Educational Insight: Pancha Ganapati

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The Family Festival of Giving

Educational Insight: Pancha GanapatiFrom the teachings of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

Think of Pancha Ganapati as the Hindu Christmas, a modern winter holiday full of family-centered happenings, but with five days of gifts for the kids, not just one. From December 21 to 25, Hindus worship Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed Lord of culture and new beginnings. Family members work to mend past mistakes and bring His blessings of joy and harmony into five realms of their life, a wider circle each day: family, friends, associates, culture and religion.

Pancha Ganapati is a modern Hindu festival honoring the Five-Faced (pancha means “five”) Maha Ganapati—Lord of Categories. It falls during the 30 days of the ancient Markali Pillaiyar home festival and lasts for five days—from December 21 through 25.

The winter solstice has always been a festive time of year in all countries and religions—among Hindus especially, for it this a traditional season for the worship of Lord Ganesa. In Hindu Vedic astrology this time of year marks the end of the sun’s southward movement and the beginning of its movement north, the change from dakshinayana to uttarayana.

Since most Hindus do not celebrate Christmas, they may find it difficult to relate in a meaningful way to those who do. Their children are often embarrassed when asked why they do not receive gifts on December 25. Adults feel the need to give gifts and mail greeting cards as well as receive them from their relatives, neighbors, friends and business associates. Pancha Ganapati is a Hindu expression of this natural season of worship, gift-giving and celebration.

December 25 and the days that precede and follow it have become a special time of year for people of many religions, and for the non-religious as well. In fact, this season has become so universally observed that it is popularly considered a secular, cultural holiday in addition to its special observance by certain religions. Recognizing this fact, the US Supreme Court ruled that Christmas is a secular, social holiday. This is because it has become a time for everyone to rejoice, give and share their abundance, each in their own way.

What Happens on Each of the Five Days?

Each day, using lights, festoons and cloth, the shrine is decorated in the color of the day. Before the puja, a tray of sweets, fruits and incense is prepared and offered to Lord Ganapati, ideally by the children. Chants and songs are sung in His praise. After the worship, diverse sweets are shared by one and all. Each day colorfully wrapped gifts are given to the children, who place them before Pancha Ganapati to open on the fifth day. The adults receive gifts, too! Some families keep a five-faced murti just for this festival and on each day worship one of the five faces of Pancha Ganapati.

How Is the Home Decorated?

Lord Ganesha is depicted as coming from the forest; therefore, pine boughs, bamboo, palm fronds or banana leaves may be used for decoration. Durva grass, sugarcane, garlands of limes, vadai or sweet modaka enhance the home shrine. Flashing lights, oil lamps and colorful cloth and hanging ornaments are often added. After each puja, the sweets prepared for the day are given to the children.