Ganesha Chaturthi also known as Ganeshotsav is a ten day festival which ends on Anant Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the waxing moon period). The dates of the festival vary from year to year, in 2013 Ganesh Chaturthi will fall on 9th September and Anant Chaturdashi will fall on 18th September. The story behind this festival goes like this:
Sushila and Kaundinya:
There was a Brahmin named Sumant. From his wife Diksha he had a daughter named Sushila. After the death of Diksha Sumant married Karkash, who began to give a lot of trouble to Sushila. Sushila married Kaundinya, and both decided to leave the house to avoid the harassment of the step-mother. On the way they stopped near a river. Kaundinya went to take bath, and Sushila joined a group of women who were performing worship. They told Sushila that they were worshipping "Anant". "What kind of worship is this?" Sushila asked. "Anant's Vow"
They told her that it was Anant's vow. Then they explained to her the importance of that vow. Some fried "Gharga" (made of flour) and "anarase" (special food) are prepared. Half of them have to be given to the Brahmins. A hooded snake (cobra) made of "darbha" (sacred grass) is put in a bamboo basket. Then the snake ("shesh") is worshipped with scented flowers, oil lamp and incense sticks. Food is offered to the snake and a silk string is kept before the god, and tied to the wrist. This string is called "anant", it has 14 knots, and is coloured with "Kunkum". Women tie the "anant" on their left hand and men on their right. The purpose of this vow is to obtain divinity and wealth, and is kept for 14 years.
After listening to this explanation Sushila decided to take the Anant vow. From that day she and her husband Kaundinya began to prosper and became very rich.
One day Kaundinya, noticed the Anant string on Sushila's left hand. When he heard the story of the Anant vow, he was displeased and maintained that they had become rich, not because of any power of Anant, but because of the wisdom he had acquired by his own efforts. A heated argument followed, and at the end Kaundinya took the Anant string from Sushila's hand and threw it into the fire.
After this all sorts of calamities happened in their life, and finally they were reduced to extreme poverty. Kaundinya understood that it was the punishment for having dishonoured "Anant", and decided that he would undergo rigorous penance until God Himself appeared to him.
In Search of Anant
Kaundinya went into the forest. There he saw a tree full of mangoes, but no one was eating the mangoes. The entire tree was attacked by worms. He asked the tree if he had seen Anant, but got a negative reply. Then Kaundinya saw a cow with her calf, then a bull standing on a field of grass without eating the grass. Then he saw two big lakes joined to each other with their waters mixing with one another. Further he saw a donkey and an elephant. To every one Kaundinya asked about Anant, but no one had even heard this name. Then he became desperate and prepared a rope to hang himself.
Then suddenly an old venerable Brahmin appeared before him. He removed the rope from Kaundinya's neck and led him into a cave. At first it was very dark. But then a bright light appeared and they reached a big palace. A great assembly of men and women had gathered. The old Brahmin went straight towards the throne.
Then Kaundinya could no longer see the Brahmin, but only Vishnu instead. Kaundinya realized that Vishnu himself had come to save him, and that Vishnu was Anant, the Eternal One. He confessed his sin in failing to recognize the Eternal in the string on Sushila's hand. Anant promised Kaundinya that if he made the 14-year-vow, he would be free from all his sins, and would obtain wealth, children and happiness.
Then Anant disclosed the meaning of what Kaundinya had seen during the search.
Anant explained that the mango tree was a Brahmin, who in a previous life had acquired plenty of knowledge, but had not communicated it to anyone. The cow was the earth, which at the beginning had eaten all the seeds of plants. The bull was religion itself. Now he was standing on a field of green grass. The two Lakes were two sisters who loved each other very much, but all their alms were spent on each other only. The donkey was cruelty and anger. Finally the elephant Kaundinya's pride.