Ganesh Chaturthi Ritual
Hyderabad, India 2013
As I stared out the window on my twelve and a half hour drive home from the Ajanta and Ellora Caves my eyes constantly were caught by the glitter and glow of colourful elephants large and small. While I knew that these were models of the Lord Ganesha, the Hindu god of success and the destroyer of vanity, I had no idea why there were so many of them. Upon returning from our journey I was told by my colleagues at the INDUS school that the very next day was the beginning of the Ganesh Chaturthi Festival.
These clay models of Ganesh, which are now sold on roadsides, are usually molded 2-3 months before the Lord’s birthday. Ganesh Chaturthi is a ten day festival celebrated by Hindus all over the world. It kicks off the entire year of Hindu celebrations, and like the waving ears of Ganesh himself, the festival opens up all corridors of prayer for Hindus. It was a great honour to get to partake in this ritual firsthand. As I arrived at a colleagues apartment, I was instantly taken over to the platform where the offerings of fruit, coconut, flowers are made. It reminded me very much of a nativity set in a Christians house when worshiping Christ’s birth at Christmas. Good anthropology makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange!
After getting an explanation of the iconography of Ganesha, like the one I posted here, my guru for the night, Rajesh, began his Vedic chant. The hymn was from the Rig Veda and it was sung in Sanskrit, which no one in the room could understand. With bells ringing, and more chanting we made our way one by one to pay our respects by making clockwise circles with a tray of burning candles towards Ganesh, followed by a series of squats. Afterwards we were given red rice to toss underhand at the idol, who would, with our prayers, remove obstacles from our path to success.
To finish we ate some delicious samosas and Ladu, which is Ganesha’s favorite treat.I had a great time learning more Hindi words, eating delicious homemade treats and learning all about Ganesha.
After this incredible night learning about Ganesh and the ritual, my students and I were ready to attend a pooja in the city. We had a local pandit (Hindu priest) come and walk us through some of the pooja ritual, which I must say was very elaborate. Sydney, a tenth grade student who shares a birthday with Ganesh, was chosen to be our participant observer in the ritual. In undergoing the pooja, Sydney gently shook water off of a flower on the pedestal where Ganesh sat, this represents the blossoming that takes place in all of us as we grow. The incense she burned represented her desires in various things in life, and the ability to control them. She also delicately tossed red vermillion paste, called kumkum, at the deity and a small dot was made between her eyes. Since the kumkum clay is from the earth the worshipper can gain from the earth’s power, the reason it is placed between the eyes is a bit more complex, and will be shared in a later blog. For more information on the significance of symbolism in the Hindu pooja, check out this resource.
Rituals are an important part of every culture and religion and they serve varied purposes for their believers. It was an honor to be a part of this very important Hindu tradition, and I look forward to learning and participating in any other religious ritual that I am permitted. Hindus are an amazingly welcoming religious group and they will make any traveler/foreigner feel at home because of their inherent goodness. I will end this blog and say goodbye in Hindi …