Ganesh Chaturthi - Festival of the birthday of the elephant-headed god
Considers how to overcome obstacles with reference to the Hindu god, Ganesha (SEAL theme 1: New beginnings). This assembly is taken from Primary School Assemblies for Religious Festivals (SPCK, 2012).
by Alan M. Barker
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To consider how to overcome obstacles with reference to the Hindu god, Ganesha (SEAL theme 1: New beginnings).
Preparation and materials
- Be aware that children will vary in how well they know this story and what version they know as the celebration of this festival and accounts of the story of Ganesha vary in different parts of India and among Hindu communities around the world.
- The festival lasts for about seven to ten days and is held between mid-August and mid-September, with the exact date fixed by the lunar calendar.
- Find an image or statue of the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, images of elephants at work (optional), PowerPoint slides to display key phrases – ‘stop and think’, ‘don’t rush’, ‘take one step at a time’, ‘don’t panic’, ‘keep trying’, ‘ask for help’, for example – around an appropriate image (optional).
- Show the image or statue of Ganesha.
Introduce the image or statue of the god Ganesha. He will be recognized by those of Hindu faith who celebrate his birthday during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi.
- Say that the appearance of Ganesha is explained by a sacred story, of which there are many different versions.
One of the commonest stories is that, in a fit of temper, the god Shiva cut off the child Ganesha’s head. Little did he know that Ganesha was a child created by his lovely wife, Parvati. Shiva went into the forest searching for a new head for his son. An elephant was the first creature he saw. He used the head to restore Ganesha to life. Parvati was pleased. ‘Now Ganesha will be strong and wise’, she said.
- Show the images of elephants at work, if using.
Refer to how the strength of elephants is used in some parts of Asia to complete difficult tasks, such as removing logs from dense plantations. The age to which elephants live is thought to make them wise. They are creatures that move slowly and thoughtfully. It is said that ‘elephants never forget’.
- Continue by saying that Hindus believe Ganesha is a very special god. He is the god of beginnings and thought to be able to remove obstacles. (The term ‘obstacle’ can be explained by reference to an obstacle race – an obstacle is a challenge or difficulty that gets in the way and stops progress.) Prayers are offered to Ganesha when people start a journey or make other new beginnings.
- Focus on the obstacles that those in your school community might encounter at the beginning of the new term or during daily learning. Reflect that we all get stuck sometimes and new beginnings aren’t always easy. Invite the school community to consider ways in which obstacles can be removed and overcome.
- Show the PowerPoint slides of the key words, phrases and image you have put together, if using.
Affirm the effectiveness of such an approach. Acknowledge that, while obstacles can’t always be removed, often they are not quite as big or impossible to deal with as we imagine.
- If not using the PowerPoint slides, conclude with the following story, told as a warning, should anyone ever be tempted to laugh at another person’s difficulty.
Ganesha was well known for his enormous appetite. Once he ate so much at a feast that he couldn’t stand up! As he struggled to his feet, the moon began to laugh. Ganesha was so angry that he cursed the moon and everyone looking at it. As a result, in some places, people believe that it’s unlucky to look at the moon on Ganesha Chaturthi, the birthday of the elephant-headed god.
Time for reflection
Reflect that it’s certainly unkind and unwise to laugh at anyone who is struggling with difficulty. Like Ganesha, we should help one another to overcome obstacles. Invite the children to quietly think or pray. Introduce this thought:
A long journey is made up of many small steps . . . and the first step towards overcoming an obstacle is to believe that we can!
‘When I needed a neighbour’ (Come and Praise, 65)
‘Give it all you’ve got!’ (Songs for Every Assembly, Out of the Ark Music)