Ganesh Chaturthi 2023: Date and why the Hindu festival is celebrated

The elephant-headed deity Ganesha is known as the god of wisdom

A temple in Mumbai transports its Ganesha idol ahead of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, which starts on September 19 this year. AP
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The Indian festival of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birth of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of wisdom and prosperity in Hindu mythology, who is also recognised as the god of new beginnings and the remover of obstacles.

Also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, the festival is widely celebrated in India and Nepal, as well as by the Hindu diaspora in other parts of the world, including in the UAE.

The festival is celebrated for a period of 10 days, and its date varies based on the lunar calendar, but it typically falls in August or September. This year Ganesh Chaturthi starts on Tuesday.

To celebrate, some families keep an idol of Ganesha in their homes for a period of one and a half to 10 days, and welcome family and friends to visit for darshan, or prayers. Several temples, too, erect colourful pandals open to the public, some of which house idols of up to 20 feet.

The beginning of the worship is called pranapratishtha, which is a ritual to invoke life into the idol.

Ganesha is known as the god of new beginnings. AFP

What follows is termed shhodashopachara, or ways of paying tribute.

These include daily prayers in the morning and evening, and offerings of flowers, fruits, incense and sweetmeats, particularly modak, a dumpling considered one of Ganesha's favourite dishes.

Other observances include the chanting of Vedic hymns and Hindu texts, as well as rituals such as anointing idols with red sandalwood paste.

At the end of the stipulated period comes the visarjan or immersion, whereby the idols are paraded on the streets accompanied with music and dancing, and carried to nearby water bodies where they are immersed. This ritual represents Ganesha's journey back to his celestial abode, Mount Kailas, where his parents the Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati live.

Artisans work on eco-friendly idols made out of cow dung. AFP

Given the hundreds of thousands of idols that are put into rivers, lakes and ponds, Indian authorities have started regulating the immersion day because of the impact it has on the environment.

Several idol-makers now create figurines from biodegradable materials such as clay, rather than plaster of Paris, while some families submerge their statues in a water barrel at home.

Updated: September 18, 2023, 9:09 AM