Friday, 29 August 2014

The Beatitude of Ganesh

Ganesh , literally means first among the Ganas ( Gananam Eesho) or devoted camp followers. In his case, of Lord Shiva . Like most Hindu gods, this elephant headed deity has a fascinatingly long and layered history during which he starts as a pre Aryan Yaksha deity worshipped in the plains of north eastern India . As Shiva's eminence grows, he joins Shiva as an important Gana . After a while he becomes his adopted son via Shiva's consort Parvati . As son Ganesha gets beheaded by mistake by Shiva and then brought back to life with an elephant head implant . He then rises to intellectual eminence as the celebrated scribe ordained by the poet Ved Vyas to help write down the long epic Mahabharata .
In the early years of the 20th century as a healthy wealthy and wise god Ganesha attracts the attention of the great political leader from Maharashtra, Bal Gangadhar Tilak . Tilak, like Gandhi was looking for icons that could be used as catalytic agents to bring together the disparate Indian society . He  urged fellow Maharashtrians to adopt Ganapati as their very own and organise an annual festival in his honour in the monsoon month of Bhadrpad on Ganesh Chaturthy . Thus begins the present day Ganesh festival that has by now acquired a pan Indian appeal and grows more and more lavish and cacophonous each year.
Ganesh entered the more popular Sanatan pantheon of Hindu gods via Varanasi, the timeless city lorded over by Shiva and capital of the area ( Janpad) of Kashi. Buddhist scriptures such as Mahamayuri, hint at Shiva also originally being a Yaksha deity known as Mahakal . Yakshas and Nagas predated Buddhism and were  worshipped in the anthropomorphic societies of Kashi, Kosala , Ang and Magadh Janpadas in eastern India. One of the main Yakshas worshipped in Varanasi was one Harikesh . An interesting story in Matsya Purana shows how Shiva worshippers may have gently nudged aside the Naga Yaksha and other anthropomorphic gods in a bloodless coup of sorts . After the eminence of Shiva grew the story runs, all Yakshas but the obsinate Harikesh,  receded peacefully. Shiva finally beat Harikesh back and banished him from the city he loved. At this Harikesh is said to have performed penance for centuries until he finally won from Shiva the boon to be rehabilitated as the Chief Guard (Kshetrpal) of the Kashi area.
Ganesh has, as one can see even after he joined the Shiva family , retained the qualities associated with Yakshas : a love for peace, good food ( he loves Laddoos in all forms becoming pot bellied over time) and a great eye for the arts and literature. He also retains the Yakshas' propensity for subtle mischief and is believed to cause all kinds of unforeseen  impediments (Vighna) if angry. After being suitably propitiated he becomes a remover of these as Vighna Harta. To keep him propitiated, all god fearing Hindus offer the first ablutions and blades of grass ( Doorva) to Ganesh on the eve of each major occasion (Mangal Kaaj) in their lives : a fire sacrifice, a child learning to write, a wedding, entering a new home , facing a major war or embarking on a risky journey .            


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