganesh Sankhastha Chaturthi and used to break my fast only after praying to the moon and Lord Ganesha after moonrise, but after getting diagnosed with diabetes, I stopped my fasts. After this post, I am very tempted to start fasting again and will explore if this is feasible now.

Painting of Lord Ganesh from Bali at home

Ganpati Bappa Morya, Mangal Murthy Morya!

Festivals of India: Ganesh Chaturti

My favourite festival and one that I look forward to all year, especially when I was still living in India, Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birth of the elephant God, Lord Ganesh. This festival is made extra special because Lord Ganesh is my ishtadev and I was born during the eleven days this festival is celebrated in Mumbai and so my star birthday is always during this festival. As per Hindu religious books, the Lord Ganesha was born on Shukla Chaturthi during Bhadrapada lunar month which comes sometime in the months of August and September according to the Gregorian calendar.

Since Lord Ganesh is the destroyer of obstacles and the one who has to be worshipped first before any other worship, he is very important in the Hindu Pantheon and from where I come from, the favorite God. If there was a state Lord, I am sure Lord Ganesh will be that for Maharashtra!

Traditionally the festival used to be celebrated at home by installing small clay idols of Lord Ganesh, but during India’s independence struggle, in 1893 after the installation of the first sarvajanik or public Ganesh idol in Pune by Bhausaheb Laxman Javale or Bhau Rangari, Lokmanya Tilak, a legendary freedom fighter praised the celebrations of the public festivities in his newspaper, Kesari, and dedicated his efforts to launch the annual domestic festival into a large, well-organised public event. Tilak recognised Lord Ganesh’s appeal as “the god for everybody”, and chose this particular God as the one that bridged “the gap between Brahmins and non-Brahmins”, thereby building a grassroots unity across them to oppose British colonial rule.

It is also said that in 1870, the British colonial rulers, out of fear of seditious assemblies, had passed a series of ordinances that banned public assembly for social and political purposes of more than 20 people in British India, but exempted religious assembly for Friday mosque prayers under pressure from the Indian Muslim community. Tilak believed that this effectively blocked the public assembly of Hindus whose religion did not mandate daily prayers or weekly gatherings, and he leveraged this religious exemption to make Ganesh Chaturthi to circumvent the British colonial law on large public assembly. The first sarvajanik Ganesh utsav and statue of Lord Ganesh was installed in the Keshavji Nayak Chawl at Girgaum Mumbai by Tilak in 1893. This festival then took off and is a huge festival in my home state of Maharashtra and today is a pan Indian public festival where large and small idols of Lord Ganesh are installed anywhere from 1.5 to 11 days.

On the last day, be it one and a half days, three days, five days, seven days, nine days or eleven days, the idols are taken to a large body of water, be a pond, river or the sea and immersed so that the Lord can return back to his home in Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. Offerings are made to the Lord twice a day with prayers and an arti and the holy offerings distributed to everyone.

In Mumbai, traditionally there will be Ganesh pandals or temporary structures to house the Lord in pretty much every locality of the city. If I think back, where we live in Mumbai, in a one-km radius, I can thinkof atleast 10-15 Ganpati pandals which are of varying sizes with corresponding sizes of the idols of Lord Ganesha.

One such pandal is the one that is hosted by the GSB Seva Mandal, founded by the Goud Saraswat Brahmin community, who have installed an idol not too far from my home for the last 65 years. This is Mumbai’s most famous and richest Ganpati mandal in Mumbai whose idol each year is adorned with gold jewellery weighing around a staggering 73 kgs! This is due to the offerings made by devotees each year because of wishes that have been fulfilled. When I was in Mumbai, I used to try and make it to this pandal every year to pray. This Ganesh idol is only installed for five days and so some years, it used to be a challenge to try and make it, but I would do my best. This idol is always an eco-friendly one, made out of clay and here there is none of the usual recorded music there, instead, traditional Indian musical instruments used in south Indian temples are played.

Another iconic Ganesh idol is the Lalbaghcha Raja or the King of Lalbagh. This is probably the most visited mandal in Mumbai, formed in 1934 and the idol comes from just one family and the design is now patent-protected. This idol draws an average of an astounding 1.5 million people daily when it is installed and people stand in lines for hours just to see and pray to this idol which they believe will fulfill their wishes. Lalbaghacha Raja has cancelled their Ganeshotsav this year in the light of the coronavirus, instead the focus will be on health, with a blood and plasma donation camp held instead.

