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

Poem: Faith

lord2bganeshaIshtadev is a concept in Hinduism which literally translated to “cherished divinity” and is used to term one’s favourite God from within the 33 million Gods of the Hindu pantheon.

This poem on faith is my way of paying homage to my personal God, Lord Ganesha,  whom I reach out to whenever I am sad or happy and speak to him as a friend.

hindu-lord-ganesha-over-mandala-pattern-vector-13423086Ishtadev

You are the name I take when I wake up and take in the first sight
And the one I think of when I close my eyes for the night

I think of you throughout the day, in all that I do in every way
Folding my hands often to pray

You are my friend, philosopher and guide
I know you are always on my side

You know all my secrets, my sadness and innermost thoughts
You know exactly what it is that ties me up in terrible knots

I know that you are always there to cover my back
That you will never fail me, will always take up the slack

Thank you for being there all the time
My Lord, My God, My Ishtadev!

Stories from Ancient India: How Lord Ganesh got an Elephant’s Head

One day Goddess Parvati wanted to be alone and have a bath, so she instructed the bull Nandi who was Lord Shiva’s personal guard to ensure that no one could enter the house while she was bathing. Just then Lord Shiva wanted to meet Parvati. Seeing him, the Lord of Mount Kailash, Nandi immediately allowed him into the area where Parvati was bathing. When Parvati came to know about this, she was furious about the fact that the guard she had ordered to do her work was more faithful to her husband than to her.

In retaliation, she took the turmeric paste from her body and with her powers, created a child whom she wanted to be faithful only to herself and no one else. She named the child Ganesha. At this point in time, no one knew about the creation of this child as Shiva was away from Mount Kailash then.

Soon, the child was guarding the Parvati’s room and did not allow anyone to enter the room as ordered by Parvati. Meanwhile, Lord Shiva entered their home and made his way to Parvati’s private chambers. Following orders, Ganesha stopped the great lord with a loud “Stop! You cannot enter my mother’s private chambers”

Shiva was amazed both at the audacity of this child who was stopping him from entering his own home and with the fact that this child, whom he had never seen before was calling his wife Parvati his mother.

“Who are you to stop me from entering my own home? Do you even know who I am?” Shiva roared in anger.

“I don’t know who you are, but I can’t allow you inside since my mother has forbidden me from doing so” replied Ganesha.

Furious, Lord Shiva sent his army or Gana Sena to attack the child. But Ganesha who was no ordinary child was born with immense strength and he soon defeated the army easily. Shiva then looked at other avenues to reason with the child. He used the services of Lord Brahma who came in the form of a peaceful Brahmin and tried reasoning with Ganesha using the religious texts, but Ganesha did not budge. Then Shiva mobilized the army of the gods or Devas, but the child routed them too easily. Enraged beyond reason, Shiva then goes behind Ganesha when he is battling others and cuts off his head.

“Motherrrrr” Ganesha screams and dies on the spot. Hearing the noise, Pravati rushes from her private apartment and sees the carnage before her. Seeing her child, her creation dead in front of her puts her in a great rage and she moves into her destruction mode threatening to destroy the entire universe. Seeing this makes all the Gods assembled there very nervous and scared and Brahma decided to intervene and asked her to reconsider her decision

“I will not destroy this universe only on two conditions – one my child be brought back to life and two Ganesha will be worshipped and propitiated before any other Gods” Parvati put down her conditions.

In order to console his wife and stop the world from being destroyed, Shiva agreed to the conditions and sent for his servants and soldiers.

“Go forth and bring to us the first head of any creature you come across which is sleeping with it’s head pointed in the northern direction” Shiva ordered his soldiers and they soon set out to do their Lord’s bidding. The Ganas spread out to search for a creature with its head to the north and soon find an elephant sleeping with its head to the north.

They then bring the elephant’s head back to Lord Shiva who attaches it to Ganesha’s body and with his divine powers, soon brings him back to life. Ganesha soon gets revived and Lord Shiva proclaims him his own son and also the leader of his army, hence his name as Ganapati (Lord of the Ganas). He further proclaims that Ganesha will be foremost of all Gods and will be the first God to be worshipped as well as before anyone undertakes any new undertaking.

This is how Lord Ganesha came into existence, why we worship him first and why he is also called Ganapati