A large number of Indians pray to Ganesh for good fortune. A mythological figure and a very popular one, not only in India but also abroad, Ganesh is worshipped before any other ritual, as anything begun with Ganesh puja is supposed to be free of obstacles and roadblocks. Ganesh Puja forms important part of Diwali worshipping rituals in India.
Ganesh Puja is the First of all Rituals
Traditionally, in Hindu societies, every important work is initiated with a prayer of the Lord Ganesh. In other words, Ganesh is the form in which the Lord of the universe is revered while initiating anything important. Diwali marks the beginning of the traditional accounting year; hence Ganesh puja is done to pray for a successful year. Along with Lakshmi puja, it forms an essential part of religious ceremonies on the occasion of Diwali.
The Mythological Legend of Ganesh
The tradition of worshipping Ganesh comes from mythology and fables. The mythological story of Ganesh is a very interesting one. It is said that Lord Shiva had gone somewhere while Parvati, his wife, was going to have a bath. She made a young boy of clay, put life into it and asked him to keep guard while she takes the bath. When Shiva returned, this boy stopped him from entering. Shiva tried to reason with him, but he would not listen. When he started fighting with him, Shiva cut off his head, which got destroyed. When Parvati found out, she was very sad and angry, and persisted with Shiva to bring him back to life. Since the head has already been destroyed, Shiva cut off the head of a baby elephant and joined it with the body of the boy before bringing him back to life. This boy is called Ganesh. He was also blessed with the boon that any ceremony devoted to the Lord in any form must begin with a prayer to him.
Mythological tales and fables are usually interesting and so are easily remembered over the generations, while the philosophy underlying them is often lost with time. These stories too, have been told, retold, edited and modified by hundreds of generations. Whether one believes in them or not, they are a part of cultural heritage that continues to be practiced. The fact remains that every auspicious event is traditionally begun with a prayer to the Lord, and for this purpose Ganesh is the form in which the Lord is worshipped.
The Tradition of Ganesh Puja on Diwali
On the day of Diwali, houses are cleaned and decorated. Traditionally, a new idol of Lord Ganesh and another of Goddess Lakshmi are bought to the house on this occasion, and placed along with the pictures or idols of other deities before the puja begins. Ganesh idol is associated with Good luck. He is also considered ‘vighna-harta’ or the ‘remover of all obstacles’. In fact, it is popular not only in India, but many other countries to keep a Ganesh idol in the house near the entrance to bring the blessings of the Lord, and to protect the household.
The puja on the day of Diwali takes place in the evening, beginning with the Ganesh puja. Different rituals are followed in different regions but there are certain common features in all these rituals. Every puja consists of five elements, ‘dhyan’, ‘namaskar’, ‘tilak’, ‘aarti’ and ‘prasad’. Dhyan refers to meditation in which the person closes his eyes and concentrates on the Lord and his blessings and prays for continuation of such blessings. Namaskar means folding hands so that both palms touch each other and bowing of head before the Lord as a sign of reverence and devotion. Tilak is the act of placing yellow / red paste of turmeric on the forehead of the idol or the picture as a symbol of their superiority and one’s own subservience to the Lord. Aarti is the chanting or singing of prayers in the praise of Lord. Usually an aarti is done while holding a lamp in the hand. Prasad refers to food articles that are offered to the Lord, and then shared among all present, while considering it as a blessing of the Lord.
The Prayers & Ceremonies
There are several popular prayers that people sing during Ganesh puja. Most commonly chanted mantra is “Vakra tunda mahakaya surya koti sam prabha; Nirvighnam kuru me dev sarvakaryeshu sarvada,” meaning “O Lord with a curved trunk, huge body and the light of a thousand Suns, please make all my projects free of obstacles.”
Ganesh puja is an essential ingredient of religious ceremonies. In homes, all the deities including Ganesh and Lakshmi are worshipped together, for all are the forms of Lord only. These forms too are a means for helping people focus on the Lord, and this stream of Hinduism is called ‘saakaar bhakti’ or ‘worship of Lord in a concrete form’. The other stream of devotional philosophy is ‘niraakaar bhakti’ in which the Lord is worshipped as an all pervading, all powerful, everlasting entity but with no particular form. Saakaar bhakti is said to be easier for common people, while niraakaar bhakti is usually resorted by those who are deeply devoted to the Lord and have submerged their own existence in his love.