Vinayaka Chaturthi Festival: A gem in the Indian Spiritual Treasure - A commentary (Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon)
AMERICA 26-Aug-2014 Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon
Vinayaka Chaturti is an important Hindu festival. It is celebrated in grand scale in Maharashtra and Karnataka. The grand scale with which it is celebrated as public function in Maharashtra has no parallel in any of other states of India. It is reported that in the current year (2011), over 2 lakhs idols of Ganesha were installed in Mumbai city itself .
In Maharashtra, the celebration has special significance. During Freedom struggle. Balagangangadara Thilak, one of the great freedom fighters and sons of India popularized this festival among the masses, as a way to forge their unity for freedom struggle against unruly British rule and revive the glory of Indian culture . Since then, it is celebrated every year with gusto during 10 days .In Karnataka; it is celebrated as Gouri – Ganesha festival. Gouri another name for Parvathi, consort of Lord Siva is worshipped on the first created him with her divine powers and considered him as her son took parvati to her parent’s abode. After spending time with them, he took her back to her abode in Mount Kailas. Vinayak Chathuti is celebrated on the birthday ofGanesha. Ganesha known by various names like Ganapati ,Vigneswara, Vinayaka ,Kshipaprasadi, Pillayar and so on is considered as an important deity along with Vishnu , Siva and Surya in the Hindu pantheon from Vedic times onwards ,which goes 15000 years, according to Sri Shankacharya. Ganesha is considered as God of wisdom and prosperity or as bestower of wisdom or ingenuity or creativity and material abundance to his devotees and as one who is called as ‘kshiprapasdi’ in Sanskrit meaning one who gets pleased easily by devotion, compared to other Gods like Siva who can be pleased only by long and rigorous penance . He is most charming .He is called as Gajaanana meaning elephant- headed. His head is like that of elephant. Though his head was like that of a human , at the time when he was created by Goddess Parvati , he subsequently appeared with elephant head under a particular circumstance about which there is a legend ,which is discussed elsewhere in this article . He is supposed to be most charming. He is chubby with pot belly (mahakaaya in Sanskrit ), with four hands each hand holding trishul or trident , ankush or Goard made out of the broken piece of his horn(vakrathunda in Sanskrit ),lotus flower and Rosary or Aahsharamala used to chant mantras respectively .
The first two are his weapons or his physical power. Lotus the leaves of which do not absorb water. The water on it rolls down. This stands for detached attachment or Vyragya in Sanskrit . All the Hindu spiritual texts advocate that we should not get entangled with the worldly pleasures, to experience permananent happiness, like the mad elephant running amuck. We should be free and not bound by material aspects, while being in their midst..This requires control over our sense organs. It can be achieved by restraining ourselves with will power and discovering the new source of joy. Genesha has small eyes like that of an elephant .It denotes microscopic vision and concentration. While doing meditation, we close eyelids. It is difficult to keep our minds calm when we keep our eyes open and when we see the world around. It is true scientifically also. When the eyes are kept open , light rays pass through the eyes and stimulate the brain .Only in Buddhist’s tradition , meditation is practiced with open eyes .With open eyes, extra effort is needed for concentration . Along with Ganesha, we find a mouse at his feet curiously looking at him .It is interpreted that it is his vehicle. It could be to make us understand that divinity is present in all creations of God andeven small creatures can be of service, as everything is creation of God. Mouse may also represent evil qualities in man.Ganesha is depicted as controlling evil qualities. So only those who look at himself, discriminates virtues and vices in him and tries to eschew vices are true devotes of Ganesha. Ganesh’s mouth is much smaller compared to his ears. It could be interpreted that we should listen more than we speak. Mostly we speak what comes to our mind with the heat of our emotional upsurge, rather than thinking a bit before speaking. When two persons speak with each other without listening to each other’s ideas and view points, no true communication takes place. The result could be misunderstanding and distancing oneself from other, conflict, being spiteful and destroying each other .Ability to listen needs patience and it is to be cultivated .Listening shows that we care others. It also makes us happy when the interactions turn harmonious.
