Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Lord Ganapati : Part II - More on the form

We continue from where we left off last time. Today we focus on the form which can be most beneficially utilized during worship, in the process of 'darshana' ('beholding') or meditation.

We use the form below as an aid to description. But as decribed in the previous post, there are many variations. Each form represents a specific aspect of Ganapati. The aspect is identified depending on:
1) How many arms
2) Colour of the form
3) No. of faces
4) Vehicle/Seat
5) How many Shaktis (consort) accompanied with (>=0)

For example, the number of arms of the form below is 10, is red (isn't apparent from the picture because of the fading) , one faced, seated on a rat and accompanied with One Shakti. We may thus identify this form with Vallabha Ganapati.

With consort? Isn't He supposed to be a celibate (brahmachari)?
Yes. In fact, of the 32 forms in the Mudgala Purana, 24 are described without a consort.
There are also regional variations here.
In the south, for most part He is worshipped as a celibate.
In the north, he is commonly worshipped with two consorts - Siddhi and Buddhi. You might have seen this representation in the famous SiddhiVinayak temple in Bombay. Siddhi and Buddhi of course, are Accomplishment and Intelligence which signify the fruits of worshipping Sri Ganapati.
Interestingy with regard to Sri Kartikeya(the elder brother of Sri Ganapati) the situation is reversed. In the north, is worshipped as a bachelor while in the south, He is worshipped with His consort, Valli.
Let's therefore take the above form, starting from the bottom, and focus on each part and see what the inner meaning is.
Note: In the picture above, the trunk is twisted to the right. This is not usual. Icons of Sri Ganapati are usually with the trunk to the left - this will be covered in a later post.

1) Vehicle as rat
I find this one of the most interesting aspect of the form. The rat symbolizes several things simultaneously.
a) The rat represents the mind. Restless, always flitting about here and there in search of something. Just like a small rat can cause havoc so do small thoughts disturb our peace of mind. And just like rats breed fast, these small thoughts often accumulate into one big wave of mental distrurbance.
The large form of Ganapati thus rests on it representing need for mind-control and capacity to bless the devotee with it.

b) Rats burrow into the earth. Impeled by what? Desire. Thus the rat represents kama ( desire). And we saw earlier that Sri Ganapati presides especially over the earth element. Thus deep rooted desires - which we hold as so precious - are eradicated by the grace of Sri Ganapati.

c) Rats thrive in dark environments. Before spiritual awakening, our lives are said to be dark. Spiritual awakening comes with the awakening of spiritual energy in the Muladhara Chakra (the basal chakra) described in the earier post. Thus Sri Ganapati residing on the rat signifies awakening of spiritual consciousness by overcoming the 'darkness'. Also note that darkness is associated with 'Tamas' in Indian philosophy - the negative qualities to be overcome.

2) Feet
No specific symbolism as far as i know but Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar - the saint-musician - describes the Lord's feet as 'As soft as tender shoots' in one of his Krithis (compositions) which is useful in contemplation.

3) Protruding belly
A large capacity to bear the devotees sufferings. In fact, Puranic stories on how Lord Ganapati has an insatiable apetite indicates this. That is, as long as we are sincere, we can be sure that Ganapati will help us out when approached.

3) Serpent as belt
The serpent is the classic symbol of Kundalini shakti (the much misinterpreted concept) which has to be aroused for spiritual awakening. This does not mean that some extraordinrary austerity/yogic practices have to be undertaken for this purpose. 'Simple' things like japa (repeating the name of the Lord), even doing one's duty with a keen awareness and to the possible perfection awakens this energy.

This awakening destroys tamas signified by the rat. In the natural world, of course, the rat is food for serpents i.e awakening detroying ignorance.

4) Trunk holding the pot of jewels (or any other object depending on aspect)

The following statement by Ramana Maharishi will clarify this aspect:
" Through meditation on the forms of God and through repetition of mantras, the mind becomes one-pointed. The mind will always be wandering. Just as when a chain is given to an elephant to hold in its trunk it will go along grasping the chain and nothing else, so also when the mind is occupied with a name or form it will grasp that alone. "
And the trunk holding the pot of jewels means holding i.e cogitation on precious thoughts. Also signifies the reward for our mind-control practices.

