Written by Vanamali Devi
Our Puranas (books on the stories of the gods) are studded with stories of an amazing variety of gods and goddesses who are the dynamic representations of the abstract Supreme Power called Brahman, as given in the Vedas. These stories are not fairy tales, but they are the reflections of the revelations of the rishis. The rishis realised that it was imperative to create ideals of perfection for the society in order to help it evolve to higher states of consciousness. Their language is couched in mysticism since that was the only way in which these great esoteric secrets could be communicated to the normal human being whose mind is conditioned by names and forms from birth onwards. The Puranic stories are like abstract paintings that suggest a different dimension to the mind and enable it to comprehend the intangible ideas that are expressed through these forms. The mind of man has to learn to focus on some form that inspires him before proceeding to the formless.
The figure of Ganesha has a deep spiritual significance. It symbolises the idea of the emergence of life from earth and the unfolding of consciousness from matter. His dual form of animal and human points out to us that we too can aspire to a supra-mental level even though we have come from an animal background. The apparently ludicrous figure of Ganesha mounted on a small mouse is actually a representation of this theme and meant to give an impetus to the human being to realise his own inner divinity. Ganesha is the first letter in the alphabet of symbolic forms devised by the rishis.
He is the most popular of the gods in the Hindu pantheon. Even votaries of other gods have to pay obeisance to him before starting their rituals to their own chosen deity. Hindus start all religious ceremonies and even worldly affairs of importance by breaking a coconut to Ganesha. He represents the power of the intelligent will unfolding the spiritual life from the world of matter. Hence, he is associated with the Mooladhara Chakra at the base of the spine which denotes the element “earth”. He is said to be God of gravity that is the base of all existence. Anyone who wants to get into the Hindu fold has to supplicate Ganesha first.
Vyasa is the great sage or rishi who is the author of the eighteen Puranas. He was a master story teller. He said that stories serve as pools in which the reflection of Reality can be caught. The subtle essence of Reality can be caught only through allegories, symbols and stories. They have to be read with the sensitive heart of an artist and not with the carping intellect of the scientist. If we listen to them with the innocence of a child, they will open our hearts to a vast vista of mysticism and romance for which the human heart actually craves.
Vyasa saw the totality of nature, both her outer physical phenomena as well as her inner invisible psyche. The forms of the various gods and Ganesha in particular are the visible signs for expressing the invisible. One who meditates on these symbols will be able to penetrate the subtle psychic presence in them and attain a comprehensive view of the totality of the cosmos. He will also be able to dive into the recesses of his own psyche and get higher spiritual experiences. This is the truth underlying the often-bizarre forms of the Hindu gods as in the case of Ganesha. They translate the Infinite in terms of the finite and the spiritual in terms of the material. By fostering our faith in the symbols and forms of the deities we can establish a rapport with the deity that will draw us closer to the Supreme, of which they are reflections. In this unique way Vyasa succeeded in getting the incomprehensible Supreme, reflected in the liquid poetry of the Puranic literature and created a myriad forms or altars for worship which would be suitable for different personalities.
Now let us first see what the word Ganesha or Ganapati implies. The word “gana” comes from the root “gan” which means to count. “Ganya” means limited and “aganya” means unlimited or infinite. “Ganya” includes the whole of manifold creation, everything that the human intellect can comprehend. Therefore, Ganapati is the Lord of all finite things. He is also “Ganyaapati” — Lord of everything in creation. The “aganya” or Infinite has taken on a finite form as Ganapati or Ganesha in order to
uplift humanity out of these finite forms. The ganas are the subtle creative powers and elements that cause diversity and create obstructions in the universe. Since he is Ganapathy or the leader of the ganas, we have to contact him so that these obstacles can be removed. He not only removes obstacles from our physical life but also from our spiritual life. When a devotee takes a wrong path, he also places obstacles in our way so that we are forced to take a different path which is better for us.
The most striking thing about Ganesha is his elephant head. There is a deep esoteric reason for this. The elephant is the largest of the vegetarians in the animal world. In fact, it is the most powerful and massive creature on earth. It is long-lived, vigorous, has a large brain and an excellent memory. Elephants can be trained to become great friends of the human being. You find that in Nature animals that are feared by men and beasts alike are all predators and flesh eaters. No one fears a vegetarian giant. This is one of the reasons that the elephant was chosen as a most auspicious symbol in Hinduism. Most houses in India have an idol or picture of Ganesha at the front so that they can pray to him before going out.
