Ganesh Chaturthi is the birthday of Lord Ganesh, the son of Shiva & Parvati. Ganesh Chaturthi or Ganesh Utsav falls on the fourth day of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (around August-September). It is also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi in Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu.
To celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi you require an idol of Lord Ganesha. This particular idol will be used in the puja or worship that lasts for odd number of days (from 1 to 11 days, sometimes 13). During the festival, puja is performed twice every day - once in the morning and again in the evening. The Ganesha idol is offered sweets and fruits and worshipped in the traditioanl way. Lord Ganesha is known for his fondness for food and the main sweet-dish during the festival is modhak and karanjis. This is known as modhagam [kozhakottai] in South India. A modhak is a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of coconut, jaggery and some other condiments. It can be either steam-cooked or fried and the coconut can be fresh/dry grated. A karanji is similar but has the shape of the 4th day moon. Modhak means "That which gives (or brings) happiness".
Recipes for making different Modhaks or kozhakottai - Sweet, Salt, Sesame, Hot/Kaara
The festival comes to an end with the visarjan ceremony. On this day, the idols of Ganesha are taken from various pandals, doorsteps, localities and puja rooms for a truly royal ride. Processions of people carry the idol to a river, lake or ocean and immerse the idols there hoping for them to return early next year.
Today Ganesha Festival is also a street festival where every street owners collectively celebrate the festival. Each street compete with each other in a healthy way to have the best decorations and celebrations. There will be a lot of cultural activities, songs, dramas and orchestra. In Karnataka, the day before Ganesh Chaturthi is assigned for Gowri Puja, when Ganesha's mother, Goddess Gowri or Parvati, is worshipped. The day is especially auspicious to married women, who pray to the Goddess for lasting marital bliss. Here the festival is also known as Gowri Ganesha.
The Legend goes that once, Ganesha accidentally tripped and fell, breaking one of his tusks in the process (this is also said to be one of the reasons for Ganesha's half or missing tusk). Chandradev (Moon God) saw this and laughed. Ganesha, being the short-tempered one, cursed Chandradev that anyone who happens to see the moon will incur bad luck. Hearing this, Chandradev realised his folly and asked for forgiveness from Ganesha. Ganesha relented and since a curse cannot be revoked, only softened, Ganesha softened his curse such that anyone who looks at the moon during Ganesh Chaturthi will be falsely accused ccused of theft or crime. If someone accidently sees the moon on this night, he/she may remedy the situation by listening to (or reciting) the story of the syamantaka jewel found in the Puranas.
The story summary is as follows, Satrajit, who secured a jewel syamantaka from Surya (Sun God), did not part with it even when Krishna the Lord of Dvaraka, asked for it saying it would be safe with him. Prasena, the brother of Satrajit went out hunting wearing the jewel but was killed by a lion. Jambavan of the Ramayana fame killed the lion and gave it to his son to play with. When Prasena did not return, Satrajit falsely accused Krishna of killing Prasena for the sake of the jewel. Krishna, in order to remove the stain on his reputation, set out in search of the jewel and found it in Jambavan's cave, with his child. Jambavan attacked Krishna thinking him to be an intruder who had come to take away the jewel. They fought each other for 28 days, when Jambavan, his whole body terribly weakened from the blows of Krishna's fists, finally recognized Him as Lord Rama.
As a repentance for him having fought Krishna, Jambavan gave Krishna the jewel and also his daughter Jambavati in marriage. Krishna returned to Dvaraka with the jewel, and returned it to Satrajit, who in turn repented for his false accusation. He promptly offered to give Krishna the jewel and his daughter Satyabhama in marriage. Krishna accepted Satyabhama as his wife but did not accept the jewel.