Thoughts on Ganesh Chaturthi

Brahmachari Arvind Chaitanya

Let us start with two fundamental questions: (1) Why do we pray? (2) What do we pray for?

Most will agree that we pray because we want something, which subsequently answers the second question...we usually pray for things which we don’t have. This in common language is also called begging. If this be one's attitude when we stand in front of the Lord, there remains very little difference between those who are inside the temple and those who sit outside the gates, waiting for the compassionate devotees to give them a few coins or notes out of pity. Surely, this begging must not be the true nature of prayer. True prayer is for things that we already have; it is meant to give us the ability to be able to bring out those strengths that remain as yet unexplored or uncultivated in us. True prayer is an expression of the yearning to grow and evolve into what we are truly meant to be.

To evolve into higher beings, we need ideals of perfection. This forms the basis for any kind of hero worship we see in our day-to-day lives, whether it be the child yearning to be his football star or the college girl yearning to be that cinema star or the inspired youth yearning to be that well-respected statesman. In all these cases, one looks up to the ideal, not for getting things from them but to rise up to become them. This is the principle behind true devotion. Devotion is the act of lifting ourselves born out of a yearning to reach or become the very ideal whom we look up to. In this light, instead of asking for small things from the Lord of the universe, true prayer must be to acquire those qualities which makes Him who He is and by which He is able to give everyone all that one asks for.

It is common knowledge that many pray to Lord Ganesha to ensure that He removes all obstacles that may come in the way of any task one may undertake. What is it that He has which enables Him to perform this role? Should we also not want those very qualities and capabilities? Should we also not craft our prayers for this purpose?

Towards this end, our great ancestors and sages defined the beautiful path of taking the name of the Lord. Name is referred to as peyar in Tamil or nāma in Sanskrit and Hindi. The true meaning of peyar or nāma apart from being the label we give to people and things actually also stands for the quality, nature, the essence of something which distinguishes it from others. Thus, each name of the Lord stands for a particular quality; by a collection of such names, we circumscribe and define the nameless and formless which is the abode of all qualities, into a form which we can relate to. Thus, the different deities of the Hindu pantheon are but different collections of qualities. When we take a name and say namaḥ (prostrations to), it implies our implicit surrender to that quality, almost saying, 'may I too embody that quality, may I lose myself to that quality'. In taking the names of Lord Ganesha, we should aspire for those qualities which when cultivated in us will ensure that the tasks we take up will proceed unobstructed.

There is a beautiful shloka which gives sixteen names of Lord Ganesha that one should chant:

sumukhaścaikadantaśca kapilo gajakarṇakaḥ |

lambodaraśca vikaṭo vighnarājo vināyakaḥ || 1 ||

dhūmaketurgaṇādhyakṣaḥ phālacandro gajānanaḥ |

vakratunḍaḥ śūrpakarṇo herambasskandapūrvajaḥ || 2 ||

ṣodaṣaitāni nāmāni yah patecchrunuyādapi |

vidyārambhe vivāhe ca praveśe nirgame tathā |

saṅgrāme sarvakāryeṣu vighnastasya na jāyate || 3 ||

Sumukhaḥ Ekadantaḥ Kapilaḥ Gajakarṇakaḥ Lambodaraḥ Vikaṭaḥ Vighnarājaḥ Vināyakaḥ Dhūmaketuḥ Gaṇādhyakṣaḥ Phālacandraḥ Gajānanaḥ Vakratunḍaḥ Śūrpakarṇaḥ Herambaḥ Skandapūrvajaḥ. These sixteen names, whom-so-ever chants or hears even, whether while starting studies, marriage, travel, engagement in activity or withdrawal, at times of conflict, in all possible situations, he/she shall never have any obstacles.

As mentioned before, each name stands for a quality and if we have these qualities, then we too will be like Lord Ganesha and all our activities will proceed unobstructed. These names have been beautifully interpreted by many great scholars, seers and realised masters of the past for our benefit.

1. SUMUKHĀYA NAMAḤ – Prostrations to the one with a beautiful face.

No one ever tires of looking at Lord Ganesha as His face expresses a subtle joy and peace. It is often said that the face is the index of the mind or heart. Therefore, in taking this name, we pray for that inner joy, peace and love for all that expresses in an ever smiling, cheerful and pleasant face like that of Lord Ganesha. Sumukha also means one with a good mouth. So this is a prayer for our mouths to be ever filled with good words and kind speech.

