Thursday, 4 September 2014

Q&A: "LORD GANESH, OUR FRIEND AND SUPPORTER"



The Blogger interviewed on Lord Ganesh:


So, Firstly, why is Lord Ganesh so revered in the Vedic tradition?
The interface between the Divine and man can be a bit difficult. Our human frailties make it necessary for us to spend a long time in self-purification before we can sense and interact with the Divine Light in us and around us. But there are are particular entry points and helpers along the way. Lord Ganesh is one of three very approachable deities whose forms and presence is really welcome not just to those of us who practise sadhana but also to every single human being.

The other two?
Shri Mata Matangi, one of the ten Mahavidya aspects of the mother, and Lord Krishna in the form of Lord Jagannatha. So all three are very approachable, all three appear to be willing to interact and uplift humanity without the need for too much meticulous preparations and systems of worship. But of the three, Lord Ganesh is perhaps the most universally beloved.  In fact, so universal is he, that you can go into shops across the western world and buy a figure of Lord Ganesh - and of course he is revered in Buddhist countries as well. If you are in an Asian country with elephants, he's probably represented. We humans just seem to instinctively feel warm and safe around him. There's a sweetness and a smile to him.

Can you tell us a little bit about his attributes and iconography?
Like any other Hindu deity, He has his fierce side, but He is principally known as the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati, brother to Lord Kartikkeya (Murugan), with an elephant's head and a corpulent human body. The head of the elephant is explained in a number of ways, the principle one being that Parvati asked her son to guard Her while she took a bath, and then Lord Shiva came along after a long period of tapasya (another day in the office for him!) and saw this figure barring the way to his wife's chambers, lost his temper and lopped off his head. When an understandably enraged Parvati confronted Shiva, he hastily had to find the first available living thing to restore his son to life, which happened to be an elephant. It is a sweet and very human story, because we can all easily imagine exactly what Parvati would have said, and Lord Shiva's resultant panic!

So, a curious form from a domestic tiff
Yes, absolutely. But this story gives us two hints about Lord Ganesh. Firstly, he is the firm guardian of the Mother, which means in our own sadhana, he guards the way to the unfolding of shakti. Some say Lord Ganesh's place is seated right in the muladhara, the base chakra from which Mata Kundalini rises. He is, therefore, a gatekeeper of sadhana. 

Secondly, his very form is non-threatening, a bit comic, but reassuring. To add to mismatch, he only has one tusk, and whereas other deities have splendid mounts, such as Lord Shiva's bull Nandi, Durga's tiger, his brother's peacock and so forth, his mount is a humble mouse. And every legend about him reminds us that he loves sweet things of all kinds. 

What sort of role does Lord Ganesh play in sadhana?
He's the beginning. He's the auspicious start. That is how it works. He's the one at the gate of Siddha Loka saying "your papers, please." The only group of Hindus I know who conspicuously fail to honour Lord Ganesh in prayers and mantras are the Hare Krishna boys and girls, that is some of the more extreme forms of Vaishnava worship. Otherwise, when you begin your prayers, Lord Ganesh is immediately honoured. Whether you are his devotee or not, this honour comes to him. This acknowledges his role, then, as the gatekeeper or as he is often referred to, as the Lord of Obstacles, or to be more precise, Lord Vinayaka, the Remover of obstacles.

How does he remove obstacles?
Lord Ganesh is the one who hands out the tickets for Devi sadhana, for access to the mother's city and palace. So what he really represents is the victory over our animal, pashu, nature. In his iconography, The Lord has perfectly balanced the tremendous instinctual forces of the animal nature, represented by the elephant's head, with the human nature. All is under control. He is known as Shuddha, the pure one as well. So getting permission to do advanced sadhana is via Lord Ganesh, and this means the gradual control over our animal nature and less helpful tendencies. 

He has a particular association with Brahmacharya, doesn't he?
Yes he does have the association with sexual continence, even though in some legends he is married to two wives, with deep symbolic meanings.Again, this is a way of saying that if you truly are dedicated in your desire for sadhana, the yamas and niyamas, the yogic restraints and observances, are inevitable at some stage in that journey. 

What about his association with the Vedas?
Yes, in legend, Lord Ganesh is the one who patiently transcribed the Vedas, dictated to him by Veda Vyasa, the great human Rishi. So again, patience, humility, and also deep knowledge. For some he is the embodiment of the Pranava, the Om, and there are many ingenious bits of artwork you can find which turn the Om into an elephants shape. He is the lord of categories, so He is the one bringing order and depth of knowledge, a sort of librarian for our sadhana. 

And he is kind?
Yes, absolutely. Kind and forgiving and helpful, without pomp or circumstance. He is very approachable. Some people say that his presence can be felt in other figures in world myth, such as Santa Claus, or the laughing Buddha. Interesting idea.

And a family man?
This is one of the most curious aspects of Lord Ganesh, in as much as he appears as the dutiful son of what appears to be the ideal human family, Lord Shiva, Parvati and their two sons. This is a very popular image, and I remember even having place mats for the dinner table showing this setting. When you think about it, it's a very curious nuclear family - the husband off most of the time meditating, one son leading armies to sweeping victories, and the mother as the daughter of the mountains. But there is a serious point behind it. Lord Ganesh is the guardian of the mother's honour and modesty. The esoteric meaning behind this is that when Shakti fully awakes in our life through the rising of Kundalini, she is what some texts call "Naive, defenceless and complete", naked and unadorned by anything else, as she is pure energy. But this reality is guarded by Lord Ganesh. He does not allow others to see his Mother this way unless they are ready for the sight. 

So do you then have to worship him with pujas and so forth?
Lord Ganesh's worship has its own particular rhythms and rituals, particularly in the form of gestures and mudras, and are meant for his devotees alone. But this does not mean in your own life that you do not acknowledge him. The simplest way you do this is just say "Om Gam Ganapataye Namahah" when ever you begin chanting, meditation, or swadhyaya. This takes no time, obviously, but it is good to start off with the most auspicious acknowledgement we can about the helpful role of Divinity. Saying the 108 names of Lord Ganesh once a week is also a good idea, if you have the time.

What's your own relationship with Lord Ganesh?
A curious one.  The other day I  counted the number of Ganesh statues in the house, and came up with at least 8! Where did they come from?! They just sort of accumulated. One of my favourites is a small cheap mass-produced golden Ganesh with a book of scriptures, which I bought in Singapore.

He has been around in awareness for many years, and one of the very first periods of deep meditation I passed through unfailingly brought me to a point where I could feel two tiny Lord Ganesh figures dancing to the sound of kettle drums in either ear, which was just a wonderful vision and produced tremendous exultation. So he is around, but for me my heart is turned to the Devi, yet I feel in other lives I had a deep connection with him which keeps manifesting in curious ways. For example in my failed marriage, my wife brought me a gold pendant of Lord Ganesh for a wedding gift. He teaches us all great lessons without seeming to do so. He is the essence of humility, which I particularly warm to. If you are his devotee you, too, should display that humility, just as devotees of Maha Durga should be courageous and determined.

And as the remover of obstacles?
Above all, he is the one to pray to if you are unsure of which path to turn. This is because he can grant us pure discrimination, the ability to judge soberly, coolly, and with nobility. He should never be forgotten, never feared, but always treated with respect and love. He is the kind of deity who would happily play with our children, partake of the messiness of human family life with perfect serenity, good cheer and laughter. I always feel that Lord Ganesh really enjoys a joke! Blessings to him. 




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