Happy Ganesh Chaturthi! It’s Modaka time! 😀
We’ve been busy all morning making lots of sundal and modakas, or kozhakattais – sweet & savoury, flat and round, and everything in between. If we were allowed to eat these delicacies before the pooja, I doubt Lord Ganesha would have any left! 🙂
After a sumptuous lunch, I sat down with my grandfather, Shri Parthasarathy Desikan, to ask why we celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. Here’s what he said: “Shiva and Parvathi are the epitome of asceticism. They are portrayed as beings who do not need anything, because they already have everything, they are omnipotent. In many stories, one will be meditating, the other will be on a vratham, or a fast. Parvathi once decided to go on an austere vratham, and realised she shouldn’t be disturbed, even accidentally. Her guards had gone out with Shiva, so she created a child with her powers, gave him all her divinity and placed him at the gate. When anyone came, he barred them from entering, saying “Amma is meditating.”
“Shiva suddenly felt like speaking with Parvathi, but was stopped at the gate by this child. Without knowing who he is, he attacked him. His head was cut off, says legend. Shiva walked in and told Parvathi, “Someone stopped me at the gate, I chopped off his head.” When Parvathi told him the truth, Shiva brought him back to life, with the head of an elephant, and blessed him saying ‘People will worship you even before worshipping us, to get rid of their obstacles’ and that was how Lord Ganesha, and Ganesh Chaturthi were born”
This is a story we have heard from our grandparents. Thatha then told me some very interesting things that I hadn’t heard about before.
“In the beginning of the rainy season, travel would be very difficult. People would pray to Lord Ganesha so that they do not face obstacles in travel. People decided he was born in Avani month (August – September), because that is the time obstacles appear in the form of rain. What Ganesha represents is a grama devatha who is available for people taking trips out of the village to pray, to free their mission from obstacles”
There are a number of fun stories he told me too, like this one:
“He was so fond of his mother, when his mother asked what kind of wife he wants, he said ‘Like You’. So he began sitting under a peepal tree, waiting to see if anyone who visits him is as lovely as his mother. So far, he has not been able to find anyone! Although, a Maharashtrian legend says Siddhi and Buddhi married him – so both of these, the ability to achieve your objective and the intellect you need to achieve it, can be bestowed by Ganesha to those who worship him.” Looks like we’re not only ones who face this difficulty! 🙂
I heard many more legends from my grandfather. Trying to put all these together and make sense of it all, I asked my father, Shri Krish Murali Eswar, what Shri Vethathiri Maharishi has to say about Ganesh Chaturthi. He shared Swamiji’s explanation with me:
“Myths and legends are stories that were created to help explain natural phenomenon to children in a simple way. Take the story of the Divine couple, Shiva and Shakthi, for example. Shiva and Shakthi had two sons – Ganesha and Subramanya. Ganesha has five heads (panchamukha) and Subramanya has six heads (Shanmukha).
“Now, look at the evolution of the universe and life itself. Before the evolution of the universe, the only thing that existed was Absolute Space – a dark, fluid, Almighty stock force state. Then, from this state, an energy particle was created – dynamic, spinning, self-rotating particle. By the interaction of energy particles and space, the entire universe was born, leading to evolution of five sensed animals and then six sensed man.
Absolute Space (Shivam) and energy particles (Shakthi) gave birth to five sensed animals (Ganesha, Panchamukha) and six sensed humans (Subramanya, Shanmukha)! Such a beautiful way to explain evolution of divinity, isn’t it?”
As I thought more about this, other legends began making sense too: ‘Ganapathy‘ is the master of the Bhootha Ganas. Bhootha means that which was created in the past. Gana means collection of particles. Our universe is composed of five states of matter, pancha maha bhoothas, which are all different collections of particles! And, before man evolved, animals were the ultimate evolution of the universe! The second son’s name, Subramanya, means ‘he who has realised the Almighty Force in its totality’ – something that only humans are capable of!
Ganesh Chaturthi in Tamil Nadu is a festival of the poor. Wild flowers and inexpensive idols made of mud and palm leaf decorations – biodegradable handicrafts of the poor were used for every part of the festival. They are a promised source of good income at least once a year. Once the festival is over, the idol is immersed in water. Ganesha, who has come from the elements, is returned and dissolved into the elements. Animals and human beings, who have evolved from the elements, must one day return to the elements and dissolve in Nature.
Ganesha carries an ankusham, a sharp instrument used to make elephants move, and paasham, a lasso used to control elephants that go wild. Ankusham is a symbol of awakening, and paasham is a symbol of controlling. He also carries a lotus, symbolising enlightenment. The Ganapathy Atharva Shirshopanishad proclaims, ‘Tvam Mooladharasthithosi Nithyam||‘, meaning Ganesha resides at the Mooladhara. Awakening, controlling, enlightenment, Mooladhara. Take a look at the Yogic explanation of achieving the purpose of life: The Kundalini Shakthi, or the life force, always resides at the Mooladhara chakra – at the base of the spine.
When you awaken your Kundalini and controlling it, raise it up the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head (symbolised by a lotus), you attain enlightenment!
Ganesha is the first God we pray to, following whom Shakthi and Shiva, or any other God can be prayed to. Remember, also, that His consorts are intellect and achievement. Our first duty is to keep the body and mind healthy. After you awaken your Kundalini, using your intellect, when you introspect and transform your thought processes, you can expand your mind to become aware of the subtle energy particle and Almighty State, and achieve Samadhi!
Phew! A magnificent, many-faceted philosophy of life, hidden in a story passed down from generation to generation – at the same time, benefiting all sections of society and preserving plants, trees and lakes! All with a delicious sweet modaka or kozhakattai It is time to deepen our understanding of Nature and realise the true meaning of this story. Let’s all take a few minutes today to sit down and meditate on these truths, and go one step towards realising the Divine and dissolving ourselves in Nature.
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