Only a couple of lanes from Lalbaghcha Raja is the Mumbaicha Raja which is also very popular. This mandal is well known for its new and innovative themes each year, often a replica of a famous place in India. It was formed for the benefit of the mill workers in 1928, making it the oldest one in the area. Even though this Ganesh idol is often very busy and crowded, waiting times can be as little as 20 minutes to a few hours.

Another Ganesh mandal close-by is the Khetwadicha Ganraj, which is considered to be one of the most spectacular Ganesh idols in Mumbai. The mandal was established in 1959 but found fame in 2000, when it made the highest Ganesh idol in Indian history, standing 40 feet tall. The idol at Khetwadi is decked out in real gold jewelry and adorned with diamonds.

The Andhericha Raja in the western suburb of Andheri is what the Lalbaugcha Raja is to south Mumbai. The mandal was established in 1966 by the workers of the Tobacco company, Tata Special Steel and Excel Industries Ltd, who moved from Lalbaug to be closer to their factories. Compared to many other famous mandals in Mumbai, the idol isn’t as towering or imposing. However, it has a reputation for fulfilling wishes. The mandal’s theme is usually a replica of a significant temple in India. This idol is different because unlike other idols which are immersed on the eleventh day which is Anant Chaturdashi, this idol is immersed on Sankashti Chaturthi, which is about five days after Anant Chaturdashi.

Writing this post has made me super nostalgic for the Ganesh festival in Mumbai. In the last twenty years that I have been in Singapore, I have never been back for the festival and now with the pandemic and restrictions, it seems quite unlikely in the near future. Also this year, because of the lockdown and the fact that these idols attract huge crowds, many of the Ganesh mandals have either decided to not install an idol or if they do, they plan to install a small idol. The government has also banned public immersions on Anant Chaturdhashi and so according to a report I read, after four decades, 99 percent of all Mumbai’s top public Ganeshotsav organisers have decided to reduce the side of the idols to a maximum of four feet. It is said that this is only the second time in the history of Ganeshotsav that the festival would be drastically scaled down without the immersion ceremonies, and on both occasions it was due to an invisible disease, the first time being in 1896 when Pune was hit by a killer bubonic plague which claimed many lives.

To everyone who is bringing home the Vighnaharta tomorrow, Happy Ganesh Chaturi to you and your loved ones. May the remover of obstacles pave the way to success for you and yours.

Ganpati Bappa Morya, Mangal Murti Morya!

Instagram Interludes

My favourite God in the Indian pantheon is Lord Ganesha. I refer to him as my ishtadeva, my personal God. He is not just someone I call out to when I am in need, but the first person I think of when I am happy.

I have a fairly good collection of statues of Lord Ganesha and try to click photos of him as much as I can. Here are some photos from that collection

Stories from Ancient India: Lord Ganesh

These days BB and GG have been asking me stories from the Indian Mythology. This new obsession for them is due to the number of books they’ve been reading on this subject and hence they want new stories about the various Gods and Goddesses. These stories are not new or original, but have been passed down from parents and grandparents to children for the last thousands of years. These are my versions of the stories my grandmother and mother told me which I am retelling to my children, thus keeping the chain of oral traditions alive.

Lord Ganesh Pulls a Fast one on his Brother

One day Lord Shiva was relaxing in Mount Kailash with his wife Goddess Parvati and sons, Lord Ganesh and Lord Kartikeya. Suddenly the sage Narada Muni appeared before Lord Shiva and prayed his obeisance to him. Now the sage Narada was known to cause mischief wherever he goes and it looked like this was also going to be one of these times. Narada had a golden mango in his hands which he gave to Lord Shiva.

Shiva was surprised and asked Narada, “Why have you come so far to Mount Kailash just to give me this mango?”. “This is no ordinary mango” Narada replied, “This is the golden mango of knowledge and whoever eats this mango will be granted eternal knowledge and wisdom. However, there is a condition to eating this fruit” he warned. Lord Shiva, who was in the process of cutting the fruit into four pieces stopped and muttered, “I should have known. If Narada gives something to someone, it has to come with some conditions and I am sure, there is some mischief also afoot”. “Tell me Narada, what is the condition to eating this fruit” Lord Shiva asked Narada. With a smirk on his face, Narada replied, “This fruit has to be eaten by only one person”

While Narada was explaining to Shiva about the fruit, Parvati, Ganesh and Kartikeya appeared there. When the boys saw the golden mango, each wanted to eat it. Both the boys wanted to prove that they were superior and hence should eat the fruit. Shiva was frustrated as he did not want to be partial to one son over the other and neither did Parvati. So they decided to repay Narada with a tactic of their own. “Boys, Sage Narada will decide who gets the mango” Shiva intoned, passing the buck to the person responsible for all this in the first place. Narada was caught in the trap of his own making and so tried to get out of this by saying, “Boys, the person who covers the world three times first will get this fruit”.

