Tag Archive: Hindu gods


Ganesha

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Making his way among the rained-on, green leaves and brush, the great elephant walks through the forest, clearing a path for all the other forest animals as he goes.  He pushes aside obstacles with ease. A being of immense power and strength, he never uses force to oppress others.  Indeed, he is kind and beneficent, a protective power.  Among the gentlest and wisest of beings, he is a vegetarian, though it must be admitted that he does gobble down a huge quantity of plants – sometimes nearly half a ton each day.

 

Ganesha, the beloved and most popular God of the Hindu people, is an elephant God, with an elephant’s head.

 

There are many variations of stories told to explain how Ganesha has the head of an elephant – some of the stories are a bit bizarre and depict other Gods behaving rather badly – chopping off Ganesha’s head when he was a young boy, and then finding another one to replace it. However, they are allegories, not meant to be taken literally, and they reflect deeper cosmic realities.

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In whatever way Ganesha obtained it, his new head worked out really well, and he couldn’t have asked for a more propitious head. It was endowed with the wonderful natural qualities of the elephant – gentleness and strength, great wisdom and intelligence, a keen enjoyment of life, along with overflowing generosity that  bestows good fortune, peace, blessings, and success on all who seek his help.

 

His huge elephant ears signify his willingness to listen to all those seeking his help.

 

All Hindu prayers begin with an invocation to Ganesha, who is never too far away and is always within reach of the person who prays.

 

The celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi, which marks the birth or re-birth of Ganesha, lasts for several days and takes place during the lunar month of Bhadrapada  (mid-August to mid-September). In 2013 the celebration runs from September 9 through September 18.

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Traditionally, as part of the festival, large clay statues of Ganesha were made out of mud or clay, carried through the streets and then ritually immersed in bodies of water.  In recent years however, the practice grew up of making these statues out of plaster of Paris, a harmful substance that pollutes streams and lakes.  Now there are efforts to return to the original practice of using natural clay instead, which does not harm the environment or the birds, animals, and fish in the water.

 

Sadly, over time, people have tended to forget that wild animals, including elephants, should not be taken out of the wild, where they are meant to be and where they are happiest.  Today there are elephants kept captive in many temples in India. Worshippers who pass by ask blessings of the temple elephant, never thinking that it is uncomfortable for her to be standing on the hard pavement hour after hour.

 

In honor of Ganesha, it is to be hoped that soon temples can set aside some acres of land, covered in grass and trees, with a pond – to be a sanctuary for elephants. Though these sanctuaries wouldn’t be the same as being in the wild, they would nonetheless offer a comfortable shady spot, a quiet place for the elephant and her elephant friends to rest and be at peace, where they can still bless devotees from a distance.  Their blessings, given from a place of comfort, will no doubt be all the more effective and auspicious.

 

Ganesha is not only a God of great power, he is also warm, jovial, and friendly. He is the God of knowledge, well-being, and success — in short, of positivity. Depicted as a plump, rather roly-poly being who loves life; he is often shown playing the flute or dancing. In Hindu homes and temples, he graces people’s lives with his presence. The vehicle that he rides on is an animal without pretentions of grandeur — his vahana is a simple mouse.

 

Early on, around two thousand years ago, the worship of Ganesha spread from Hinduism to Jainism and to Buddhism. When Buddhism was carried from India by missionaries, worship of Ganesha took hold in Japan, Tibet, China, and throughout southeast Asia.

 

According to a system of worship formalized by the saint Adi Shankar, in the eighth century CE, Ganesha is one of the five primary deities of Hinduism. The others are Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, and Surya.  There are many thousands more deities too, and each one may have thousands of names, so it is quite complicated.

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Ganesha’s elephant head symbolizes the soul, while his human body signifies the earthly existence of human beings. His trunk represents the syllable om, the eternal sound of cosmic reality.

