Ganesh Chaturthi, which will begin from tomorrow (September 10) this year, is celebrated with much pomp and zeal in several states across the country. While we celebrate the festival with scrumptious food and great music, let’s not forget to understand the significance of the occasion.
‘Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha’, this chant, is traditionally used to clear the route ahead of potential challenges at the commencement of a new endeavour, journey, or even a year. It is believed that this chant invokes the well-known deity and ‘The Remover of Obstacles’, Lord Ganesha. Also known as ‘Ganapati’, ‘The Lord of Beginnings’, ‘The Deity of Good Fortune’, among several other names, Lord Ganesh’s birth is celebrated annually on Ganesh Chaturthi, a Hindu festival that falls in the month of Bhadra, according to the Hindu calendar, and in August/September according to the Gregorian calendar.
The son of the Destroyer, Shiva, and Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganesha is a figure of enormous mystery and power. In a way, he also represents a paradox, because though he is complete in entirety, he is incomplete in his biological form. Something of the unknown, boundless, and enigmatic can be sensed in his distinctive physique, which is far beyond the comprehension of our human notions. Though he is regarded as a symbol of wisdom, writing, travel, commerce, and good fortune, his backstory is not particularly a cheerful one.
The Indian mythology tells the legend of Goddess Parvati creating baby Lord Ganesha using sandalwood paste and asking him to guard the entrance while she took a bath. Unbeknownst to this, when Lord Shiva arrived at the entrance and told Ganesha that he wanted to visit Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganesha, true to his role, refused to allow him to pass and obstructed Lord Shiva from entering. Sensing an infringement on his power, Lord Shiva got enraged and fought with him, eventually in the skirmish severing the boy’s head off. When Goddess Parvati realized what had transpired, she was heartbroken. On seeing her overwhelmed with grief, he soon realized his mistake that it was Parvati’s son who was stopping him.
He then promised to bring baby Ganesha back to life and instructed his followers to go out and find the head of the first living creature they came across. However, they were only able to find the head of a young elephant. Hence, Lord Ganesha was resurrected with the head of an elephant in this manner. There are various versions of how Lord Ganesha came to have the head of an elephant. Some say he was born without a head, while some others say his head was burned off at a dinner party when Shani’s evil eye caught him. Lord Brahma allowed Ganesha to live if his head was replaced with that of the first animal found after the incident.
While the question may occur in certain minds as to why Lord Shiva, the embodiment of peace, was so short-tempered that he severed the head of his own son in the main version of the story? The explanation to this lies in symbolism, which implies that when Lord Ganesha obstructed Lord Shiva’s path, this symbolised that ignorance, an attribute of the head, does not recognize knowledge. Since knowledge must triumph over ignorance, therefore, Lord Shiva severing the boy’s head has this connotation.
But the vital question which remains is “Who is Ganesh?” Some people revere and adore him, as well as those who use art and literature to portray him. But what is Ganesh’s actual hidden meaning? While Lord Ganesha’s appearance evokes imaginations and delights people beyond measure, the deity’s form also contains significant spiritual implications. In Ganapati Atharvashirsa, a minor Upanishad, varying shades of deep symbolic meaning emerge with relation to Lord Ganesha’s form.
The huge head of Lord Ganesha depicts the wisdom, intelligence, and tremendous thinking abilities that one must possess to achieve excellence in life. His enormous ears reflect a perfect person’s ability to listen to others and integrate information, while the small-mouth teaches one to speak less and to lean towards more listening over talking in life. His trunk has the ability to hold anything and everything that exists in the cosmos. This signifies that an individual should also have similar excellent adaptability and efficiency in their regular lifestyle. In other words, they should become attuned to any situation in life.
The two tusks represent wisdom and emotion, two components of human personality. His right tusk represents wisdom and the left tusk represents emotion. The broken left tusk conveys the idea that one must conquer emotions with wisdom to attain perfection. Lord Ganesha’s four arms represent the body’s four interior attributes: mind (Manas), intellect (Buddhi), ego (Ahamkara), and conditioned conscience (Chitta). He is the Atman, or pure consciousness, which enables these four characteristics to operate in humans. Him using the mouse as a mode of transport represents the need to control ego and hence it’s said that one who controls his ego has Ganesha’s consciousness.
These are just a few of Lord Ganesha’s most persuasive symbols and their interpretations which guide millions of Hindus down the spiritual path. “Since Ganesh is the same energy that is the reason for this cosmos’ existence, hence Ganesh Chaturthi is a celebration of the Lord who controls the universe, as well as a wonderful opportunity to teach children some of the most essential life lessons from him,” said Shivam Mishra, a devout follower of Lord Ganesh for several years of his life.
He further said, “It’s said that Ganesh is the energy from which everything manifests and into which everything will eventually dissolve.” This implies that ancient Rishis were so deeply intelligent that they chose to express divinity in terms of symbols rather than words since words change over time, but symbols remain unchanged.
The lesson to be learned in totality is that praying to Lord Ganesha and expecting a tangible manifestation to assist you is futile. The key, as well as the method by which one can overcome hurdles, is right in front of their eyes. If one understands those symbols, assimilates and implements them in their life, all the obstacles in their path will disappear. Although Lord Ganesha will be guiding you in the right direction, don’t expect someone to come and remove your hurdles for you.
Ashok Tripathi, a local Hindu priest at the Nageshwar Shiva temple in Lucknow, said that “in order to worship Lord Ganesha, one must become him, which means letting go of our outer minds and embracing higher knowledge unknown to us, henceforth becoming the entire cosmos and beyond, Shiva and Shakti, both within and around us. To do so, we must humble ourselves and allow Shiva and Parvati to enter us.” For those seeking to reduce Lord Ganesha to a signpost of a single idea, such complexity translates as mumbo jumbo. But his poly-truism reminds us of the queer nature of Hinduism: wisdom is located not here, not there, but somewhere in between, and beyond, maybe.
The occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi gives spiritual aspirants an opportunity to remember what Lord Ganesha stands for, a chance to reignite ourselves in our search for divinity. Let this Ganesh Utsav be the beginning of everything that is prosperous and inspiring. A very happy Ganesh Chaturthi 2021!