How to Pray while 1 Billion Honor the Elephant God

Hindus of South Asia observe dozens of festivals throughout the year dedicated to the pantheon of gods.

During late August or early September—depending on lunar cycles of the Hindu calendar—Hindus celebrate one of their largest festivals: Ganesh Chaturthi. This festival commemorates the arrival of their lord Ganesh on earth.

Who is Ganesh?

According to Hindu mythology, the god Ganesh was born around this time of year. There are many versions of his story, but a popular one is that when he was a boy, Ganesh’s mother asked him to guard the door of their house while she bathed inside. While doing so, Ganesh’s father, the god Shiva, returned home from a long absence. Not recognizing his son after such a long time, Shiva demanded to be let inside so he could see his wife. Ganesh refused out of obedience to his mother, so Shiva cut off his head.

When Shiva realized he had killed his son, he found the nearest animal—an elephant—and gave its head to his son. Therefore, Ganesh is represented as the elephant-headed god with a man’s body. He is known as the god of success, wisdom, and prosperity who protects you and removes obstacles from your life.

Starting September 5, more than a billion Hindus—including 2.3 million in the United States—will begin their festivities for Ganesh Chathurthi.

How do Hindus Honor Ganesh?

During the ten-day festival, elaborate idols are created, people parade through the streets, and families gather together to worship Ganesh in their homes.

There are numerous detailed traditions involved in pooja (worship) to Ganesh. Many Hindus:

  • Buy a Ganesh idol and bring it into their home at the set, auspicious time
  • Cover him with a cloth when they aren’t performing worship to him
  • Take a bath, put on clean clothes, and bring an offering of fruit
  • Prepare a mixture of spices and offer them to him
  • Recite Sanskrit mantras from sacred texts
  • Bow down to Ganesh and ask him to fulfill all of their desires
  • At the end of the festival, throw the Ganesh idol into the ocean, lake or stream.

Starting in September, more than a billion Hindus—including 2.3 million in the United States—will begin their festivities for Ganesh Chaturthi. Follow their celebration with the ten-day prayer guide below, and pray they will find their hope in the living God.