Vinayaka Chathurthi–Birthday of Ganesha the elephant headed God!!

Lord Ganesha’s birthday is celebrated all over India with great enjoyment and celebrations. Known as Vinayaka Chaturthi the festival is observed in the month of Aavani (August-September) on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of
the waxing moon). The festival lasts for 10 days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi.

Vinayaka/ Ganesha, the son of Lord Shiva and Parvathi, is worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and is always the first deity who is invoked in any pooja/prayer as he is the remover of obstacles. Every other pooja begins with a little dedication to Ganesha. This day is however specially dedicated to him and all his favourite food is cooked that day. A snake acts as a belt around his gigantic stomach and he sits on the rat, his vehicle. Ganesha is shown holding in each of  his four hands a trishul (trident), an ankush (weapon) made from his own broken tooth, a lotus and his favourite food modhaka or kozhakattai (a dumpling) .

How Ganesha got his elephant head

This story is narrated about Ganesha’s birth and how he came to have the head
of an elephant. Once upon a time, the Goddess Parvati, while bathing, created
Ganpathi (head of Ganas, the soldiers of Siva) from the mud and turmeric that was applied to her body. She breathed life into him and asked him to guard the entrance of the house. (Single parenting in those days). She told him not to allow anyone to enter while she went inside for a bath. The wandering Lord Shiva returned home quite thirsty and was stopped by Ganpathi at the gate as he did not recognize his father. Shiva became angry and cut off Ganpati’s head as he thought Ganpathi was an upstart, outsider. When Parvati came to know of this, she was grief stricken. To console her, Shiva ordered his disciples to cut off and bring to him the head of any creature that was sleeping with its head to the north. The disciples went on their mission and found only an elephant in that position. The Ganas brought back the elephant’s head and Shiva then connected it the body of Ganpathi. Shiva also gave a boon that the first worship in any event would be to Lord Ganesha.

In remembrance of this, in Tamizh Nadu this ecologically friendly Ganesha is made from fresh clay and two red/black beads called kundumani is placed as his eyes. People used to take the idol from the mud in the backyards of homes and the worship was a homely affair. Now it is a cottage industry and the idol is made with readymade moulds. The idol is brought home, placed on a banana leaf on top of a wooden platform decorated with a wet kolam (geometric design). A decorated paper umbrella is placed at the back extending over the Lord’s head. The figure is decorated with a gold chain and a small dhothi  draped around his torso. After worship, on the third day, he is immersed in a nearby water body.

The custom of setting up painted, gigantic sized Ganeshas in public pandals for worship and taken in a procession for Visarjan or immersion on the tenth day is a custom brought in from Maharashtra.

Crowds at immersion in Mumbai

Immersing Ganesha in the sea

Ganesha holds a very special place in Tamizh culture. He had an important role to play in the life of the Tamizh God Muruga. Sage Narada brought a mango to Kailash. The sons of Siva and Parvathi, Ganesha and Karthikeya demanded the fruit. Finally it was decided that the first one to finish circumambulating the world would get the golden mango. Karthikeya immediately got onto his peacock and sped around the world. Ganesha was not so agile, given his physical dimensions and decided that the only way to win this competition was through intelligence. He quickly ran around his parents who were seated in Mount Kailash.

When Kartikeya came and demanded the mango as his for having gone round the
world first, Ganesha said that his parents were his world! Ganesha was given
the mango and Kathikeya or Muruga went away in a miff and settled on the
Pazhani mountain. This was the place that Siva was tutored by his son Muruga
and Tamizh the language was generated.

Ganesha played Cupid for Muruga when he was wooing Valli, a gypsy girl. He went as an elephant and frightened Valli who ran to Muruga who was dressed like an old man and asked him to save her. That was the beginning of the romance that led to Muruga marrying Valli. An unusual feature of these two brothers, Ganesha and Kartikeya is that while Ganesha is a bachelor in the South and the older brother, he is supposed to be the younger sibling with two wives, Riddhi, Buddhi in the North. Skanda or Kartikeya is the
elder in Northern worship and considered as a martial deity. In Tamil Nadu,  Muruga is the most important deity and considered to be the father of Tamizh language and married to Valli and Devasena.

Festivity in India means feasting. The feast for Ganesh Chathurthi is normally made of dishes in odd numbers—5,7,9 or 11 varieties and numbers of each item. During the pooja white and red flowers and all types of grasses and leaves are used for the worship. Betel leaves, betel nuts, coconuts, plantains,
guavas, wood apple, country apple and tender cucumbers are also offered.

A special milk pudding is cooked for all pujas as an offering. For Ganesha one special payas is cooked.

Paruppu Payasam        dhal pudding

3 cups                                      Milk/Coconut milk
2 tablespoons                          Green gram/Moong dhal
2 tablespoons                          Bengal gram/Chana dhal
1 tablespoon                           Rice flour
2 tablespoons                          Coconut, grated and blended
½ cup                                      Jaggery/Molasses/Gur/brown sugar
1 tablespoon                           Cashewnuts
½ teaspoon                             Cardamom/Elaichi powder
1 tablespoons                          Clarified butter/Ghee


1.Break cashewnuts into medium bits and fry in a teaspoon of ghee until golden and set aside.

2. Soak the dhals in hot water for 15 minutes and cook until mushy. Or pressure cook for 2-3 whistles. Mash lightly  and set aside.

3. Add rice flour and the blended coconut to the dhals .

4. Add ½ cup water to jaggery and melt over a low flame. Strain to remove scum.

5. Heat and boil the milk.  Lower the flame and thicken for 6-7 minutes,
stirring now and then.

6. In a deep non-stick pan, add the jaggery liquid, the rice and coconut paste and the gram paste and stir well.

7. Lower the flame before adding the boiling milk and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cashewnuts and cardamom powder. Stir in the ghee and take  off the flame.

Tasty Tip: Substitute ready-made coconut milk. Take care before adding milk to the payasam. It may split.

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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8 Responses to Vinayaka Chathurthi–Birthday of Ganesha the elephant headed God!!

  1. Rummuser says:

    Wonderful. I am very happy that you have posted this. You may not know this, but the annual ten day pooja for Ganesha that we used to have ever since Amma started it in our place at koratti, has been discontinued in our place the last three years. I simply did not have the heart to continue, but know that Ganesha understands.


    • padmum says:

      Ya Ganesha is a COOL deity–he adapts to every heart..non-demanding..even coconut water will do to satisfy him. Don’t worry. I too am finding it quite a strain to keep up with traditions…but as long as good house help, I may do it.


  2. Grannymar says:

    Thank you Padmini. Fantastic to learn more about the background to your celebrations and a recipe to boot!


  3. Lovely write up on Lord Ganesha!!!! and a good recipe too!! thank you


  4. Rohit says:

    Great post. Learned something new today..never knew of the role reversal of Ganesha and Murugan. Interesting..

    Hope you are having a great time this festival season


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