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Ganpati Bappa’s Pearls of Wisdom

Once again, it is the month of ‘Bhadrapada, the sixth month of the Hindu lunar-solar calendar which hosts the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. As the world gears itself to welcome Lord Ganesh in our midst in a mood of pomp, splendour and joy, let us remember a few vital life lessons.

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Beyond the Idol

On the day of ‘Murti Sthapna’, where the idol of Ganesh is consecrated, there is a highly symbolic ritual known as ‘Pran Prathistha.’ This relates to the infusion of life into the idol as the deity is invited among us. Amid the chanting of holy mantras and hymns, life is breathed into each part of the idol until the deity is present. This is not mere idol worship. Rather, this is a humbling process of going back to the roots. Devotees do not worship the idol or statue; they worship the ideals and divine energy forces exemplified by Ganesh.

The ‘Pran Prathistha’ ritual serves the purpose of evoking our existence of interdependence on others. Humans cannot survive in an isolated bubble. Whatever our social class, privileges or job titles, we still need the help and support of others. Likewise, divinity is possible due to humans and vice-versa. Even Lord Ganesh has to depend on the positive thoughts and acts of humans to come to life in our mortal realm. That is why awakening of the inner consciousness and self-awareness, coupled with introspection and retrospection, remains core to Hinduism. Letting go of one’s ego, learning to value each second of life by making it meaningful to oneself and to others should be the driving force towards our path of self-realisation. Life is a gift. A blessing. Those who find themselves in luckier circumstances should do their level best to raise others up. There is no competition in worship. No matter the size of your house, the intricacy of the idol you have selected or even the simplicity of the meals served, it is the purity of intentions that counts. The festival is not about showing off. It is about acknowledging our meekness and that we are specks within the vastness of the universe.

Mortality and ‘Visarjan’

Ganesh Chaturthi is associated with good vibes, singing, dancing and the sharing of delicacies.  Nevertheless, we are reminded of the fickleness of life and the ensuing phase of death that is inevitable; a stark reminder of our own mortality. At the end of the festival, there is the immersion ceremony, also known as ‘Visarjan’. During this emotional observance, we bid a fond farewell to Ganesh and hope to see him soon the following year. Still, many people are puzzled about the need to say goodbye. Why the immersion?

Taken together, ‘Pran Prathistha’ and ‘Visarjan’ bring us back in full circles, of the inevitable cycle of life and death, characterising human existence. Whatever is born will die. Seasons change. Tides come and go. Humans are part of that ongoing process of regeneration. Whoever we are, whatever our achievements, we are condemned to leave everything behind when our time is up. There is no cheating Death, nor any way to circumvent it, despite desperate attempts by humans to discover the nectar of immortality. Ganesh goes back to the core element of water, which has a purifying and cleansing power during the immersion ceremony. As the idol slowly metamorphoses back to clay, similarly we are called to merge with natural elements when it is our time to go. Despite everything, hope is unwavering as Ganesh marks his return year after year. He does come back. As simple mortals, we draw inspiration from him, to keep our spirits up despite the lows until the shackles of mortality no longer hold us down, thus leading us to attain the sought-after liberation from the material world and entrapment; moksha.

Most importantly, the clay idol is a reminder to be eco-friendly. The welfare of the environment is quintessential when carving out the idol till the time it is immersed. Using cement, toxic paint and iron rods is a no-go area. Even the immersion ceremony should be a poignant moment of reflection of our existence and not a spectacle of callously toppling over the idol, as a basic commodity. Respect and solemnity should be consistently observed. Ganpati Bappa is a guest to our world, our homes, our hearts and the symbiosis with Nature should not be overlooked.

Ganesh: The One-Tusked God

Ganesh, the pot-bellied and elephant-headed god, is known as Ekdanta, the one who has only one tusk. So, what happened to his other tusk? According to one myth, Parshuram, an ardent devotee of Shiva, wanted to meet Him at Mount Kailash. Incidentally, Parshuram is notorious for his bad temper. Upon reaching Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiva, he wasted no time to find him. Unfortunately for him, Shiva was meditating. Ganesh, who was present, promptly prevented Parshuram from breaking his father’s deep meditative state. Brimming with anger, Parshuram hurled an axe that had been gifted by Shiva at Ganesh. The latter, recognising the weapon as one emanating from his father, made no effort to stop its impact, which was direct and cut off his left tusk. Later on, Parshuram realised his mistake and pleaded for forgiveness.

Accordingly, the sacrifice of Ganesh, shows his deep-rooted loyalty towards his loved ones and his inherent respect of what they represent to him. It would have been easy to retaliate but to do so, would have meant going against his own father’s essence. The broken tusk epitomises spiritual modesty, while harnessing one’s abrasive passion. Too often, we act recklessly, thereby jeopardising a lifetime for a few moments of unrestraint.

Vanity Versus Character

The sighting of the moon is forbidden on Ganesh Chaturthi. Devotees are extra cautious not to cast their eyes at the moon. Why so? As per one story, Ganesh was invited to a feast, where he stuffed himself with his favourite sweets such as modaks and laddoos. After enjoying the treats, it was time to go home. He mounted Mooshika, his rodent vehicle. Suddenly, they came across a snake. Mooshika was frightened and toppled over, throwing Ganesh to the ground. Ganesh was already very full and round from his earlier feast, his protruding belly exposed.

Chandra Dev, the moon god, started laughing heartily upon seeing Ganesh in that state. He smirked and could not stop howling out loud. Needless to say, Ganesh was extremely furious and embarrassed. He cursed Chandra Dev for his vanity and said that he would lose his lustre for ever. Alarmed, the moon god knew that he was doomed to disappear and asked Ganesh to forgive him. It is impossible to take back a curse and in order to soften the blow, Ganesh proclaimed that the moon would grow thinner each day of the month till becoming totally invisible. However, it would then make its comeback gradually before disappearing once again. It would not be able to shine brightly at all times, as payback for its vanity and arrogance.

In a world plagued with the obsession pertaining to shallow notions of vanity, where personal appearance is prioritised, it is good to remember that looks are not everything. Superficiality comes at a price. Instead, it is better to inculcate children with values of recognising the potential of others instead of focusing solely on physical appearance and making fun of those who do not adhere to their beauty standards. After all, just like plants, humans bloom and will wither away. Nothing is definite. We are surrounded with ephemerality. What lingers, long after we shall be gone, is the difference we have made in this world.

Spread Sweetness

Of course, in addition to the pearls of wisdom, Ganesh Chaturthi is all about spreading happiness. Devotees readily welcome family and friends to their homes for Ganesh worship. There are devotional songs, hymns (aartis), traditional dances such as ‘jakri’ and the partaking of offerings together. Ganesh is a big fan of sweets and it is hoped that they find their way into our hearts as well, metaphorically! It is a time for new beginnings and hopes.

May the obstacles in our lives be removed.

May the vibrancy of Ganesh Chaturthi bless us all.

‘Ganesh Chaturthi Cha Hardik Shubhecha’: Best wishes to everyone on the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi.

Bhawna Atmaram

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