 

Ganesha is a scribe, and he wrote down the whole epic poem, the Mahabharata, as it was being dictated to him by the sage Vyasa.  It is 18 volumes long, so it took a lot of writing.  Ganesha was using a quill pen, but at one point it broke.  He didn’t want to stop, so he broke off one of his own tusks to use as a pen, so he could continue to write.  Now he is always shown with only one complete tusk, and the other one is broken.  His one tusk has another meaning too.  It stands for Advaita Vedanta, which is the predominant, non-dualistic form of Hinduism. It recognizes the soul and all beings as being part of God and returning to God. In other words, there is One Eternal Power in the universe, not two competing ones. Evil does exist, but it is not permanent and has no ultimate reality.

 

Many volumes have been written, and many more could be written, about the beloved Ganesha. So this is only the briefest of introductions.

 

In prayers and rituals, Ganesha is addressed first before other Gods because he opens the way for the soul on its journey towards the divine; he provides the bridge between earth and heaven – and also the pathway from heaven to earth, by which blessings descend.

To learn more about Ganesha, these books are available at Amazon.com:

 

Ganesha: The Auspicious…The Beginning by Nanditha Krishna and Shakunthala Jagannathan  To view this book on Amazon.com, click here

 

Sacred Animals of India by Nanditha Krishna  To view this book on Amazon.com, click here.

 

Photos:

Top photo: Author: Quadell / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / “Seated Ganesha 12th-13th century Hoysala dynasty Chloritic schist, Halebid, Karnataka, India This sculpture displays the ornate carving and exuberant decoration characteristic of art created under the Hoysala dynasty (1042–1346). The decorated floral arch surrounding the sculpture suggests that it once occupied a cell or niche in a temple. Housed in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.[1]”

 

Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Elephant on the wall “Descent of the Ganges” at Mahabalipuram

 

Third photo:  Sharon St Joan / On the first day of the holiday Ganesh Chaturthi in 2010, these elephants lined up on the river that runs through Samburu in Kenya, as if to wish Ganesha Happy Birthday.

 

Fourth photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This image… is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years…You must also include a United States public domain tag to indicate why this work is in the public domain in the United States.”/ “Basohli miniature, circa 1730. National Museum, New Delhi” / “Original uploader was Buddhipriya at en.wikipedia” / “Ganesha getting ready to throw his lotus.”

Geese living at the tank of the Milapore Temple, Chennai

The earth is a sacred being—along with all aspects of the natural world.

All ancient peoples (and tribal peoples today) knew this.  The early inhabitants of India, the seers who wrote the Rig Veda, (the oldest book in the world) knew this and worshipped the forces of nature—Vayu the wind, Indra the storm God, Agni the God of fire.  Narayana, in ancient temples and inscriptions, is the God of the sea,  Ganesha is the elephant God, and Hanuman is the monkey God, who brought the armies of monkeys to fight alongside Rama.

To see the earth as sacred, one need not look at it from a purely Hindu perspective, though Hinduism offers a lens with an especially crystal clear view.  As I see it, and all of these are only my own perspectives, nothing more, there is truth to be found in all spiritual traditions.

In Christianity too, and in all faiths, one can find windows to the sacred nature of the earth.  Sometimes one has to look a little more intently though, and sometimes more and more layers of obfuscation have been laid over the top of the original truth. So, to get back to Hinduism, which seems to have a clearer glass to look through…

Sea of the Bay of Bengal, near Mahabalipuram

The two first incarnations of Vishnu were the fish and the turtle or tortoise—both are sacred beings: Matsya the fish and Kurma, the tortoise.  Matsya saved all the creatures of the earth by pulling through the sea the great ark holding the animals at the time of the flood.  Kurma supported the mountain of the earth on his back so that it didn’t sink during the churning of the oceans.

It is not just the animals and the elemental forces of nature that are sacred, but also the plants.  Every temple in India has a sacred tree. Generally the tree was there before the temple.  People pray to the tree, who grants their wishes.

The mountains are sacred too and emblematic of Shiva—the power and presence of the Cosmos.

