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Secondary: Festivals of World Religions

The Hindu festival of Ganesh-Chaturthi
By Caroline Donne

Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar .


> Themes

  • Celebration
  • New beginnings
  • Overcoming difficulties


> Background

  • Be aware that students will have varying depths of knowledge of this story since the celebration of this festival and accounts of the story of Ganesh vary in different parts of India and among Hindu communities around the world. The story adapted for this assembly draws on one of the mainstream versions of the story, but students may be familiar with different ones. If there are Hindu pupils in the school you could invite them or a member of their families to speak about the festival, or to lend you any images or pictures they have of Ganesh.
  • The festival lasts for about 7 to 10 days. The last day is called Chaturthi.



> Materials

  • A picture of an elephant,
  • A picture of Ganesh.
    (Useful resources: D. Chatterjee, The Elephant-Headed God, Lutterworth Press, 1989; SHAP Working Party, Festivals in World Religions, RMEP, 1998; www.hindunet.org )


> Assembly

  1. Point out that for many millions of Hindus who live in India and around the world, the elephant is one of the most special creatures. This is because one of the most popular Hindu gods is depicted as having the head of an elephant and the body of a man. His name is Ganesh and his birth is celebrated at this time of the year.

    Go on to say that Hindus worship many gods and goddesses, but they believe that they are all aspects of one god: just like you’re one person, but you have many different characteristics (perhaps you’re kind, make people laugh and you’re brave). Ganesh is said to be wise, strong, gentle and kind; he can help with difficult problems.
  2. Tell the following story:

    Story

    Tell the following story of Ganesh, using the form below or in your own words.

    How did Ganesh get his elephant head? He didn’t always have it. The story goes rather like this.

    Ganesh’s mother was the goddess Parvati and his father was the god Shiva. One day, not long before Ganesh was born, his father Shiva went on a journey, leaving Parvati at home. Shiva was away for many years, and during that time Ganesh grew from a baby to a young man.

    One spring morning Ganesh was outside when he saw a stranger with long, matted hair, wearing animal skin and with snakes wriggling about him. The stranger wanted to come into the house! He looked frightening and dangerous. Ganesh stood in front of him and tried to stop him because he wanted to protect his mother. What Ganesh didn’t know was that this stranger was his father Shiva, and Shiva didn’t know that the boy was his son Ganesh. Shiva is known as a quick-tempered god, and he didn’t like anyone standing in his way. So he took his sword and cut off Ganesh’s head!

    At that moment Parvati came out, to see her husband with his sword in his hand and her son lying on the ground. ‘What have you done, what have you done?’ she cried. ‘You have killed our son.’ Shiva was truly sorry and promised to make things right again, by replacing Ganesh’s head with the head of the first living creature he saw.

    He searched for many miles. The first creature he saw was a baby elephant. And that’s why Ganesh has the head of an elephant and the body of a man. He has a rather chubby body too, because he is said to like eating sweet things.

  3. Explain that at this time of year Hindus celebrate the birth of Ganesh. In many places they make special images of Ganesh and pray to them. They offer him sweet puddings because they know he likes sweet things. They let off fireworks. They make huge images of him and take them on processions.
  4. Another thing Ganesh is known for is his beautiful handwriting and good spelling. He is often depicted holding one of his own tusks, dipped in ink, in one hand and a scroll of paper in the other. It is said that one of the longest poems in the world, telling one of the most important stories for Hindus (the Mahabharata), was dictated to Ganesh, and that he used the pointed end of his tusk dipped in ink to write down the words.
  5. Most importantly, Hindus pray to Ganesh before they start anything new, like getting married, moving house, starting a journey, or taking an exam. His image is sometimes placed where new houses are to be built. Hindus believe Ganesh is ‘the remover of obstacles’: he helps with problems or difficulties that get in the way.


> Focus on themes

Hindus pray to Ganesh because they believe he is wise and he helps at the beginning of new projects or when they start new things.

Talk about the new things that might be happening in the lives of the students. Ask them what words they would use to describe how it feels to start something new (e.g. scared, excited, not sure what will happen).

What helps them when they have to do something new? For example, would they talk to a friend or someone in their family? Think carefully about what they would do? Ask God to help?

Talk about the Hindu idea of many gods and goddesses all being aspects of one god. Do the students find this a useful idea? Is it also a good way to think about ourselves?

 


> Time for reflection

Sometimes starting something new feels frightening.
Sometimes starting something new feels exciting.
Sometimes it’s difficult to start something new
because there are so many things in the way:
reasons why we shouldn’t start, people who try to stop us, things we’d rather do.
This is the way when starting something new and it helps to know that many people share this mixture of feelings.

You could turn this into a prayer by adding:

God of new beginnings, please help us with the new things we do today.
Amen




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