An elephant’s trunk is the most amazing instrument known to man. Human ingenuity still has not been able to devise such an instrument. It is capable of lifting huge logs of wood as well as of picking up small pins lying on the ground. With this trunk, Ganesha is capable of removing every obstacle in the path of his devotee. His large ears act like antenna to receive all possible sounds and thus he can easily gauge every situation. In an esoteric sense he can discern the real from the unreal. His huge belly is a symbol of the whole universe. Everything emerges from the cauldron of his belly. His small eyes show his ability to make minute observations.
The fact that the insignificant mouse is his vehicle is the most enigmatic portion of his figure. According to Hinduism, consciousness is ingrained even in the grains of sand. It turns into intelligence after passing through many rudimentary forms. The mouse is a fitting symbol for this. It is a creature of the earth and lives in burrows and holes in the ground. Its body touches the earth all the time. It cares only for the satisfaction of its palate. It has a primitive intelligence encased in ignorance. It is restless, avaricious and worried. On the other hand, the elephant is the symbol of power and wisdom. The fact that Ganesha rides on such a creature shows that the liberated man keeps his worldly desires completely under control. The picture of Ganesha mounted on a mouse shows that the human being has the power to be calm and majestic and reach the infinite source of all power. However, most of us continue to be rats and rush about in the rat race of life, fighting and squabbling over trivialities. Thus, his whole image is a graphic picture of the immense possibility of the human being to reach the heights of consciousness.
There are many accounts of the birth of Ganesha. The most popular one comes from the Shiva Purana. Once when Shiva had retired to the high Himalayan peaks for his meditation, Parvati felt a bit unsafe when she went for her bath to the pool since she had only two female attendants. In those days there was no soap, so she had smeared a mixture of turmeric, sandal powder, mud and various other unguents over her body. Before she got into the water, she scraped this out and made a beautiful figure of a boy. Parvati is Prakriti or Nature which is latent with infinite creative potency. It gives birth to life that emerges and evolves and eventually turns into consciousness in the human being. So, she breathed life into the figure of the boy she had made. She made him stand at the door of the path leading to the pond and told him to obstruct anyone who tried to enter.
When Shiva returned from his meditation, he found his way barred by the child who absolutely refused to let him in. Shiva sent his ganas to rout the boy, but they were defeated and eventually Shiva himself came and cut off his head. Parvati was distraught to see the headless torso of her boy and threatened to destroy the whole world if her son was not restored to her. Shiva immediately sent the ganas to cut off the head of the first creature they found who was sleeping with his head turned to the north. As it happened, they found an elephant and brought his head and Shiva fixed it on the torso. The priests muttered some mantras and the body came to life. The body was that of a boy and the head was that of the elephant. Parvati was delighted to see her son alive even though he had the head of an elephant.
She took him on her lap and christened him “Vi-nayaka”, the one who is born without a sire. This happened on the fourth day of the bright fortnight of the month of Bhadra (August/September) and hence this day is celebrated as his birthday. When his trunk is turned to the right his figure is a representation of the mantra Aum as written in Sanskrit.
Actually, the fourth day of the bright half of every lunar month is believed to be the day for Ganesha and is known as Siddhi Vinayaka Chaturti. However, the fourth day of the bright fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada (August/September) is the most important and is known as Mahasiddhi Vinayaka Chaturti. As mentioned above, this is the day on which Parvati created Ganesha. It was on this day that his first birthday was celebrated in Kailasa.
This festival had been celebrated in Maharashtra for centuries in private homes but the great Marathi ruler Shivaji made it a public event in order to foster nationalist sentiments among his subjects while they were fighting the Mughuls. Later when the British banned political rallies, this festival was revived by the great leader Lokamanya Bala Gangadhara Tilak who made it into a national festival. He hoped that when people came together to celebrate the birth of a god, they would forget their differences and stand united as the citizens of one country – Bharat. He was one of the fore-runners of the Indian national movement to free the country from the British. Today Ganesha has become so popular that the festival is celebrated all over the world.