In all the Hindu temples Ganesha Idol is installed. Even in the banks of rivers and tanks, we can find installation of Lord Ganesha in the open under banyan trees. People worship after taking bath. It is a practice that Lord Ganesha is worshipped first before worshipping other deities , even when main deities are other than Ganesha.There is a legend behind this practice . When Lord Siva severed the head of original boy Ganesha, it was one of the demands of Parvati who was struck with grief and anger from Lord Siva that Ganesha’s life should be revived, that he should be accorded the foremost position among Gods and that he should be propitiated and his grace to be sought first before propitiating any other deity, as a atonement of Siva’s act, which Lord Siva is said to have granted. That is how he got the names such as Ganesha, Ganapathi and so on which means lord of Gods. For auspicious beginning and forstalling any impediment in the course of our actions, Ganesha’s blessing is sought. So for auspicious beginning of any venture, such as starting a business, construction of new house, planning a journey etc, Ganesha is worshipped. The real meaning of this is that whatever we do, we should do with divine spirit meaning with altruistic motive and with the feeling that we are mere instruments in the hands of divine force.
Ganesha is the manasaputra of Siva and Parvathi, in the sense he was not born out of Parvati’s womb or in the ordinary sense. The legend goes like this. Parvati while bathing created a beautiful figure of a boy with sandal paste and infused life into it. She asked the boy to stand before bathroom door, so that no one enter ed, while she took bath. Ganesha stood as the vigilant guard. Lord Siva came there at that time and wanted to meet Parvati . In spite of Siva telling him that he was husband of Parvati and repeated request, he did not let him in .Siva lit by fire of anger chopped off his head. When Parvati returned he saw the boy in pool of blood .Her anger towards Siva knew no bounds. She explained to him the entire story that she created him and that it was her command to be her guard and that he only discharged his duty faithfully at the cost of his life. Parvati wanted Siva to see that the boy regained his life and that he was to be considered as God of Gods as atonement to sin he committed . . Siva fulfilled her wishes .He ordered his attendants to collect a head as fast as possible and a head from the first being they met with, within the time with which it could be grafted on the boy’s trunk . The first being attendants came across was an elephant. Its head was cut and was brought. Siva by his magic power grafted the head on the trunk of the boy and regained his life. Thus Ganesha became elephant headed-God or Gajaanana, in Sanskrit .This episode reveals many things. It shows sense of duty and commitment to action , which is a quality, which we all should imbibe .Ganesha was a small boy and we see his wonderful courage and sense of duty .He was not deterred by threat even to his life .In the modern life, do w e find such sense of duty .We look for earliest chance to throw away the values in the wind , if they conflict with our self interest .what wonder is there in elevating that boy to the position of God and worshipping him first .Modern Medical Science knows the art of grafting the limbs , the so called Reconstructive surgery and flaunts as greatest achievement . The above episode shows that it was a very ancient art. Still with all medical advancements which we are proud of we have still have very little knowledge about l body and its working and about life itself, which is more than bodily functions . We are nowhere near stalling or delaying aging process, let alone revving the dead man. It is this knowledge that we continue to uncover that stands for God. Making test tube baby is possible now. It is not fully asexual .In the above episode, it says Parvati could create a human figure out of sandal paste and infuse life into it . She could also ensure perfection in that boy .With all the advancements in human genetics have we reached anywhere near of creating human beings with desired attributes ? The answer is ‘no’ .This should make human humble and aspire for highest achievements by raising quality and height of our consciousness.
