By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
Though the origin of the worship of Lord Ganesha is a subject of much debate for various reasons, especially in the absence of a definite beginning of Hinduism, it has been a custom among the Hindus to invoke Lord Ganesha at the beginning of prayers as well as in all ceremonies and cultural festivals. The history of the worship of Lord Ganesha can be gathered from ancient Hindu scriptures where there are many references about Lord Ganesha, the first of such reference is been found in the Rig Veda. Rig Veda begins with the invocation of Lord Ganesha, who is described as the Chief of Ganas (divine beings) and as the Supreme Seer (Rig Veda 2.23). Apparently Yajur Veda also mentions ‘Salutations to you Ganas and to the Lord of Ganas’. (Yajur Veda 16-25). There are also many references in the great epics of Ramayana and Maha Bharath, all of which indicate that the worship of Lord Ganesha dates back prior to 7,000 years ago or even earlier.
Rig Veda which was composed during the period of Indus Valley civilization or even earlier, describes the God that is invoked as Brahmanaspathi, who was considered as a Vedic divinity of the highest rank and Remover of Obstacles. The word Brahmanaspathi requires clarification. The word Brahmanaspathi is a combination of two words Brahman and Brihaspathi. Brahman is Supreme Reality and Brahapathi is the personification of piety, purity and knowledge. Lord Ganesha is also referred to as Ganapathi in the Rig Veda. ‘Gana’ means multitude in Sanskrit and here it refers to hosts of Brihaspathi and ‘Isha’ means Lord. When these two words are coined together it becomes Ganesha or Ganapathi – both refers to the Chief of Ganas. The word ‘Ganas’ symbolize desires, thoughts and impulses. It revolves round the mind which are the centre point for our desires, thoughts and feelings, which would lead individuals to the passions of greed, desire, jealousy and anger that has the force of ending up in social disturbances. The five organs of perception and the five organs of action are the Ganas to which the mind is the master. The intellect is the discriminating faculty above the mind. The ten senses (the mind and the intellect) constitute the Ganas. Lord Ganesha dwells in every human being in the form of intellect and wisdom. It is said that the principle of classifications through which the relations can be understood between different order of things, between the macrocosm and the microcosm is called the Lord of categories which is Lord Ganapathi also known as Lord Ganesha. However, the mystery remains whether Brihaspathi refers to Lord Shiva or whether Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesha are the same.
Moreover it is said that Sage Agasthiyar lived about 7600 years ago in Gujarat, had given more prominence to the worship of Lord Ganesha. Sage Agasthiyar was considered to be an embodiment of the nine celestial intellectuals who came to this earth for enlightening human beings.
The ancient Hindu scriptures composed during the period of Indus Valley civilization or the Vedic period revolves around the Himalayas region which include Kashmir, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Tibet, and some parts in the Central Asia. As far as Hinduism is concerned the ancient names of places in Asia lend some assistance to find out the growth and influence of such religions. The words Himalayas, Mt.Ganesh, Mt.Annapoorna, Mt.Parvathi, (around the Himalayan regions) Bharath, India, Malaya, Indonesia, Saraswathi, etc are of Sanskrit origin, the usage of which can be traced to 12,000 years back or even earlier. Upon an examination of the Hindu scriptures especially the great epics Ramayana and Maha Bharath and the use of Sanskrit language in these texts along with other languages in Iran and Afghanistan suggest that the eastern portion of the Hindu Kush mountain range within the Pakistan border, with highest mountain peaks, endless valleys, passes and glaciers, is considered to be the pinnacle of Hindu Kush region. Hindu Kush region has been a part of India. The origin of the Hindu Kush is reported to be traced from the Hindu scriptures. There were two Hindu kingdoms, Gandhahar and Vaachi Pradesh. The kingdom of Gandhahar was established by Taksha, who was the grandson of Bharat of Ayodhya and its borders stretched to the present day Uzbekistan. There was no Pakistan in those periods. Mention should be made there was a place called Ganesh village also spelt as Ganish village and also known as Ganish Khun, where there are some most amazing ancient inscriptions carved on rocks and in ancient scripts such as Karoshti, Gupta, etc, the age of some is reported to about 5,000 years BC. As such it appears that a section of Afghanistan was great Centre of Vedic culure – an indication of the existence of worship of Lord Ganesha.