5) Broken right tusk
To see the signficance of this, the Brahmavaivarta Purana tells us that once when Sri Parasurama came to see Lord Shiva, he was denied entry by Sri Ganapati, who said His father was not to be disturbed. Then ensued a big fight between the two. Ultimately, Parasurama flung his battle-axe on Sri Ganapati. Now the battle-axe was a gift from Lord Shiva Himself to Sri Parasurama. Out of respect for His father's gift, Sri Ganapati allowed the axe to strike his tusk losing it in the process.
The broken tusk thus upholding Righteousness as well as Sacrifice in the line of duty - after all, he was ready to sacrifice Himself in order to not allow His father to be disturbed!

Another story is about Him breaking the tusk to use it as a stylus to write the Mahabharata. That again signifies sacrifice for public good.

6) Holding the broken right tusk in one hand
The one broken tusk symbolizes experience of the one Reality in the Lord's hands, experience of which is bestowed to the spiritual aspirant.

7) The other tusk is about helping us rooting out our desires, however strong they are

8) Small mouth
Speak less!

8) Large ears
- Listen more!

- Bestows the devotee the capacity to absorb a lot of information.

- The large ears resemble winnowing baskets. A winnowing basket is used to separate dirt from grains. Similarly the large ears signifiy winnowing of information that we receive.
So, the Lord bestows upon the devotee not only capacity to absorb a lot of information, but also ability to sift right from wrong. Illusion from Reality. The transformation of information into true knowledge.

- The elephant's sense of sound is said to be very acute. Sri Ganapati, by the elephant ears signifies an acute thirst for knowledge.

9) Small eyes
He overlooks our genuine mistakes and is ready to always give us a chance to change. Sincerety is what he requires from us. But that does not mean we take Him for granted. But remember that the elephant as such is gentle but if provoked, you've had it man! Especially if His devotee is harmed. Thus a gentle warning to stick to righteousness.

10) The elephant head
This is interesting : One's body-parts/organs are Karmendriyas (organs of action) or Jnanendriyas (organs of knowledge) . For example, in the human being, the head is a Jnanendriya. But in the elephant, the head is both a Karmendriya (the trunk) and a Jnanendriya! The elephant-head thus symbolizes the harmonious coming together of action and knowledge! The large head, of course, also symbolizes intelligence.

11) What He holds in his hands
Depending on the aspect invoked, Sri Ganapati holds various things. I will not go into too much detail here but to give an example. The goad (pasha) held in his hand signifies drawing the devotee towards Him. The battle-axe/Chakra(discus) that he holds in some icons signfies helping us fight the battle of life as well as cutting off of desires.

Deep contemplation or seeing the form of Sri Ganapati concentrating on this symbolism will undoubtedly ensure great spiritual progress.

Hope all this wan't too boring.


Ajith said...

This is one session that I look forward to. One basic question probably. How did the whole legend of Vighnaharta come to be associated with Lord Ganesha

Kshitij L said...

Ganesh is my mom's fave form of God. I don't know why so many people identify wih him. Is it because he's more human? I guess the same would apply to Krishan.

Nice series. Keep posting.

Kshitij L said...

Ganesh is my mom's fave form of God. I don't know why so many people identify wih him. Is it because he's more human? I guess the same would apply to Krishan.

Nice series. Keep posting.

Sharan Sharma said...

Next post aapke naam

i also think He has this major chilled out attitude :)

Anonymous said...

The fact that there are so many contradicitory tales associated with Ganesh proves that he is a creation of fiction more or less like the Greek and Roman gods.

Come on people, open your eyes and try to see the truth. Do not believe in things just because our parents or elders have taught us.

Sharan Sharma said...

Whoever said the tales were real?
This is not history.

What is important is to take from these stories the right spiritual education. That's the role these they play.

If everyone could understand the lofty metaphysics of the Veda, we wouldn't require the Puranas.