There is a legend about the power of memory and concentration which Genesha was endowed with. Saint Vyasa who is the author of the epic Mahabharata, the longest piece ever written, wanted the assistance of someone who could transcribe his dictation. Ganesha volunteered. Vysa put a condition that whatever he peaks out would be done only once and he should not asked to repeat anything. Ganesha agreed to his condition. He wrote down the entire volume of Mahabharatha dictated by Vyasa with his horn using it as pen instantaneously showing such a prodigious grasping and memory power . The message that flows from this is that whatever we do, we should do it with full attention .Often we shift attention and our attention gets distracted which affects our understanding of what we hear and retain it in memory . This quality is called ‘jagrada’ in Sanskrit , which means alertness. The mind should not be allowed to wander. Concentration is necessary for acquisition of knowledge and for effective actions. There is another story about Ganesha’s wisdom or ‘vivekajnana ‘ in Sanskrit or the power to know what is right and what is wrong as opposed to mere collection of the so called facts and information. . Once Lord Siva and Parvati decided to test who was wiser among their two sons Ganesha and his younger brother Karthikeya and devised a plan. They told them that the pomegranate fruit , which they were holding in their hands would be given to the one of them , who came first to them, after going round the world three times .
.Thus both were set in competition .Karthikeya could move swiftly on his vehicle peacock, where as Ganesha with his heavy body could not do it. Karthikeya was proud of his prowess. Both started. Karthikeya started cruising. Ganesha cooly went round Siva and Parvati thrice , went to them and claimed pomegranate. They gave him. When Karthikeya returned after completing the trip , he found that Ganasha secured the fruit . Ganesha knew that circling his parents is equivalent to circling the universe , as they represent universe. This shows his wisdom .It also points out that children should care and respect their parents. They are the visible Gods .Karthikeya did what he was told literally that is using information and mere knowledge and did not use his discriminative power .There is no need to question whether it is a real story or not . what is required is to understand the righteous principles that follow from epic stories like Ramayana , Mahabharata and so on and try to imbibe them in our day to day life .If we follow the qualities exhibited by Ganesha, it is better than doing rituals . Normally we do not follow the intrinsic aspects of festivals or epic stories, we limit ourselves to mere practices which make us superstitious. We should delve deep into the subject and bring out the inner essence .we get only shells from the ocean surface, we get pearls, only when we dive deep. Same is the case with mere knowledge and wisdom. Mere information which is now available is mind boggling proportion just by the click of mouse on the computer is useless or the use of it is sometimes dangerous, without aid of wisdom. , which no computer can possess. It is the unique treasure of man only .
There is another legend relaed to Ganesha’s life which teaches us that we should not think ill of others, that we should not belittle or make fun of others. On the other hand we should always see the positive side of other’s personality or should see the good qualities in others and try to imbibe those, if we find we are lacking in them .The legend goes like this. Moon made fun of Ganasha because of his obese body. Ganesha got enraged and cursed the moon that she would become weak day by day and that only once in a fornight, she would be in her original form . There is also another interpretation . Ganesha asserted that those who happened to see the moon on chathurti night would have to face false allegations .This means that we should not give room for false allegations
The idols of Vinayaka after days of worship installed in a well decorated pandal are taken in procession, ceremoniously to the nearest river or pond and are immersed. The belief is that Lord Vinayaka is sent back to his abode in heaven to be welcomed him again in the coming year. As it is celebrated as a community y festival, that is an occasion for the people to meet and develop social harmony , apart from being a religious festival .In our present day society of rank materialism and consumerism , this festival like other Indian festivals is celebrated in a commercial way losing its piety .It is the time for traders to big money ,by luring the beguiled customers to spend money for purchases of luxury goods and household equipments .Similarly , it is the time presentation of traditional music, arts and crafts . But we often find popular film songs are played with ear breaking sound all through the night .Ganesha idols are coated with eye catching colors with lethal chemicals. Water bodies get polluted when they are immersed causing irreversible ecological pollutions. we should understand that the festivals should not pollute the environment –social, water and air .
In summary, in this article a novel attempt is made to draw out the inner meaning or human values from this festival , which if imbibed would give us enduring joy and happiness .