There are a number of interpretations of the word Hindu Kush. Hindu Kush means ‘Mountain of india’. It is a sounding expression of Hindu Koh. Koh is a Persian word for mountain. Apparently, some diamonds are known as Koh-i-noor meaning mountain of light. In the Pashto language of Afghanistan, it is called Hindu Koh which means Mount India. Pashto is an Iranian language close to Persian. Prior to the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan, vast majority of the population around the area of Kabul (Hindu Kush Region) practiced Hinduism and Buddhism. As historians are of the view that that the South of Hindu Kush had cultural links with the Indus Valley Civilization in the ancient period, it appears that the worship of Lord Ganesha was prevalent some 12,000 years ago.
The worship of Lord Ganesha prevailed not only among the Hindus in India, but also prevailed among the Jains and Buddhists. Even in Japan there are about 250 Ganesha temples, where Lord Ganesha is known as Kangiten – the God of fortune, happiness, prosperity and good. Young Japanese worship Lord Ganesha to win in love.
Since the inception of the formation of this earth, there were a number of faiths which originated at intermittent periods. People irrespective of their race, religion, colour, language, etc, had one common aspect in their culture of praying God. Prayer is a sacred way for people to reach out to God. The use of language as communication link and the manner in which places were named in the ancient period determined the age of worship of God by the people – one of which ws the worship of Lord Ganesh. The growth of the languages in ancient period is not known. Divinity is expressed in terms of symbols by the ancient sages, as symbols can remain forever than words. Divinity in Ganesha Chathurthi is expressed in terms of symbols.
Lord Ganesha is identified with divinity in its perceptible manifestation. The human part of Lord Ganesha which represents the manifest principle, is subordinate to the unmanifest depicted as elephant. When Divinity is depicted by way of symbols, opposites can co-exist. It is this combination of co-existence of the human-part and the elephant (manifest and unmanifest) led to the formation of PRANAVA. Elephant is a wise animal and hence elephant-head symbolizes wisdom. Elephant is also a symbol when existence begins as well as the issuance of the syllable AUM. It is from AUM, the Veda was issued as Universal Law. From the Veda the Universe was created. PRANA is the life-force and VA is the energy of Lord Shiva, known as Shiva-Sakthi. When they mingle in the vibration of PRANAVA, Lord Ganesha reveals himself.
The food at the feet of Lord Ganesha symbolizes material wealth and power. The axe in the hand symbolizes annihilation of desires. The gourd in the hand represents spiritual knowledge which helps to remove ourselves from the material world. One hand bestows grace signalling fearless. The modak (sweet) symbolizes happiness and joy deriving from spiritual pursuit. Lotus represents the divine state of Self Realization that humans eventually aspire for. Large ears symbolize that he hears everyone’s grievances and vows. The broken tusk is symbolic of knowledge and the left tusk represents emotion. Both tusks convey the message that a person should not be trapped between two opposites like pleasures and sufferings, but be conscious to break its grips on us. Moreover, the broken tusk indicates that a person should get rid of ego for spiritual fulfillment. Trunk has the ability to pick trees as well as a needle. It symbolizes that wise persons has both immense strength and fine discriminatory power. Mouse symbolizes the sense. Here Lord Ganesha controls the mouse. This sends the message that wise persons keep their senses under control in spite of receipt of rewards. Finally one leg of Lord Ganesha that is folded symbolizes the dealing with the world, while the other leg that rooted to the ground symbolizes the concentration upon the Supreme Reality. On the whole the qualities of a leader is demonstrated with symbolism of Lord Ganesha.
Since difficulties in our life prevent to achieve the fulfillment of the desired goals, there is common belief that such difficulties in our daily activities can be overcome by worshipping Lord Ganesha. Obstacles create fear in the minds of the people. There can be will power, courage and determination, yet the mind roams about in overcoming difficulties. This fear is considered as the beginning of religion. Fear denotes acceptance of the mighty of God. People who do not have fear for God, when everything is under their control, ultimately ends up their lives with miseries and suffering of mind. This applies to every person irrespective of his status or position in life.
