I am not a Hindu, but I stumbled upon a series of photos a few years back that struck me as rather poignant. They depict the rubble on a beach following the celebration of Ganesh Charturthi, or the birthday of Ganesh.
Two to three months prior to Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated & depict Lord Ganesh in various poses. The size of these statues may vary from 3/4th of an inch to over 25 feet.
Ganesh Chaturthi starts with the installation of these Ganesh statues in colorfully decorated homes and specially erected temporary structures mandapas (pandals) in every locality. The pandals are erected by the people or a specific society or locality or group by collecting monetary contributions. The mandapas are decorated specially for the festival, either by using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc. or are theme based decorations, which depict religious themes or current events.
The priest, usually clad in red silk dhoti and shawl, then symbolically invokes life into the statue by chanting mantras. This ritual is the Pranapratishhtha. After this the ritual called as Shhodashopachara (16 ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, 21 modakas, 21 durva (trefoil) blades of grass and red flowers are offered. The statue is anointed with red unguent, typically made of Kumkum & Sandalwood paste . Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda, the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and the Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted.
For 10 days, from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, Ganesha is worshipped. On the 11th day, the statue is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, and fanfare to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash while taking away with him the misfortunes of his devotees, this is the ritual known as Ganesh Visarjan. At individual homes the Visarjan is also done on 3rd, 5th or 7th day as per the family tradition. All join in this final procession shouting "Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya" (O lord Ganesha, come again speedily next year). After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor is made, people carry the statue to the river to immerse it.
The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak (modagam or modakam in South India). A modak is a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments. It is either steam-cooked or fried. Another popular sweet dish is the karanji (karjikaiin Kannada) which is similar to the modak in composition and taste but has a semicircular shape.
Public celebrations of the festival are hugely popular, with local communities (mandalas) vying with each other to put up the biggest statue & the best pandal. The festival is also the time for cultural activities like singing and theater performances, orchestra and community activities like free medical checkup, blood donation camps, charity for the poor, etc.
Today, the Ganesh Festival is not only a popular festival, it has become a very critical and important economic activity for Maharashtra. Many artists, industries, and businesses survive on this mega-event. Ganesh Festival also provides a stage for budding artists to present their art to the public. The same holds true for Hyderabad and Chennai too.
Ganesh Chaturthi in 2016 is on Monday, the 5th of September.
Ganesh Chaturthi (also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, Vinayaka Chavithi or sometimes Vinayagar Chaturthi) is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon period).
Below are the photos I mentioned at the top of the post.
source of photos: http://binscorner.com/pages/g/ganesh-murtis-after-visarjan-mumbai-chow.html
There has been a controversy as to the effect of the immersion of the statues of the gods (and their trappings) in natural bodies of water, because some of them are made of Plaster of Paris, which contains pollutants. Several solutions have been suggested, one of which is that the statues be made of traditional clay. To read more about this situation go HERE.