For ten days since Ganesh Chaturthi which is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada (August-September), starting on the fourth day of the waxing moon period, the atmosphere reverberates with songs and prayers in praise of Lord Ganesh. This is particularly a major festival for the state of Maharashtra. (Read Swarupa’s vivid description of the festival at http://thegr8wall.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/the-ganesha-chaturthi-festival-of-india/)
Lord Ganesha idols are installed in homes and at community pandals and the celebrations commence with immense fervor culminating on Anant Chaturdashi, fourteenth day of the waxing moon period. On the tenth day, the idols are taken out for a procession with much fanfare and immersed in flowing water(ideally). The immersion or visarjan denotes the departure of Lord to his abode.
In Hindu dharma the God may be worshipped in two ways….Nirakaar or formless which is worshipped through meditation and Saakar or with form which is worshipped as deity.
The physical form of Lord is considered to be the incarnation as human body made of five elements…the air, water, fire, earth and ether. The human body returns to the heavenly abode as a formless soul and all five elements become a part of universe again. To represent the cycle of creation and dissolution in nature, the idols traditionally are to be sculpted from mud which again consists of the five elements of the universe. The mud is taken from nearby one’s home. On the tenth day the idol is immersed in a nearby water body where it dissolves returning the elements back to universe only to reincarnate again later next year.
The making of idol at home commemorates the creation of Lord Ganesha by his mother Godess Parvati or mother earth who fashioned him out of the dirt which she exfoliated off her divine body and then gave the inanimate statue a soul and life. (https://shomaabhyankar.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/elephant-headed-god-lord-ganesh/) There is a similar mention in story of Golem in Talmud scriptures.
Being a Maharashtrian Brahmin myself I too invited Lord Ganesha to our home. I decorated the temple at home and made all the sweetmeats that the Lord is fond of….the modaks, laddoos etc. But I am no sculptor. However I do paint so for my home I bought a small terracotta idol and helped my daughter paint it before doing the Pranpratishtha (invoking the soul of Lord himself to reside in the idol for ten days).
One of my cousins, Mr. Mihir Pendharkar is a sculpting enthusiast when it comes to Lord Ganesha’s idols. I have seen his creations when we were younger and from the days of making crude hand-made idols he has mastered the process now. Here is his this year’s creation.
While taking out the immersion procession, the devotees break out in frenzied song and dance with unbelievable energy and enthusiasm shouting their hearts out
“Ganpati Bappa Morya….pudchya varshi lavkar ya!!” (Praised be Lord Ganesha ….please return to our humble abodes next year again)