Ganesh Utsav 2023
Written by Karishma Nanhu, Heritage Preservation and Research Officer
Although I grew up practicing Hinduism, I never knew about Ganesh Utsav until early adulthood. My childhood memories are filled with various school and temple activities, but I cannot remember attending any Ganesh Utsav prayers. When I went to Ganesh Utsav prayers this year, I reflected on this, and I thought maybe I was happily ignorant as a child or maybe I really wasn’t paying attention to what was taking place. When I started my research on the religious celebration, I realized why I had never heard of Ganesh Utsav as a child.
Picture of our Ganesh murti with offerings for the Ganesh Utsav Visarjan, September 2023
Source: Karishma Nanhu
Ganesh Utsav or Ganesh Chaturhti is the 10–11-day celebration of the appearance of Bhagwan Ganesha, also referred to as Lord Ganesh. This is an auspicious period for Hindus and has deep spiritual and cultural significance. The timing of the festival is not fixed as it is observed according to the Hindu calendar (which follows the lunar cycle), and it usually occurs between mid-August and September on the Gregorian calendar. Ganesha is known as the remover of obstacles, and bestower of wisdom, knowledge and happiness. Hindus pray to him on all occasions, but especially before starting a new project, study programme or business.
How is Ganesh Utsav celebrated:
For the duration of the celebration Hindus in Trinidad fast from meat and alcohol and they worship Bhagwan Ganesha at home and at the temple. Worship is done though pooja, songs and aarti. Murtis are specially made from clay for the event and they are eco-friendly as Ganesha also teaches us to respect the environment. During temple services at night, Pundits tell the stories called kathas from the Hindu religious books, testimonies of Bhagwan Ganesha, and explain the significance of the festival. Prayers are chanted out loud, including the repetition of the names of Ganesha and stotrams (praises, odes or hymns). Offerings of parsad, including fruits and Bhagwan’s favourite sweets like ladoo; and darba (doob grass) are made to the murti, which is simply the physical representation of God. Typical of most Hindu religious practices, deeyas are lit, incense is burnt and flowers are used to adorn the murti.
Picture of Ganesh murti with offerings of doob grass, flowers, rice and parsad: fruits and ladoo (sweets). September, 2023
Source: Karishma Nanhu
The final day of the festival is called Anant Chaturthi. The festival culminates in taking the Ganesha murti on a grand procession through the streets, to a body of water, where it is immersed. Special prayers and offerings are made before the murti is immersed in the water. This ritual is called Visarjan, which means immersion. As previously mentioned, Ganesha is associated with new beginnings as well as being the remover of obstacles, therefore when the murti is immersed for Visarjan, it symbolically takes with it the obstacles of the home and the devotees. God takes away all obstacles and destroys them, clearing the way for new beginnings. Since the murti is made of clay, which is usually obtained from riverbanks, the Visarjan is a reminder that everything taken from this world is borrowed and must be returned; even with added value. Visarjan symbolizes the cycle of birth, life and death, and underscores the fact that everything in life is temporary.
The atmosphere at the Visarjan that I attended at Manzanilla beach with the Shri Chandra Vaas Ashram was lively and joyous. Singing and dancing are also a part of the last day festivities.
Picture of devotees of the Shri Chandra Vaas Ashram worshipping Bhagwan Ganesha at the Visarjan
Source: Karishma Nanhu
Picture of the Shri Chandra Vaas Ashram’s Ganesh murti with offerings at the Visarjan
Source: Karishma Nanhu
You can hear “Ganapati bappa moriya”, a popular expression associated with this festival, being exclaimed. It is both an exclamation of gratitude and a petition to Bhagwan Ganesha, thanking God for the opportunity to observe this festival and anticipating that life would be spared to enjoy the festival in the coming year. Take a look at the video below of the Visarjan at Manzanilla Beach.
If you would like to see what Ganesh Utsav celebrations in Trinidad looked like before the COVID-19 pandemic, take a look at this YouTube video of the Hari Mandir: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7G4aa-Xh0Q.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people were forced to observe Ganesh Utsav at home due to the restrictions. This tradition has continued. Families get together to make offerings and prayers to Ganesha at home and the Visarjan is also done at home. The pictures below show offerings and a Visarjan done at home.
Pictures showing offerings to Ganesha and Visarjan done at home by the Maraj family
Source: Varendra Maraj
In India, in the past Ganesh Utsav was mainly celebrated in the state of Maharashtra in a grand way. In recent times the festival has spread to other states such as Gujarat, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana. Furthermore, the celebration has gained more popularity among popular Bollywood stars and Indian tycoons (both Hindus and non- Hindus) who celebrate the festival with opulent ceremonies and feasts. The Utsav is observed in a similar manner in Mauritius, Fiji, Europe, Madagascar, the U.S.A, Canada, Guyana and Suriname.
