Ganesh Chaturthi: An Ode to the God of Beginnings

Ganesh Chaturthi is right around the corner, and we give you the low-down on its history, celebration, and even a special modak recipe!

ganesh chaturthi
(image courtesy of Rashmi Gopal Rao)

Ganapati, Vighnaharta, Vignesha, Lambodara, Ekdanta……Lord Ganesha is known by many names. Arguably one of the most popular amongst all Hindu Gods, Lord Ganesha is often referred to as the one who removes all obstacles and is rightly known as the God of Beginnings.  A God that is invoked at the beginning of all tasks and worshipped before all other deities, Lord Ganesha holds a very important place in Hindu religion and culture.  He is the symbol of wisdom, knowledge, good luck and prosperity.  Hence, it is little wonder that Ganesha aka Vinayaka Chaturthi which celebrates the birth of the elephant headed God is one of the most significant festivals of the Hindu calendar.

Celebrations Galore

This festival to honour Lord Ganesha normally falls in the month of August or September and is celebrated with pomp and gaiety throughout the country.  It is observed on the fourth day of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada and falls on 10-September this year.  A day before Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival of His mother, Goddess Gowri is celebrated in a grand way especially in the Bangalore and Mysore regions.  Terracotta, plaster of paris and earthen idols of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Gowri are manufactured prior to the festival and the same is bought home and worshipped in accordance with all rituals by the devotees.  The idols are immersed either on the same day or on the third day.  

Markets are a riot of colour before the festival with pavements and makeshift shops filled with colourful idols of the Lord.  The installation of life size idols of the God in elaborate pandals is done in major cities and it brings the entire community together in celebrating the festival.  Cultural events including music and dance programs are conducted to mark the event.   The idols are usually immersed after the festivities conclude after 11 days.  The idols in the city of Mumbai as well as Hyderabad are renowned for their grandiose nature and superior craftsmanship.  

Flower Power

As part of the Ganesha Puja on Ganesh Chaturthi, there are some specific flowers that must be a part of the festivities. Some important flowers that Ganesha likes include the red hibiscus which is said to be the favourite flower of the Lord.  Also, the downy jasmine, blue clitoria ternatea, marigold, yellow chrysanthemum and coral jasmine are other flowers that are said to be auspicious for the elephant headed God. What you must not miss is a bunch of Durva grass which is believed to be the most important part of the Ganesha Puja. Arka pushpam or yakkada hoovu is also considered highly sacred for the Lord.  In Karnataka’s South Canara district, areca nut flowers, locally called Shringara hoovu are a sacred offering to Ganesha.  Twenty-one types of flowers and greens are normally offered as the same is considered an auspicious number. The chanting of the Ganesha Ashtothram which is 108 names of the Lord is done as the flowers are offered.

ganesh chaturthi
A meal befitting the occasion (image courtesy of Rashmi Gopal Rao)

Food

Ganesha is known to love food and Ganesh Chaturthi is the perfect excuse to get your culinary skills in place. The most favourite of His food is the Modak, a sweet dumpling. The variants in modak is what makes it attractive; from steamed versions that can be made with a lentil filling or a coconut and jaggery filling, to a dry fruit modak, chocolate modak and even a deep fried modak in a half moon shape, the modak takes on various forms! In Maharashtra, Satori a sweet flat bread made with khoya, ghee, besan and milk is popular as is the Puran Poli, a flat bread made of plain flour stuffed with lentils and jaggery. Another quintessential favourite is the Motichoor Ladoo that is an absolute must. The coconut ladoo, sesame seeds ladoo and wheat flour ladoos are also popular. Shrikhand, a dessert with strained yogurt, Sheera, a sweet with mashed bananas, semolina and sugar and Rava Pongal made with semolina and moong dal are some other must try dishes. As far as savoury dishes are concerned, Kadabu, an idli like dish steamed in screw pine or jackfruit leaves is a popular offering.

In fact, if you’re looking to whip up some delicious modak of your own, here’s a recipe courtesy of Chef Ganga Singh, Rasotsav, that’ll be the perfect accompaniment to your Ganesh Chaturthi festivities!

ganesh chaturthi
Modak- a traditional dish made on Ganpati festival in India

Steamed Modak Recipe

  • Rice flour 1 1/2 cups
  • Salt a pinch
  • Oil 1 teaspoon for greasing
  • For stuffing:
  • Fresh coconut grated 1 1/2 cups
  • Jaggery (gur) grated 1 cup
  • Poppy seeds (khuskhus/posto) roasted 1 tablespoon
  • Green cardamom powder a pinch
  • Nutmeg powder a pinch

Method

  • Step 1: Heat one and one-fourth cups of water with salt and one teaspoon oil in a deep non-stick pan.
  • Step 2: Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and add the rice flour in a steady flow, stirring continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Cover the pan with a deep lid and pour some water into the lid. Cook on low heat for three minutes.
  • Step 3: Remove the lid, sprinkle some cold water on the rice flour and cover again with the lid, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and add the rice flour in a steady flow, stirring continuously to prevent lumps from forming water in it; cook for another three minutes. Repeat this process twice more. Take the pan off the heat and keep it covered for two minutes.
  • Step 4: Transfer the mixture to a large plate, grease the palms of your hands with oil and knead the dough till completely smooth and pliable. The dough should not stick to your palms. Rest the dough covered with a damp cloth.
  • Step 5: For the stuffing, combine the coconut and jaggery in a non-stick pan and cook on medium heat for one or two minutes till light golden brown. Make sure that you do not overcook the mixture. Add the roasted poppy seeds, cardamom powder and nutmeg powder, and mix well
  • Step 6: Divide the dough into twelve equal portions and shape them into balls. Grease the palms of your hands and spread each ball to form a three-inch bowl. Press the edges of the bowls to reduce the thickness.
  • Step 7: Place a portion of the stuffing in the centre; pleat the edges of the dough and gather them together to form a bundle. Pinch to seal the edges at the top.
  • Step 8: Heat sufficient water in a steamer. Place the modak on a perforated plate in the steamer and steam for ten to twelve minutes. 
  • Step 9: Serve hot modak with pure ghee.

There’s a lot more to learn about the variety of Indian festivals on SEEMA, check out our piece on The Festive Spirit of Onam for more!