Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lord Ganapati : Part IV - About 21,4 and twin blades

Signifance of the number 21

The Philosophical Context
Ganapati = 'Gana' + 'pati' = group/retinue of followers + lord = Lord of the group.

Which group?

In the literal sense, the group of Shiva's attendents/followers/troops. Thus Ganapati is the lord of Shiva's troops. This meaning follows from various Puranic sources.

However the inner meaning of the term 'Gana' comes when we refer to the Veda. The Atharva Veda specifically associates the number 21 with Him. (as trishapta in verse 1,1,1 )

And this 21 = 5 gross elements/states + 5 subtle existential principles + 5 sense-organs + 5 sensory processes + Prana

Am not breaking up or explaning each of the above sub-groups further since that gets very technical. Suffice to say, that the inner meaning of Gana (group) is really that of all the elements of existence . And Sri Ganapati as lord of all existence is associated strongly with this number. Hence the 21 prostrations before the worshipped diety one for each element of existence.

Note that while the significance of 21 comes from this explanation, it does not restrict us in interpreting 'gana' only in terms of the existential elements as above. Specifically, in the Bhakti (devotional) context, saints have explained 'gana' to mean the group of all that we cherish in life that Lord Ganpati protects. These are not contradicatory explanations.

The ritual context
The significance of 21 comes in the ritual context as well. The ritual code-books ((eg. Yajnavalkya Smriti) tell us that the One VinAyaka has 21 forms (am not giving the names here to keep it short) which are propitiated. In the ritual presribed, two icons - one of VinAyaka and one of Ambika (the Mother Goddess) are consecrated. Then the 21 forms of VinAyaka are invoked as surrounding these icons.

What about the number 4?
Again two streams of explanations:
The ritual explanation comes from the fact that the 21 VinAyakas described above were intermediately spoken of as four before the final declaration that all forms were but forms of the One VinAyaka.

From a philosophical standpoint, the number four represents the four aims (purusharthas) in life - Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha which very loosely translated mean Righteousness/Duty, Wealth, Desire and Liberation. Thus worshipping Sri Ganapati as the One who fulfils all the aims in the devotee's life.

And finally the twin-blade worship
no...nothing to do with Gilette...

The question is why do we usually offer 21 pairs of durva grass at a time in worshiping Sri Ganapati (durva-yugma)? The 21 is hopefully clear from the above explanation. But why two at a time?

For this, remember we spoke earlier of the 21 forms of VinAyaka that were propitiated.
What is VinAyaka?
VinAyaka = Vighna + Nayaka

And from the previous post, we saw that Sri Ganpati is both the Obstacle and the Obstacle Remover. Thus offering two blades at a time is to worship both aspects of God.

I find this really fascinating because here you are actually worshipping Obstacles! It encourages a very brave attitude where one welcomes all aspects of life, including obstcales, with the understanding that God gives them to us to grow stronger. And not run away from them. Like what resistance-training is to body muscles, obstacles are to the course of life.

In fact, this is a recurring theme in Hinduism - for eg. on Ugadi, celebrated as the new year in some parts of India - a key feature of the celebration is to have a mixture of jaggery (sweet) and neem leaves (bitter) - the symbolism is obvious.

We just worship Lord Ganapati in the full trust that He gives us what is best for us.


Suspect said...

"And finally the twin-blade worship"

Huh? What's this about? I haven't seen anything to do with twin blades when worshipping Ganesh.

"no...nothing to do with Gilette..."

Sharan Sharma said...

actually Kshitij, that's a very important part of orthodox ritual to Sri Ganapati.
Just like you worhship Lord Vishnu with tulsi, or Lord Shiva with Bel leaves, you worship Lord Ganapati with durva grass.

Ajith said...

and the durva grass explains at some level why all of us are comfortable with dichotomies...
great stuff Sharan

Sharan Sharma said...

>and the durva grass explains at some level why all of us are comfortable with dichotomies

or not?:)
Thanks for your appreciation, Ajith.

Suspect said...

Oh. I didn't know that. My family isn't all that keen on the orthodox ritual side of it, but it's strange that I've never seen it at all.

Thanks for the heads up anyway.