Being Ganapati

Last Updated: Thursday, September 11, 2008 - 12:35

Imagine everyone calling you ‘big ears’.

Not that big ears are bad things to have; think of all the extra earrings you could wear (for girls) and all the extra earrings you could wear (for boys)! But for a minimalist like me who can’t really stand jewellery, having big ears becomes a bit…erm…heavy on the head.

So, before all those who rejoice in reminding me of my twin assets (OFCOURSE, ears I mean), I drop names of some personalities with similar anatomy- Gandhi, Buddha, Ganesh….the last name warms one’s heart, no? But as far as Ganesh goes, I am happy that the similarities end at ears.

For, imagine everyone calling you big nose, big paunch, elephantine and toothy, apart from big ears. Of course, only the ignorant can call Ganesh such names intending literal meanings. There, I wish, were more similarities between Him and me.

Ganesh doesn’t have a pan-India approach for nothing. With Mallus cladding Him in mundu, Gujaratis depicting Him as the ideal dandiya boy, the northerners happy to see Him perched on a rat and the ancient Afghans sculpting Him in their traditional turban et al, I dare say Ganesh one of most popular Gods of the Indian pantheon and with the unique position of being prayed to first.

And, as I said, it’s not for nothing.

Such is the appeal that from the millennia old Rig Veda to the Shahrukh Khan starrer ‘Don’, no one can do without a swish of His ears and the aroma of His modak. Though the Rig Veda, contend a few, may not be referring to the Ganesh that we welcome to our homes every year with a lot of pomp and show.

May we worship Ganapati,
The Protector of Noble People,
The Best Poet,
The Most Honourable,
The Greatest Ruler and
The Treasure of all Knowledge…

(Rig Veda 2.23.1)

…goes an invocation to Lord Ganapati in the oldest Veda. This probably is the only reference to ‘Ganapati’- another name of Ganesh. But is that the same elephant headed God who is being sung about in the Veda? Can’t say, for the imagery that we associate with Ganesh appeared only in the Gupta period.

But, better late than never!

We should thank Ganesh for appearing and Adi Shankaracharya for categorizing Him as one of the 5 eternal deities of Hindu religion (the other 4 being: Sun, Vishnu, Shiva, Durga)

Just imagine (again) whom would we call upon to clear our path of obstacles had it not been for Ganesh; the Karmayogi Krishna (would probably say: You will reap as you sow) or the Mahayogi Shiva (would just mutter ‘Ommm’)?

But why is Ganesh called Vighneshwara, the Lord of Obstacles, if he is supposed to destroy the obstacles? In Hinduism and Buddhist tantra, Vinayakas were four mischief-making entities. If they were propitiated, they obliged one by not causing any trouble. Some just point out that it is Ganesh’s job to give trouble to those who are up to no good, that’s why the name.

Whatever the history/hearsay, the reason that Ganesh endures as the God of small and big things even today is that He is so real and ideal at the same time.

He is the child in all of us. He wants to be loved by His parents- even more than His sibling. Even if He has to forsake his desires (symbolized by flashy mounts viz lion, bull, peacock etc.) and choose the humble mouse, he will happily do so just so His parents favour Him.

Like a good, obedient lad He will follow instructions of the mother even if He has to risk His ego (symbolized by the human head that Shiva axed). In return, He got the dignity, respect and wisdom that are captured only in the head of an elephant. That wisdom made him circumambulate his parents when he was asked to take the round of the Earth- Shiv Parvati are His world.

With that one sacrifice, Ganesh the boy became Ganesh the God.

And he is loved by millions because He is always ready to listen. His big ears are a solace to those who have been wronged and need to empty their troubled souls. His trunk helps Him discriminate between right and wrong- as also indicating His great reach. His beady eyes enable Him to see only the good in people. His single tooth signifies that there is only One God, that He is all wisdom (elephant head) & love (the modak).

Bowing to Ganesh means understanding and appreciating all of the above, hence attaining the Truth. The 10-day Ganesh festival also has a deep meaning to it. Though an ancient tradition, it was turned into the grand affair that it is today by Lokmanya Tilak to drum up nationalistic pride and unity among people.

But Ganesh is beyond any country. He has got nothing to do with national pride (though, internationally, He is an India icon) but everything to do with existential essence.

For Ganesha is called Pranavakaar- in the shape of OM.

To You whom the wise exclaim
As the single-syllabled Supreme sound,
Stainless & peerless…
Primeval One, I bow in adoration

(Adi Shankaracharya in Ganesh Bhujangam)

Ganesh’s form resembles OM and in that He is a universal entity, present at the very core of Being.

Welcoming of Ganesh means bringing out the Lord that resides within us, in order to thank Him and serve Him. For 10 days, everything & everywhere becomes Ganesh i.e one sees the good aspect within all. At the end of the festival, we ask Ganesh to not just remain outside but enter our stream of consciousness- that is Visarjan. And all of it is done with joy and playfulness- as Ganesh likes it.

For that’s what being Ganesh is: giving up the ego, remaining above materialism (symbolized in His one feet always being above the ground and one on the seat), yet using materials when needed, being an exceptional leader (Gana-pati) and yet keeping humble (He travels on a mouse). In short, living it and loving it too.

So this time, when you are grabbing a modak after prayer and somebody calls you Big Paunch, just know that there is someone else who is a big paunch and its doing a lot of good!

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First Published: Thursday, September 11, 2008 - 12:35

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