Ganesh Chaturthi – the festival in adoration of Ganesha – was celebrated all overIndiaon September 1. The elephant-headed Ganesha is revered as the god of auspicious beginnings. His representation – an outsized elephant head that sits on a human body consisting of a huge round belly, four arms , and two legs – could mystify the average traveller unfamiliar with the nuances of Indian mythology.
The fact is that every aspect of Ganesha’s representation is replete with complex and profound symbolisms. The multiple ‘gods’ in Indian mythology are essentially symbolisms, meant to empower people at all levels of intellectual development to deal with their relationships towards their material and spiritual worlds. Underlying the whole is the dialectic that the very formlessness of god is best understood through awesome form.
Ganesha’s form symbolizes the balance between the spiritual and material that all human beings need to strive for. At its simplest. The elephant symbolizes strength of mind, tenacity and singularity of purpose, and the wisdom to know what is the right action, all of it expressed through effortlessness (the quality of the elephant, of simply uprooting and throwing aside the obstacles in its path). Equanimity, i.e., the ability (accompanied by wisdom) to digest both the good and bad in our material world (symbolized by the big stomach) is as important an attribute as effortlessness. Of the two principal arms, one hand is held up in a gesture of protection (the confidence and security that right action brings). The other hand gently points down to the earth (the ultimate truth that everything arises from the earth and eventually returns to it). A third hand holds sweets – laddoos – symbolising the fruits of right action, while the fourth holds an axe – ankush – with which to pierce through the veil of ignorance. The vehicle on which Ganesha rides is a tiny mouse. The mouse represents desire. Desire is a reality, but unless kept under control it could cause havoc.
The symbolism of Ganesha essentially draws our attention to these qualities. In the ultimate analysis, Ganesha is the wisdom that rests within us. We need to go within and discover ourselves.
At Savista, we celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi with a simple puja (worship). In the puja, Ganesha was sanctified as a simple rough little mound of turmeric powder pressed together by hand, symbolic of having been drawn from nature, and to be returned to nature (when immersed in a water body by the end of ten days, as per the custom). Also in the puja were other representations from nature: flowers, incense, flaming oil lamps and camphor, fruits, coconuts, betel leaves. The puja was not so much a religious occasion as a reminder to all of us of the symbolisms of Ganesha. The person leading the puja invoked Ganesha’s blessings for all those at Savista and their families, and for the success of Savista’s mission.
And here is Susheela Raman singing a south Indian classical kriti (composition) dedicated to Ganesha, set to a South Indian-Afro-Jazz beat. Enjoy the music!