Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birth of the elephant-headed deity Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati. Ganesha is considered one of the most universally admired deities in Hinduism. He is worshipped by most Hindus, no matter the location, culture, religious or sectarian affiliation. The celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in many different places around the world where Hinduism is practiced. Ganesha is revered as the remover of obstacles, the God of Beginnings and the grantor of success and wisdom. Therefore, devotion, reverence, joy and hope characterize the atmosphere of this holiday as worshippers pray for success in all their endeavors for the coming year.
Hindu holidays and festivals take place according to the ancient Hindu lunar calendar. Therefore, Ganesh Chaturthi shifts each year in the commonly shared Gregorian or Western calendar, somewhere between the end of August and the first couple of weeks in September. In the Hindu calendar, Ganesh Chaturthi takes place in the month called Bhaadrapada. The length of time for celebrating the festival varies according to tradition or what is possible -- anywhere between one to ten days. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in different locations such as at home or at a temple. The location also determines the size of the occasion.
In places where the festival is more visible in public spaces, such as in cities with predominantly Hindu populations, many images of Ganesha are made by artisans throughout the week, both for selling and for performing rituals (pujas). No matter the location, elaborate rituals take place, where offerings are made to the deity and the worshippers receive blessings in return. Large festivals also include processions, where a large image of Ganesha is carried through the street, accompanied by the chanting of sacred prayers (mantras) and the collective singing of devotional songs (bhajans). Often on the last day of the festival, the deity is submerged in a large natural body of water, such as a river or the sea. Worshippers pray to Ganesha, pleading Him to return soon to bestow more blessings on his devotees.
Food is also a central part of the tradition - whether a worshipper chooses to fast or to feast on particular foods relevant to the holiday. In my family's tradition, the women of the family prepare small dumplings of both a sweet and savory variety. Growing up, they explained to me that the small dumplings were made in the shape of Ganesha, who is often lovingly imagined to assume a child-like plumpness.
Apart from the general ways in which Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated, the holiday has also borne historical significance particularly in India. Some trace the origins of Ganesh Chaturthi back to the rule of the western Indian King Chhatrapti Shivaji during the late 17th century. The tradition slowly went underground and was no longer as visible in public spaces. However some attribute its revival in the late 19th century to Lokmanya Tilak, an Indian revolutionary. He encouraged the festival as both an expression of unified national identity against British colonial rule, as well as, a unified Hindu identity across different castes.