The annual drama of Ganeshotsav has just heard its last dhol-taasha for the year. My maid is wearing her woebegone `What do i do for the rest of the year ‘ look. The withdrawal symptoms are evident everywhere.
Though I am but a casual bystander in this annual ritual I must admit it is a definite mood-upper. There is something about the portly elephant-god that connects with most everyone.
“You may have wondered”, said the writer of a book I read recently, ” why this ridiculous and absurd image for a God” …frankly, I had not wondered.. I had accepted it matter-of-factly. A curious kid, growing up in an average Hindu household, learns very soon that wondering about the millions of Gods, the festivals, the rituals .. is most often an exercise in futility. At best you get a half-baked, intellectually un-appeasing answer. If you persist in your wondering line of inquiry it soon changes to angry looks from `elders’ and a quick whack – time and place permitting. So well, I had not wondered. I had unquestioningly accepted the wonderful modaks and other delectable `prasad‘.
Now that I am sure such questions will not mean the goodies get taken away, I have begun to peel away some layers of symbolic meaning. And I quite enjoyed the result. Here’s some stuff I discovered:
Ganapati is revered as the one with `perfect wisdom’ and hence qualifies to be the patron saint, so to say, for students seeking wisdom or those seeking to be the `man (or woman) of perfection’ .
The path of wisdom calls for
- intellectual engagement. The student must have a great head – voilà Ganapati’s elephant(sized) head
- ability to listen continuously and intelligently – the big ears
- ability to handle the outer, material world as well as the inner layers of consciousness – reflected in the curling elephant trunk that has the strength to uproot and pick up trees (gross elements) yet is flexible and sensitive enough to pluck a blade of grass (the subtle realms)
- for discriminating between dualities (right/wrong; good/evil) : the trunk (discriminating between) the two tusks
The `perfect human‘ would have
- an endless appetite for life (Yaaay!!) – Ganapati’s well-known love of food;
- An ability to handle with equanimity all life-experiences, good and bad – the big belly that digests all that is fed to it
- Yet know that fulfillment comes from burning the desires of the senses – Ganpati’s hunger being appeased by a handful of puffed (roasted in fire) rice
- Mind subservient to the intellect – Ganapati seated with one foot on the ground (the second – the mind – folded into it)
- The pleasures of the world his for the taking – the delicious food at Ganapati’s feet
- Yet complete control over the indulgence in it – the mouse that waits for the masters approval before indulging in all the tempting food around it
There’s more about the things he holds in his hands.. in the image below (Image source: Purnatravels)
Interesting huh? And one thought it was just that the elephant was the first unlucky specimen that happened to be ambling by when Shiva was desperately looking for a replacement head for his wife’s creative output!
Om Ganeshaya Namaha!