All About Hinduism

Archive for the category “Ganesha”

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi

Image

Vinayaka Chaturthi or Ganesha Chaturthi marks a big occasion on the Hindu calendar-the birthday of the adorable elephant headed god Ganesha.

The festival is observed in the month of Bhaadrapada, starting on the shukla chaturthi (fourth day of the waxing moon). The date usually falls between 19 August and 20 September. The festival lasts for 10 or 12 days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi.

All across India and indeed around the world Hindus celebrate this occasion with great pomp and piety. However the biggest and the grandest party takes place in Maharashtra where the preparations for the day begin months in advance.
                                                                                                        

Image

Thousands of skilled artisans spend months sculpting elaborate and beautiful clay idols of the god which people then buy to bring home or place them is specially erected tents (pandas) in the streets and squares.

These idols which could be anything from a few inches to nearly 100 feet tall and are a joy to behold. Often interpreted in the artist’s own vision, Ganesha takes on various avatars from the traditional to the contemporary and each one is unique.  

                                             

Image taking a taxi home or a van!

Image

Once home, Ganesha is placed on a beautifully decorated altar and worshipped    with love and devotion. Every morning and evening a pooja is performed with incence and flowers and he is offered his favourite foods like the sweet modak. Friends and neighbours come calling to see him and pay their respects.

Image

On the streets, people go around town with their families from pandal to pandal checking out the colourful lights and decorations and of course the various Ganeshas.

It is a time of coming together and rejoicing in the company of this Lord of the People. The god of wisdom and compassion, the remover of obstacles.

During the independence struggle Lokmanya Tilak started the practice of communal celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthi to bring the masses together. To this day the legacy lives on. Although the celebrations seem commercialised like everything else in our times, it is still an occasion for festivities and joy.

After ten days of festivities it is time to bid farewell. Ganesha is carried through the streets in a procession accompanied by dancing and singing, to be immersed in a river or the sea. A symbolic ritual see-off of the Lord as he sets back on his journey towards his abode on Mt Kailash while taking away with him all the misfortunes of man.

ImageAll join in this final procession shouting “Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya” (O Ganesha, come back soon next year). After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor the idol is immersed in the water

It is a sombre event and people return to their homes quietly looking forward to next year when Ganesha will be back again.

Image

Advertisements

Contemplating Ganesha

ImageGanesha the elephant-headed god, one of Hinduism’s most well known faces, is steeped in symbolism.

Over the ages, the story of Ganesha’s unusual birth and his unique form have been interpreted in various ways. For the purpose of this post I have taken the most widely accepted versions and in the true spirit of Hinduism given you my own intuitive understanding of them.

Ganesha is said to be the physical form of the symbol Aum. Aum is the symbol of Creation. It represents the unmanifest Shakti which manifests as Prakriti or Nature. Thus Ganesha born of Shakti represents all Creation.

The mantra Aum is also Pranava, the prime mantra through which all existence is known. ‘Pra’ means Prakriti and ‘nava’ is the boat which helps us navigate the endless ocean of Creation called Prakriti. So it is through her son that we may know the mother.

Hence, Ganesha is also associated with the Muladhara Chakra which is the seat of Shakti. By meditating on Ganesha the Kundalini Shakti is realised and awakened to remove all obstacles and transform us.

As Parvati created Ganesha by herself with no help from Shiva, he is our direct link to Nature of which we are also a part. Ganesha leads us to ourselves.

Parvati created Ganesha so that he may guard her honour. Hence Ganesha is portrayed as the typical mother’s boy who adores her and above all protects her.  Thus he is ‘Ganesha- Guardian of all Beings’. In protecting all of Creation, he protects Prakriti his mother.

Adi Shankaracharya who established Ganesha as one of the five main deities said this of Ganesha,

“Though Ganesha is worshiped as the elephant-headed God, the form (swaroop) is just to bring out the formless (parabrahma roopa).
He is, ‘Ajam Nirvikalpam Niraakaaramekam.’ This means Ganesha is unborn (ajam), he is without attributes( Nirvikalpa), he is formless (Niraakaar) and he symbolizes the consciousness which is omnipresent.” Which brings us back to why Ganesha is associated with Aum.