2. GAJĀNANĀYA NAMAḤ – Prostrations to the one with an elephant's face.

It is obvious that when we take such names, we are not asking literally for ears or a nose like that of an elephant. There are very few things in the world which we can continue to stare at without getting bored. These include the vast seas, mighty mountains, flowing rives, and among them, the face and gait of an elephant. In its face is embodied a calmness, serenity and majesty that seems to be born out of an inner intelligence. It is a visual expression of auspiciousness (maṅgalam). It is no wonder that Lord Ganesha is also called maṅgalmūrti. One of the important characteristics which makes the elephants face fascinating and also sumukham is that its mouth is always covered (with its trunk) which shows humility and self-restraint, which is the natural outcome of true intelligence. It is for these that we should pray for.

The three main characteristic features of an elephant's head are its tusks, trunk and ears which becomes the focus for the next four names.

3. EKADANTĀYA NAMAḤ – Prostrations to the one with one tusk.

The tusk is the object of pride of the male elephant which is often observed to be rubbing them against trees and rocks to keep them shiny and sharp. However, Lord Ganesha has only one! Among many stories which explain this, it is said that Lord Ganeśa broke one of the tusks to use as a stylus to record the verses of the Mahabharatha dictated by Sri Vedavyasa. This signifies sacrifice, the ability to give up what we have, even our prized possession for the sake of a larger, righteous cause. Indirectly, it implies the ability to give up our ego and ego-centric attitude for the sake of a larger goal.

4. VAKRATUNḌĀYA NAMAḤ – Prostrations to the one with a curved trunk.

The elephant's trunk is a unique feature unparalleled by any creation, natural or man-made. This unique limb (often referred to as the fifth limb) has the ability and strength to uproot the mightiest trees or move the heaviest of stones and at the same time, the nimbleness and dexterity to pluck a blade of grass using its tip or pick up a needle lying on the ground. This is the efficiency of mind that we should aspire for.

5. GAJAKARṆAKĀYA NAMAḤ – Prostrations to the one with an elephant's ears.

The ears are one of the most important and often over-looked anatomical part of man. Apart from helping us maintain our balance on two feet, it is through our ears that all the knowledge that we hold, about ourselves, the world and even God has entered us. All the knowledge we have are through words and speech which is impossible to take in if not for our ears. Here, the prayer is to have ears as large as that of an elephant, indicating the openness to increasing our knowledge of the world and more importantly, for listening to spiritual things, to hear the glories of the Lord, for more and more satsang. It is also a prayer to give us the ability to be able to listen to everything or be open to every point of view.

6. ŚŪRPAKARṆĀYA NAMAḤ – Prostrations to the one with ears like a winnow.

Having very large ears also has the accompanying problem that anything and everything is bound to enter it, without any control. It is here that this name takes significance where the prayer is to have large ears but which are like winnows (which are used to separate rice from husk). Hence, it is a prayer to have the ability to separate the good from the bad amidst all that we hear, even before it goes inside. It is fascinating that it is compared to a winnow and not a sieve (both of which are used to separate the wanted from the unwanted). While in the winnow, the unwanted is blown away retaining the useful, in the is the unwanted which gets retained while the useful falls through and flows away.

7. LAMBODARĀYA NAMAḤ – Prostrations to the one with a large stomach.

The form of the elephant is surely one of the most formidable that we encounter in the natural world and this certainly is not a prayer for a physically large stomach. The representation of Lord Ganesha as with a large-stomach and well-rounded body is to express His inner tṛptiḥ (contentment) full of ānanda (bliss). It also stands for purṇatvam, a wholeness where nothing is found wanting. Is this not what we all yearn for? His large form is also symbolic of stability, a mental attitude without which no task undertaken can be completed fruitfully. It is said that the entire universe is contained in the large stomach of Lord Ganesha, being Prāṇasvarūpa or the embodiment of that vital force which upholds and sustains the entire manifested cosmos.

However, in spite of His large form, it is curious to note that He is carried around by a small mouse. This goes to say that though He is so large, He is extremely light. This indeed is the nature of Truth, the absolute Reality, which is so large and yet so light to carry. Who is that mouse? It is none other than US, who carry this mighty all-pervading Truth in us so effortlessly, so much so that we do not even notice it and it is this which separates us from the mouse. Lord Ganesa is often represented with the mouse and a plate of laddoos or modaks. However, the mouse, instead of showing interest in the sweets is intently shown focussing all its attention only on the divine Lord. We on the other hand focus all our attention only on the plate of sweets, and only intermittently shift our gaze to Him, and that too mostly when the plate is empty and we want more. If only we aspire to be the mouse, He will give Himself to us and by that bestow us with all things from the entire universe and more importantly, absolute contentment and fullness, after which we will not want anything more.

The Lord is happiest when you don’t return to Him asking for more. If at all we return, it must be out of gratitude for what has been received, for having made us self-sufficient or just out of the pure love and joy of seeing and conversing with Him, of being with Him and moving closer to Him. By His grace, let us use every occasion that we find to elevate ourselves into our own true good-selves and our own inherent God-hood.

HariOM Tat Sat