Ganesh Puja or Ganesh Chaturthi is very much a popular Hindu festival, celebrated every year in a grand manner in almost all the states of India. Ganesh Chaturthi is otherwise known as the birthday of Lord Ganesha and the day is recognized for most sacred to Lord Ganesha. It falls on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada (August - September) and is observed throughout India, as well as by committed Hindus in all parts of the world.
Lord Ganesha is described and depicted as a God with the elephant head, in Hindu Mythology. God Ganesha is considered primary God and is worshiped first in any prayers.
When Goddess Gauri (wife of Lord Shiva) once, while bathing, created Ganesha as a pure white being out of the mud of Her Body and placed Him at the entrance of the house. She told Him not to allow anyone to enter while she went inside for a bath. Lord Shiva Himself was returning home quite thirsty and was stopped by Ganesha at the gate. Shiva became angry and cut off Ganesha's head as He thought Ganesha was an outsider. When Gauri came to know of this she was sorely grieved. To console her grief Shiva ordered His aids to cut off and bring to Him the head of any creature that might be sleeping with its head facing north. The servants went on their mission and found only an elephant in that position. The sacrifice was thus made and the elephant's head was brought before Shiva. The Lord then joined the elephant's head onto the body of Ganesha.
Lord Shiva then made His son worthy of worship at the beginning of all undertakings, marriages, expeditions, studies, etc. He intended that the annual worship of Ganesha should take place on the 4th day of the bright half of Bhadnpada. Without the Grace of Sri Ganesha and His help nothing whatsoever can be achieved. No action can be undertaken without His support, Grace or blessing.
During the few days of Ganesh Chaturthi festival, magnificently shaped Ganesh idols are set up in the Mandaps (pandals or tents) that are richly decorated, depicting religious themes or current events. There are huge public displays of Ganesh idols with Aarti (song of devotion to God) and loud music and dancing by the devotees.
This activity is most popular in the cities Bombay and Pune
The Puja can even be a simple one carried out with family members within the household and to the accompaniment of a cassette of Shri Ganesh mantras, or an elaborate one, involving a priest who would come home and perform the puja. 'Modak' is the most famous and most typical food preparation of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in the state of Maharashtra. The sweet that made in the southern parts of India slightly differs and the name of the special sweet made on this special occasion here is Kozhukattai (Tamil) and this have different names in other states of South India.
As long as the Ganesh idol is at home, Aarti is performed morning and evening (dusk, or at the hour when artificial lamps are lighted in the house). At the same time, all the members present throw Kumkum on the idol.
After the Aarti, flowers, grass (in south India) Haldi (turmeric powder), sandal and Kumkum are offered to the women, and Prasad (made of dried desiccated coconut mixed with castor sugar) is distributed to all those present. During Ganesh Chaturthi, Aarti is performed five or more times to the Ganesh idol, followed by Vitthal, Shankar (Shiva), Devi (Parvati) and Dattatreya (Kartikeya).
Ganesha as their tutelary deity repeat this Mantra or Om Sri Ganeshaya Namaha.
In his first lesson in the alphabet a Maharashtrian child is initiated into the Mantra of Lord Ganesha, Om Sri Ganeshaya Namaha. Only then is the alphabet taught.