Significance of Vinayaka Chaturthi

published on September 7, 2013

Of all the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, Lord Ganesha is the most popular and powerful too. No undertaking, auspicious or inauspicious, can be launched even by the other gods without invoking Lord Ganesha. Brahma once forgot to worship Ganesha before commencing a Yagna. Even the creator will not be spared if he violates the rules of righteousness. Not only he, but all the other gods who participated in his Yagna incurred the wrath of Saraswati due to a misunderstanding, and were cursed. No wonder that Shiva worshipped him before the conquest of Tripura, Vishnu before tying up Mahabali, Brahma before starting creation, Sesh Nag before carrying the earth on its head, Parvati before destroying Mahishasura, Rama before Setubandha and Krishna to get rid of a false accusation.

Like many other gods, Ganesha, too, emerged only as a totemic god. But this tribal deity got entry into the Aryan pantheon and had an almost meteoric rise to a higher position and popularity than others. It is believed that Ganesha worship began during the Gupta period, even before the 6th century A.D., for the Brihad Samhita of Varahamihira belonging to that date prescribes details regarding fashioning of Ganesha images. But soon, in the tenth century, we see Ganesha enjoying a prominent position, and having a separate sect called Gaanaapatya. He is also Vishwaksena or Tumbikkai Alwar of Vaishnavism. He was borrowed by other sects like Buddhism and Jainism and became popular all over Asia and in many other parts of the world. As a Hindu deity he is worshipped in South-East Asia and as a Buddhist in Far East. He commands worship in Dargah Pir Rathan Nath in Kabul, and the early representations of Ganesha are found in Afghanistan. He is the popular Heramba of Nepalese, and finds a place above the main entrance to Tibetan temples including Buddhist. He is popular in Khotan. Along with Buddhism, he entered into Mongolia. In Baku, on the Caspian, in U.S.S.R., he is in a fire temple claimed by both the Hindus and Parsis as their own. The Japanese and Chinese knew him in two forms–one similar to that in India and the other two-faced elephant representing the male part and the female counterpart. The Japanese call him Kon-Kiten. Ganesha serves as a model of meditation for the Javanese Muslims. His worship has spread in Mexico, Burma, Cambodia, Champa and everywhere the Indians have gone.

Worshipped in many forms, Ganesha, in his female form, is Ganeshani, not only in the South Indian temples at Suchindram and Madurai and in Bhere Ghat near Jabalpur in the North, but even in the remote Tibet. He is a child, like Navaneeta Krishna, in Jalakanteswara temple of Vellore, a Saligram in in Tirunallore, a dancing god in the Hoyasaleswara temple at Halebid and a flute-player in Srisailam. Why, you can see him sporting in Western trousers in the distant Chinese Turkistan! He has varying forms in each yuga too–in Krita with ten hands and with the lion for his vehicle, in Treta as Mayuresa seated on peacock, in Dwapara with four hands and of red hue, and in Kali with two hands and, of course, the trunk.

Ganesh is verily the chosen deity of the youth. Himself youthful and energetic, he is “sadaa baalaroopaapi vignaadrihantree” (although young always, can yet despoil a mountain of obstacles) according to Sankara. Innumerable are the temples dedicated to him throughout the length and breadth of the country. In States like Tamilnadu, there cannot be found any street corner in cities and towns and any village where there is not at least one Vinayaka temple–big or small. The Ashtha Siddhi Vinayakas near and around Poona and nearly 200 places known for Ganesha worship are listed in Maharashtra alone. He is popular in other States too, but not looked uniformly by all people in the county. In the North he is younger brother of Karthikeya and having two wives, Siddhi and Buddhi, while in the South he is the elder one and a confirmed bachelor.

Celebrations of Ganesh festival as a public programme were prevalent under the Swaraj of the Peshwas in Maharashtra. But it was Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak who rejuvenated it in 1893. Like all other activities of Tilak, the Ganapati festivals were also socio-political in conception. The songs sung in the Melas, the lectures delivered by prominent leaders during the festival days and the Immersion Procession on the last day of the festival, all provided a great impetus to the task of national re-awakening for Swaraj and fight for freedom. No wonder that the British Government looked down upon these festivals with disfavour. But one remarkable fact is that in spite of the persuasions of the opponents of Tilak, who came out demanding scriptural authority for these public celebrations; the groups like the Prarthana Samajists who were opposed to idol worship; and the Muslim community who abhorred the procession passing in front of mosques, the British Government never exploited such easy excuses to suppress the Ganesh festivals, which were from the very beginning, unassailable on sound social lines and having their religious aspect much more dominantly expressed. Ganesh festivals are spread even outside Maharashtra and at Indore, in the far off Malwa, the festival has the grandest finale to it.

The fourth day of the waxing moon in the lunar month, Bhadrapada, is held sacred to Lord Ganesha, for it is the day on which the lord descended to the earth as the son of Siva and Parvati. There is a legendary explanation for the celebration of Vinayaka Chaturthi, according to which the Moon god invited the curse of Ganesha by laughing at his ungainly shape, and after penitence and penance, he got the curse reversed with the condition that he should worship Ganesha on the fourth day of the bright half of the lunar month and particularly on the Bhadra-Shukla Chaturthi. But worship of Vinayaka by his devotees aspiring for wealth and happiness on this auspicious day is not merely a matter of faith. It has its scientific significance too. On this day, Vinayaka is worshipped with leaves of twenty one different trees, plants and shrubs, and it is called Ekavimsa Patrapooja. From the point of view of Ayurvedic science, these leaves and flowers have great medicinal effects and are abundantly available in Bhadrapada (August-September). Hence the celebration of the festival provides training to young men and women in the identification, collection, preservation and usage of some valuable materia medica.

Legends are many as to how Ganesha got this therianthropomorphic form. But wise youth will ponder over the symbolic representation of the Ganesha Tattva. Ganesha stands for clarity of mind. For the clarity of the mind, a large head which can conceive and understand the Vedic truths is required. And the ears should be wide enough to hear clearly the srutis. The long trunk stands for the power of discrimination which can solve gross problems in the outer world, which are similar to lifting of heavy weight, and also be employed in the subtle realms of inner personality layers, which can be compared to plucking small blades of grass. His pot-belly stands for the capacity of the mind to digest all sorts of experiences–pleasant or unpleasant. Thus every aspect of his form is a symbolic representation of an aspect of the perfected mind, the pranava swaroopa. Similarly every action attributed to Lord Ganesha also represents some subtle truth. His riding the mouse points out that a perfected mind can ride over and control desires which run towards sense objects. His circumambulatiing the Divine Parents and thus defeating his brother in a race round the world signifies that all knowledge is encompassed by the realization of the Supreme Wisdom.

If rightly understood, Hindu religion is not merely a faith, unlike others, or a plethora of gods and goddesses or different modes of worship. Each god stands for a tattva and once it is rightly understood, the worth of Hinduism as a universal religion, which crosses the barriers of country and clime, castes and creeds, can be realized. Let us hope that our intelligent youth will strive to understand the real meaning and significance of Hinduism.

(Published as Editorial in Yuva Bharati, September 1975.)

Author is Founder Trustee: Bharatamata Gurukula Ashram & Yogi Ramsuratkumar Indological Research Centre,
Sri Guruji Golwalkar Hindu Resource Centre and Sister Nivedita Academy
Sri Bharatamata Mandir, Srinivasanagar, Krishnarajapuram, Bangalore 560 036
E-mail: [email protected] ; Phone: 080-25610935; Cell: 94482 75935

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