Even before Narada finished saying these words, Kartikeya jumped into his vehicle, a peacock and was soon out of sight. Ganesh remained where he was with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Ganesh, child, aren’t you going to go around the world?” a worried Parvati asked her son. “Wait, Mother, let me think” replied Ganesh.

At this point, Kartikeya zoomed past them shouting, “I’ve finished one round, Ganesh get yourself off the ground and atleast start, I don’t want to win just like that!” Kartikeya was 100% sure he would win. His vehicle was the peacock as against that of the lowly mouse that Ganesh had and he had already completed one round while Ganesh was still sitting in Mount Kailash.

By this time Ganesh had decided what he would do to win this competition. Just as he started to get up and move, Kartikeya zoomed past shouting that this was his second round complete and he just had one more round to win.

Ganesh slowly made his way to his parents and bowed low before them. He then started circling his parents three times. Shiva and Parvati were perplexed and asked Ganesh, “Child, you were supposed to circle the world, so why are you circling us instead?”. The answer they got surprised and impressed them for Ganesh replied, “You, my parents are my universe and my whole world. So if I circle you, it means that I have circled the entire world”. Saying this, he finished his third circle just as Kartikeya reached Mount Kailash after finishing his third trip across the world.

“I won, I won”, yelled Kartikeya. “Ganesh, you are still here, while I have circled the world three times”.

“No my son”, said Lord Shiva, “Ganesh is the winner”.

“But how, he was still  here when I finished all three rounds”, asked Kartikeya with a pout.

Lord Shiva explained what Ganesh did and handed over the fruit to him. Kartikeya was upset that his brother had pulled a fast one over him, but he could do nothing as what Ganesh did was absolutely right and had proved to be much more intelligent than him.

Conversations with God!

What is religion? According to Wikipedia:

Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and moral values.Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.

I was born and raised as a Hindu, particularly a South Indian Iyer Brahmin. While we follow all the tenets of the Hindu religion, there are some which are uniquely ours. I’ll be writing more about these in subsequent posts, but while the overarching theme of this post is religion, it is more specifically about God and my relationship with Him.

Different people view religion is their own ways. For some, this may take form of praying religiously in front of the manifestation of their preferred religion, for others it may be something they view with suspicion and fear and shun it altogether.

Where I am concerned, I believe in the religion I was brought up in and within which I bring up my children. I believe everyone needs an emotional anchor with which to anchor their lives and religion, if handled correctly, can provide that. My relationship with my religion and the God who personifies it for me is very personal and intense. To me, it is not necessary to pray a certian number of times a day, go to the temple so many times a week, but not be a good person internally. I believe that what lies between you and your deity is personal and should remain so. I definitely pray and constantly think of him, but it is very personal.

Painting of Lord Ganesh from Bali at home

Many Hindus have something called an ishtadev which essentially means a favourite God or Deity. I do too and with my ishtadev, I have a one-on-one relationship. My ishtadev by the way is the Lord Ganesh. I have always been drawn to him since childhood and there is one particular temple in my hometown of Mumbai that I love going to. This is the Siddhivinayak Temple in Prabhadevi and never fail to go there each time I go back.

I look up to Lord Ganesh or Siddhivinayak as a friend. I pray to him many, many times a day and selfishly also ask him loads of things during the course of my day. If something is not going my way, I ask for his intervention and when things are working in my favour, I

Idol of Siddhivinayak at the Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai

do thank him. A case in point – last night we got home very late from the temple (details later) and I didn’t have a very good night. Today morning, when I got dropped off at my bus stop, I did mention to S that although I am sleepy, I know I won’t get place to sit in the bus. Then the bus that came my way was not the bus I usually take, it was an abbreviated service that I usually ignore since using that bus means changing to another bus later on. But this bus was fairly empty and I saw if I boarded it, I can get a seat, so I got in and slept till it was time to get off and change buses, which coincidently came within 3 minutes!

This is my relationship with my God, my friend. How about you? Do you believe in God, in a higher power? If yes, then how do you communicate with him/her?