This colourful festival is a very Maharashtrian one, which is celebrated with great gusto. In fact it is the most popular festival in the State. There are several reasons for this. Ganpati is after all a popular god. His blessings are invoked at most religious ceremonies as he is the god who can remove all obstacles to success. He is the giver of fortune and can help to avoid natural calamities. He is also the god who brings prosperity.
Ganpati, the god of wisdom and the benevolent deity of the dynasty of Peshwas who ruled Maharashtra inculcating a special culture in the state. Ganpati is the herald of auspicious beginnings and is the beloved deity of all Maharashtrians.
The Ganeshutsav was celebrated at the houses of leading Sardar families like Patwardhan, Mujumdar, Khasgiwale etc. In 1893, Sardar Nanasaheb Khasgiwale for the first time celebrated the utsav as a public festival and that year Ghotawdekar, Kasgiwale and Bhau Rangari these three Savajanik Ganesh utsav's were celebrated and for the first time There was a procession also taken out on the roads. The well known freedom fighter and statesman, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, saw in the festival a way of uniting people in a common cause and in this manner a possible means of bringing about political consciousness under the guise of a religious celebration, with freedom for India being the ultimate goal. Lokmanya Tilak also started celebrating Ganesutsav as a public festival by establishing a Sarvajanik Ganpati at Vinchurkarwada in 1894 and today it is the most popular event in the State. It was a unique move by this freedom fighter, which he achieved with the Ganpati Visarjana or immersion procession which is taken out on the final day of the ganesh festival.
The ten-day festival starts from the fourth day of the bright half of the lunar month, Bhadrapada and continues till the fourteenth day. Thousands join in and form the many processions that fill the streets when the time comes for the image to be immersed in water...the sea, river or lake. The festival brings with it a feeling of comradeship. Everyone wants to participate.
On the first day the clay form of Ganpati is brought home with great devotion. Prayers are said and songs chanted to the accompaniment of music from the mridanga or two-sided drum and the jhanj or cymbals. Some devotees select and buy their Ganpati on the same day and others place their orders months in advance. The figures are often very large, standing several metres high. These larger Ganesh images are usually ordered by neighbourhood puja committees, the entire neighbourhood contributing towards the purchase.
After the Ganpati image is collected it is ceremoniously installed in a place of honour and various rituals take place. The Ganpati is decorated with ornaments, flowers and lights. Puja and aarti are performed every morning and evening using flowers, rice, betel nuts and leaves, turmeric, red powder, coins and oil lamps. Men and women, the old and young all join in.Special sweets called modaks are steamed or fried for offering to Ganpati. Modaks are small rice or wheat flour dumplings stuffed with coconut and jaggery. These are served at the festive meals during the festival. Additionally, a large variety of savoury and sweet snacks such as karanjis, ladoos, chaklis, kadbolis and anarsas are distributed to devotees and guests during the pujas.
On the tenth day of the festival this happy loving god leaves for his celestial home and is immersed in water. Huge processions made up of different groups all accompanying the image of Ganpati that they have worshipped, make their way by foot to the immersion site. The very large images are transported by truck. All this is done to the accompaniment of dancing and singing. The mood is jovial with everyone chanting, over and over again, "Ganapati Bappa Morya, Pudhchya Varshi Lavakar Yaa..." calling Ganpati to come again soon next year.
The sight of the crowded streets, the different Ganesh images and the happy people is an amazing spectacle. In large towns special roads are demarcated for these processions and the traffic police and users of cars, buses and two-wheelers display notable patience with the crowds and never-ending processions.
However, it is the stupendous scale of this festival, celebrated by communities of people in the cities and villages of Maharashtra, which attracts millions of people to the state. Some of the community idols are as tall as 20 metres. These are set up in large pandals, worshipped for 10 days and then taken to the sea in immense processions for immersion. Not only are the massive idols the attraction of the festival, the plays, musical soirees, contests of skill, bullock cart races, swimming galas -all of which are planned in different venues -are events which show the enthusiasm of the people. Undoubtedly, Maharashtrians love Ganpati.