The Mahabharata gives the mythological story of this festival. The Pandava king, Yudhistira once asked Krishna the reason why people who do many good deeds get no rewards. Krishna replied that Ganesha had been specifically created for giving benefit to those whose good deeds had not been rewarded. He recommended that the fourth day of the bright fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada should be kept aside exclusively for the worship of Ganesha especially by those who suspected that their good deeds were not being recognised.
On the day of Ganesh Chaturti, devotees are advised not to see the moon. It is believed that one who sees the moon on Ganesh Chaturti will get Mithya Dosham or Mithya Kalank, which means that they will be falsely accused of stealing.
This year, Ganesha Chaturti falls on Friday, September 10, 2021. As per Vedic astrology, Madhyanna Kala or mid-morning is considered to be the most appropriate time for Ganesha Puja. This year the auspicious time for the puja is from 11:03 am to 13:33 (Duration: 02 hours 30 mins)
A simple method of worship is as follows:
- A small shrine should be made facing East or N. East and if possible, the Ganesha yantra should be drawn or kept on the ground.
- A copper vessel containing Ganga jal or consecrated water should be kept on top of the yantra.
- A coconut from which most of the fibre has been removed should be placed on top of the pot containing water. The head of the coconut should have just a bit of fibre pointing upward. A red thread should be tied round it and whole rice grains should be scattered over it.
- An idol of Ganesha preferably made of mud should be kept in front of the pot. In the morning the devotee should take a bath and prepare the things for the puja which should be kept on one side of the altar. These are a ghee lamp, incense, camphor, water, flowers, fruits, dhruv grass and some “modakams” which are sweet balls made with rice and jaggery which Ganesha likes very much.
- The devotee should then sit in front and meditate on him and beg him to come and take his place in the idol she has kept in front.
- After this she should pour a few drops of water over him and on his feet. Then a small cloth should be offered to him. Then some flowers and dhruv grass should be offered at his feet. Each time you offer a flower or grass you should chant one of his names. If this is too difficult, you can offer one flower or grass with the Vedic mantra “Aum Gam Ganapataye Namaha!” This should be done twenty-one times.
- After this is over, you can wave an incense stick before him and then show the lamp and offer some drops of water and finally the prasad which can consist of fruits, modakams and whatever else you like to offer.
- At the end of this you should present some betel leaf and nuts to him.
- Finally, you do the arati with lights and camphor and prostrate before him.
- At the end of the puja, the prasad should be distributed to all those who are present.
This puja should be done for three, five or ten days depending on your convenience and on the last day the idol should be immersed in some water. Another novel idea which many people are doing now is to keep the mud figure in a mud flower pot and fill it with mud and water and plant a flower in it. Thus, it will not pollute any water and you will get a special flower in your garden with Ganesha’s blessings.
The ceremony in which he is immersed in water is known as visarjan. The ritual is done to signify the birth cycle of Lord Ganesha. Parvati created him from the earth so we make his statue out of earth. The idol is immersed in water so that Ganesha may return to his home after his ‘stay’ at the devotees’ home or temple where his rituals are conducted. While it might seem like a good idea to skip the visarjan and keep hosting the God for fortune and prosperity, it is said that the power that suffuses the statue after 10 days of worship is all a human can bear. So it is not to be kept longer!
In cities the idol is taken to the sea or river and immersed in some water body. The devotees take the idol through the streets, singing, dancing and shouting ‘Ganapati Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya’ in which we beg the Lord to return the next year.
The breaking of coconuts in front of Ganesha in order to remove all obstacles on our path is an offering that is very special to him. This has an esoteric significance as is usual with all Hindu rituals. The coconut represents our prarabdha karma or the karma of our past lives for which we are either being rewarded or punished now in this life. When we break the coconut, we should have the mental attitude that we are offering this load of karma to him and begging him to deliver us from them. The outer fibrous covering of the coconut represents the gross body which carries a lot of desires and attachments. Before breaking the coconut, we have to remove this fibre of attachments. Then we break the hard shell which is our ego and then expose the white kernel of our pure desire to be united with him. Finally, the sweet water of our love is poured over him. In South India we always break a coconut before we start on a journey or before we start some new enterprise.
May Ganesha’s blessings flow over all those who read this, and may he remove all the obstacles in their path!
Aum Ganeshaaya Namaha!