Vishapaharana, a form of Shiva, who swallowed poison to protect others

To see the presence of God in nature is not a primitive way of looking at things. (Though it is a way that we in the west have mostly left behind us.) That we have left it behind does not make it primitive, nor does it make us more “advanced”. It simply means that we have taken a wrong turn.

It means that we in the west have traveled the farthest down the wrong track, having left behind the life-sustaining principles of the universe.  This wrong track has led us to where we are today, with the air polluted, the forests half gone, the animals dying and disappearing, and the great ecological catastrophe in the Gulf.  The rest of the world sadly follows suit.

Now today, we stand by on the sidelines, watching horrified as BP takes over American coastlines and airspaces, and, unhindered, kills American wildlife (on the Fourth of July).  Not that it matters in the slightest whether it’s the Fourth of July or any other day.

When we no longer see the earth as sacred, when we see the natural world, the land, the oceans and the animals as resources, rather than as spiritual beings, then we do not see them as they are.

This lack of reverence leads to desecration, to the destruction and annihilation of all that is sacred—to handing over the fate of the planet to those who will, inevitably, destroy it because, in looking at a mountain, they do not see the presence of God.  They see only a wealth of coal and minerals, so the mountain must be destroyed to get to those.

It is sometimes said that science and technology are neutral and can be used for good or ill, but there is a problem with this.  Accepting a neutral stance is a denial of the sacred nature of life and the soul.  It is like a tone-deaf person listening to music—it is missing the point.  A tone-deaf person may just have a disability and may be fine in other aspects of life, but when we are missing the point of the spiritual nature of the natural world, that is much more serious, it is a fatal point to miss.

(Yet the great heroes of the past, and even the present, do use technology in the defense of what is just—so clearly it is a complicated topic.)

The Goddess Durga, 15th century, the Chennai Museum

In looking at the sea though, when we do not see the face of the divine, but see only a resource under the waves, when we only notice that with technology, we can get the oil to keep our houses warm or cool and our cars running, then we are missing the meaning of existence.

Like shadows in a dream, we watch our species destroying the earth, and this predicament stems from elevating our human selves, our greed and our needs, to a divine status—to worshipping ourselves, our technology, our science, and our power to dominate all that stands in our way.  Nevermind that this is the way to death, and that it brings death to all the gods and to the earth herself—which may be, in fact, the underlying intention.  Still, we cling to our “way of life,” which is only a way of death.

There is another truth though, on another level, beyond the physical destruction of the planet.

Though the physical dies, only the physical form can be killed, the sacred is eternal, living from eon to eon, cycle to cycle, world to world, along with the souls of all innocent creatures, who are blessed, on truer levels, with lives of peace and freedom.

The soul of the seas, the rivers, the trees, the sparrows and the pelicans, the gods of the wind and the mountains dressed in mist do not die, but live on from world to world, epoch to epoch, because their soul, who is the one, eternal soul, is living and is life itself.

Only the physical form is killed, and those who are expressions only of the physical, the walking dead.

Yet the soul of the wind, the pelican, the sea turtle, the moon who lights the sky, the sun, the shining rain, the trees, are all aspects of the sacred, single soul who rides, with grace and magic on the glad clouds of eternity—all are expressions of the one single great soul.

One thousand year old vines at the sacred grove, Puthupet

As for ourselves—the part of us which is absorbed in our unique, personal lives will pass away like the burning smoke in the winds.

While the part of ourselves which works for and cares only for the innocent beings who are the essence of God will fly away one day with them on the wind-enchanted wings of the spirit.

Many wise people in India today feel that this age that we are in will last still many thousands of years. Perhaps they’re right, they’ve often been right before, but I’m not so sure…either that this age will last a long time or that it will be a good idea if it does.

Indeed though, both views are true—the prophecies of doom, with the coming end of time, and also the prophecies of a new heaven and a new earth—magical and eternal.  And on what time scale these events may take place, who really knows?

Photos: Sharon St Joan

 

 

 

(Please be reminded that, as this is my personal blog, it has no connection whatsoever with, nor do the views expressed reflect those of, any other individual or any organization.)