Today is Ganesh Chaturti – a festival celebrated all over India and other parts of the world.
I recall landing in Mumbai one early morning from Germany. As my taxi waded its way through the meandering Mumbai streets to my hotel, I saw a sight that stayed with me forever. The streets were “jam-packed” (an Indian English word that captures the experience of true lack of space like no other word can) with Ganesha idols – small, big and BIG, the vehicles carrying them and the people dancing and moving around in procession. Devotional songs blared from mobile loud speakers (yes, they were LOUD!). Smiling, happy faces everywhere. Whatever one may say about India, it definitely is not a sad country! Ganesh Chaturti is celebrated in Maharashtra like no other place in the world. Boisterous and joyous! The sea of people join as one dot.
What does this function mean? Why do we celebrate Ganesh Chaturti?
The Ganapati (Ganesha) principle is the seer and the seen – the experience of which is shared in a limited way in the Ganesha Atharva Seersha vedic mantra. We are celebrating the advent of Ganapati, of this great message of Ganapati Knowledge, today. With love and devotion, take a moment to think Ganapati and the rishi to whom He manifested Himself and through whom we have received the knowledge of Ganapati.
ॐ गं गणपतये नमः, ஓம் கம் கணபதயே நம:, Aum Gam Ganapataye Namah, is the teaching from the vedic rishi who was called Ganaka rishi:
Ga – denotes intelligence.
Na – denotes knowledge.
Pati – denotes master, protector, ruler
(the Isha in Ganesha also means master)
He is the master of our ability to understand, of all that we know and don’t know. There is no need to be proud of our intelligence or knowledge level because He is the Intelligence in our intelligence and He is the Knowledge in our knowledge.
There is another significant meaning for the word Ganapati. He is the Pati of all Ganas. Ganas are the multiple aspects of divine manifestations in us – the effulgence in our eye that enables it to see, in our ear that enables it to hear, in our mind that enables it to think, in our body that activates and deactivates the corpse that the body really is etc. He is the Master of all these. Make no mistake about it.
We pray to Him to remove all obstacles in whatever we undertake to do and seek. He is both Vigneswara and Vignaraja. He is the ruler of all obstacles, therefore all obstacles are at His beck and call. He places and removes them at will. An “obstacle” is not something that impedes progress, as we normally think. An obstacle is really a blessing in disguise. It is an effulgence that illumines and shows that the path undertaken or the action contemplated is not beneficial. Because we pray to Him first thus, He is also called Prathama Vandana.
We call Him Lambodara. This is commonly translated as “one with a hanging belly.” Lambodara also means Guardian of Lakshmi. Lakshmi is not limited only to Danalakshmi (monetary wealth as we normally take it to mean) but all types of wealth that make our lives, living and dying possible. Lakshmi means sukham and anandam. This is what the modakam in Ganapati’s hand signifies.
Ganapati is the One who fulfills all our undertakings. He also reveals the knowledge to realize that. He is the One who grants the ultimate spiritual fulfillment and wisdom – siddhi and buddhi. Siddhi and Buddhi are described as His two consorts, He as their husband, in mundane terms because He is their Master. Vinayaka has no desires, hence no need to have wives or children!
He is Vinayaka, the One who has no Master. He is the Supreme Leader. He instills purity in the body and fearlessness in the mind. The Ganesha Gayatri mantra asks “Tanno dantih prachodayaat”. It asks for the tusk. Recall the alacrity, love and spirit of sacrifice with which Ganapati broke His tusk to continue writing nonstop the Mahabharata at Vyasa’s command!. Sacrifice born of selfless love is what this tusk signifies.
Ganesha is the most easily accessible friend. He always has a welcoming, pleasant face (sumukha). He is equally friendly to the child and the aged, the ignorant and the scholarly, the healthy and the sickly, the poor and the wealthy, man and woman. He has no difference, no partiality, no preference. He is The Divine Child. As a child attracts everyone with its unconditional Love and Happiness, He attracts all. Hence in Tamil Nadu He is addressed as Pillayar (Pillai – child. The appellation “yar” is added denoting divinity.)
The “thoppukkaranam” (in fact the phrase is actually dhorbhih karanam meaning two ears) we do in a Ganesha temple is actually a yogic exercise that is good for the knees and gives the acupressure on the ear lobes promotes brain health. The lore in vogue about the origin of this is an interesting story that both children and adults enjoy and revel in.
Why does He ride a mouse? The mouse denotes the darkness of ignorance. Darkness shuns light. Mind resists efforts to calm it. Knowledge is effulgence, the light that removes the darkness of ignorance.
Why the elephant face? It denotes Gaja thelivi – elephantine intelligence. Elephants are known for their intelligence, memory power and concentration. Have you locked your eyes with those of an elephant in your life? If not do that at the next chance. You’ll experience nothing but the softness of love, a compassion that pours out non-judgmentally and quietly. The elephant head also has ears that are huge, denoting a large and wide hearing capacity. The ears also are constantly in a fanning motion, denoting filtering away the unpleasant sounds and taking in only that which is beneficial.
Even the kozhukkattai we offer today has great significance. It is made with gram flour, jaggery or pepper, enclosed in a covering made of flour paste, cooked in steam without using oil. This is healthy and delicious, according to Ayurveda. Jaggery controls gas formation, helps the digestive system and relieves eye troubles. You know the benefits of pepper and steam cooking. Steam cooked idlies, for example, are the best food item to take as one recovers from illness and is in the process of regaining energy and normalcy.
Why the chaturti, the fourth phase, in Vinyaka chaturti? Why is it celebrated in the Sukla Paksham, the waxing period of the moon? Why do we worship Sri Krishna also on this day?
Well, this is subject matter for another time.
Samasta Lokaah Sukhino Bhavantu (a blog post coming soon about what this divine phrase means!)