The prominent aspect of the worship of Lord Ganesha is on the Ganesha Chathurthi Day, where Hindus worship Lord Ganesha and honour him as a beloved guest for ten days. There is a belief that Lord Ganesha was born on the fourth day of the bright forthnight of the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada (between August and September). It is said that Ganesha Chathurthi is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. One may ponder whether there are many Gods in Hinduism and whether they have birthdays. Lord Ganesha has neither birth nor death. He has neither beginning nor end. There is a deep inner meaning for such Hindu festivals. The birth of Lord Ganesha demonstrates that the identity of the macrocosm and the microcosm is one of the basic concepts of the Hindu mythological symbolism. There is a difference between Hinduism and the Western religions as to how religion is viewed. Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma which deals with the discovery of Truth. There is no prescribed text, no specific founder and no centralized authority for Hinduism. In addition, Hinduism does not have a unified method of worship. The striking feature of Hinduism is that it is liberal, tolerant and flexible and never engages in conversion. Hinduism recognizes and respects the infinite multiplicity of approaches to the Absolute Truth. Even Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are new paths, but were struck with a label of separate religion. In the words of Swami Vivekananda religion is a direct relationship between an individual and God. Hinduism teaches principles and not persons. This does not mean other faiths are not religions. They are considered as an individual’s spiritual journey to enlightenment and adapted a way of living. Hinduism does not oppose other religions. It is a case of self-realization. As Mahathma Gandhi mentioned all religions are beautiful plants with beautiful blooming flowers.
Here is a story that Lord Shiva arrived unannounced to visit Parvathi. Nandi, who is so devoted to Lord Shiva (Supreme Soul) never obstructed him because he knew of the power of knowledge. The creation of a boy to guard her is depicted as the ego-bound soul. Parvathi is the Supreme Energy and represents the material world. In the human body she resides in Muladhara Chakra, known as Kundalini Sakthi. It is said that yellow is associated with the Muladhara Chakra where Kundalini resides. When Lord Shiva (who represents the Supreme Reality) entered, the ego-bound boy (Jiva) obstructed without knowing the power of knowledge and without realizing that all souls emanate from the Supreme Soul. Lord Shiva, the Supreme Knowledge just marched its way ignoring the obstruction of the boy by eradicating ignorance aside. This is symbolized by the chopping of the boy’s head. The Jiva that prevented the Supreme Soul also liberates itself and merges into the Supreme. Here Lord Ganesha symbolizes one who has realized the Reality and is said to be the Lord of all beings. In other words, the external world which depends on the ego for its existence disappears with the extinction of the Ego. The Supreme Energy and the Supreme Soul meet together in the living person with the removal of the ego and energies activated in the person is that of Lord Ganesha. Restoration of Lord Ganesha is symbolic who attained that State of Divinity. Therefore, the essence of Ganesha Chathurthi festival is to demonstrate that ignorance has to always bow down to knowledge. Ignorance with the might to control knowledge is only temporary. This is a message to the world that egoism will not last forever and that it is the cause of downfall of everyone who disregards knowledge, which is permanent.
Hindu tradition always maintain the remembrance of the divinity of man and the immanence of God. According to Hinduism, AUM is a primordial sound. OMKARA signifies Lord Shiva, being both the individual and cosmic. Lord Ganesha, who is depicted as the divine son of Lord Shiva, is the whole support of the whole universe. The sound symbol AUM is indestructible forever. It is immortal and timeless.
Lord Ganesha is the manifested form of divine. The formless divine is ever present, though it takes on a manifestation. Having manifested a form, the divine also assumes a name on account of our association with a form. The formless spirit destroys the disparities. The celebration of Ganesha Chathurthi reveals that while worshipping the divine with form, the formless reality should also be kept in mind. The immersion of the idol of Lord Ganesha in the water demonstrate that it is imperative to seek the truth with a manifested form in order to proceed to realize the formless reality, which eventually merges oneself with the realization of one’s true self. This is the significant feature of Ganesha Chathurthi in realizing the Truth in a formless Reality. These salient features are well brought out in celebrating Ganesha Chathurthi festival.
Ignorance is the root of suffering. It is a mental disease which does not respect even other faiths and goes even to the extent of demolishing other places of worships. It is the negative opposite of wisdom. Ignorance constitutes a self-centered attitude and its subsequent destructive approach to life. It is a life of greed and hatred instead of compassion and freedom. Ignorance denotes the inability to distinguish between the real and fake and the failure to choose priorities correctly. Ganesha Chathurthi is a festival for everyone irrespective of any discrimination whatsoever and has the force of promoting unity among the people and even change the hearts of rulers. This festival is an opportunity for people of all faiths to interact and know each other with mutual understanding.
OM GANESHAYA NAMA
1. Ramayana and Maha Bharatha
2. Ganesha as Primal Sound by Ratna Ma Navaratnam
3. Lord Ganesha by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
4. Ganesha Chathurthi by Sri Swami Sivananda
5. Lord Ganesha by V.Jeyaram
6. Lord Ganesha by Madhuri Guin