Picture of Ganesh Utsav Celebrations in India
Source: Life away from Life.com
The tradition of Ganesh Utsav in Trinidad
In Trinidad, the tradition of observing Ganesh Utsav was indeed brought by indentured Indians, however for a long time it remained confined to southern Trinidad, in the Penal and Debe areas. According to Patasar (2023), it was only in the 1990s that celebrations of Ganesh Utsav began to spread from niche communities in southern Trinidad to other areas. The observance of Ganesh Utsav in places like Ramai Trace and Suchit Trace in Debe began as prayers to alleviate difficult times due to poor harvests. These communities were once united in their religious celebrations but for several reasons have separated (Patasar, 2023).
This year the Ganesh Utsav celebrations at Suchit Trace Ganesh Mandir were particularly special. 2023 marks 108 years since Ganesh Utsav has been celebrated by the Suchit Trace community and the number 108 has special meanings in Hinduism as it represents wholeness and completeness, and many aspects of the religion are tied to it. Both the Suchit Trace Ganesh Mandir and the Ramai Trace Temple have evolved from humble carat roofs and leepayed floors to brick-and-mortar structures.
The Suchit Trace temple was founded by indentured Indians over 115 years ago who came from south India. Their names were:
- Ori Sadhu, who was the head of the Panchayat (village council) and leader of the temple,
- Gangeeri Sadhu, who originally made the Ganesh murtis,
- Gujar Sadhu,
- Samai Sadhu,
- Magwa Sadhu.
Initially the villagers would perform the Visarjan in a pond formed by a natural spring which supplied the entire village with water. However due to pollution, a man-made pond was made specially for the event (Patasar, 2023).
Picture of the Visarjan done by devotees of Suchit Trace Temple, September 2023
Source: Anirudh Boodram
Mr Anirudh Boodram, President of the Suchit Trace Temple, described the experience as amazing. He reflected that this year from the early planning stages and throughout the festival everything went smoothly. The process for celebrating Ganesh Utsav at Suchit Trace is as follows. The persons who participate in the religious festival are called the poojaris. Mr Boodram explained that the poojaris start fasting 45 days before the Utsav. 15 days before the Utsav the poojaris, all young boys, make an offering to the murti at the temple. They then proceed to the river which is less than a mile from the mandir in Rahamut Trace where a pooja is performed. Then the dirt is dug from the riverbed and is taken to the Mandir, marking the beginning of the celebrations. This is all documented in a video at the end of the article, where Mr. Ramlal Samaroo of the Suchit Trace Temple gives a description of their preparations for Ganesh Utsav.
Pictures of the Suchit Trace Temple poojaris doing pooja before they collected dirt to make their Ganesh murti, September 2023
Source: Anirudh Boodram
Although I was unable to visit Suchit Trace Ganesh Mandir to witness the 108th year of Ganesh Utsav, this research has revealed even more nuances of how Hinduism is practised in Trinidad than I initially understood. Ganesh Utsav in Trinidad has grown from humble beginnings to grand celebrations. The festival marks the beginning of several auspicious events on the Hindu calendar, as it is followed by Pitri Paksh (honouring the ancestors), Navratri (honouring the divine feminine), Kaartik (the 8th month of the Hindu calendar, dedicated to worshipping Lord Vishnu) and Diwali (celebrating light over darkness and welcoming Mother Lakshmi into our homes and lives).
Personal Interview with Anirudh Boodram on 28.09.2023.
Personal Interview with Ramlal Samaroo on 27.09.2022.
‘Ganesh Chathurthi’. https://pujayagna.com/blogs/hindu-festivals/ganesh-chathurthi
‘Ganesh Chaturthi 2023: What is the story behind the tradition of Ganesh visarjan?’. Times of India. Updated: Sep 18, 2023. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/events/ganesha-chaturthi-2019-what-is-the-story-behind-the-tradition-of-ganesh-visarjan/articleshow/70878145.cms
‘Ganesh Chaturthi 2022 Date & Time: Puja Muhurat, Vrat Vihi, Fasting and Ganpati Visarjan information’. Times of India. Updated: Aug 30, 2022. Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/70906041.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
Life away from Life.com. https://www.lifeawayfromlife.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/ganesha-3.jpg
Pallavi, K. ‘Ganesh Chaturthi 2023: Date, history, significance, celebrations and all you need to know about Vinayaka Chaturth’i. Hindustan Times. Sep 19, 2023. Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/festivals/ganesh-chaturthi-2023-date-history-significance-celebrations-and-all-you-need-to-know-about-vinayaka-chaturthi-101694839631411.html
Patasar, S. ‘Dancing with Ganesh/ Backstory’. Caribbean Beat, Issue 178, September/ October 2023. Available at https://www.caribbean-beat.com/issue-178/dancing-with-ganesh-backstory#axzz8Ghl3jCSc