As for Ganesha’s form, the big elephant head symbolizes intelligence and wisdom. His big ears pick up on the softest of prayers whispered by his devotees. His small shrewd eyes miss nothing and his trunk represents discretion. An elephant may use his trunk to fell trees or pick up a blade of grass depending on the situation.

He is Ekdanta, the one with a single tusk. This stands for single mindedness.His big belly holds all the knowledge of the Universe.

An elephant is not hindered by any obstacle in his path. He simply steps over it or goes around it. Hence Ganesha is the remover of obstacles and of his four arms one is raised in the Abhaya mudra, which says to his devotees, ‘fear not I shall protect you.’

The second hand holds a noose to rein in the wandering mind while the third has the goad to push people onto the path of righteousness. Finally, the fourth hand holds a sweet modak which shows his eternal childlike nature.

 Om Gan Ganapataye Namah !!

Parvati Creates Ganesha

Image

Up on Mt. Kailash while Shiva sat lost in meditation, Parvati his wife was getting lonely.  She had Shiva’s subjects for company and his faithful attendant Nandi took good care of her. Yet, Parvati longed for someone to call her own. She longed for a child.

Once when she was bathing, scrubbing sandalwood paste on her body, Parvati decided to make herself a child. She mixed the scrapings from her body with the clay from the river and lovingly created a young boy with it. He was so fair and beautiful that she breathed life into him.

Many months passed and one day while Parvati was in her cave and Ganesha stood outside guarding the entrance, Shiva returned home. Ganesha had strict instruction from his mother  to not let anyone in, so he forbade Shiva from entering the cave.  Furious at being stopped from going into his own home and unaware that the young boy was Parvati’s son, Shiva in a fit of temper cut the boy’s head off. When Parvati came out and saw what had happened she was overcome with grief and rage. She summoned all the goddesses to avenge the death of her son. A terrible war ensued and Shiva soon realized his mistake. He tried to calm Parvati down but she demanded he bring her son back to life.

Now Shiva didn’t know what to do so he approached Brahma, the Creator, for help. Brahma suggested they get the head of the first animal they find which is lying down facing North.  Shiva’s servants went into the forest looking for such an animal and returned with an elephant’s head. Shiva then placed the head on Ganesha’s lifeless body and resurrected him. Parvati was overjoyed but soon her heart sank at her son’s plight. “What kind of life will my son have stuck with an elephant’s head?” she asked Shiva.

Shiva promised Parvati that their son would be called Ganapati, Lord of all beings. Loved and adored by all, he would be worshiped first, before any other god.

And so we’ve come to love and adore this playful, clever little potbellied boy, darling of his parents and guardian of all beings. He is the remover of all obstacles. We chant his name before any auspicious work is begun and before any kind of worship. To him we pray for peace and harmony.

Historically however, it was only around  the fourth or the fifth century that Ganesha rose in prominence. It was during the reign of the Gupta dynasty when Hindu traditions shifted towards Brahmanism that Ganesha was established as one of the five prime deities.

Nonetheless, he is today one of Hinduism’s most favourite gods. He has truly become Lord of the People. I wonder if the rather charming anecdotes of Ganesha’s life have been largely responsible for his popularity. Or, is it because humans have a strange affinity towards elephants? We love elephants because they are so much like us. Or perhaps we just like someone who is not so perfect but wears his imperfections so well. Well, whatever it is, no Hindu home or life is complete without Ganesha in it.

Ganesha’s is also worshipped as the remover of obstacles by Jains and Buddhists. As Hinduism gradually spread to south east Asia so did the worship and iconography of Ganesha. Modified forms of Ganesha continue to be worshipped in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Burma Thailand, Combodia and in some Buddhist sects of China and Japan where he is known as Kangiten.

Image

5th century “image of Ganesha, consecrated by the Shahi King Khingala.” found at Garddez, Afghanistan.

I look forward to exploring some of the  symbolism behind Ganesha’s birth and form in my next post.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: