As we write this, the Utsav of Ganesh is being celebrated around the world. This Utsav is probably the most joyous celebration of the Indian calendar, perhaps because Ganesh is the most loved Divine Murti of all. Ganesh is for you regardless of your age, your color, your ethnicity, your educuation, your wealth. All our equal before Ganesh. After all, Ganesh is our Ish, the God, the leader of all us Gan or simple folk. No one begins any new task or venture before seeking the blessing of Vighna-Harta Ganesh, the remover of all Vighna or obstacles.
Ganesh has been worshiped since the beginning of known history. But Ganesh-Utsav, the modern celebration of Ganesh, is due to the genius of Lokmanya Tilak, the great Indian leader. It was Tilak who first declared that “Independence is my birthright and I will get it“. Those were the days when the British had outlawed mass political gatherings, the days when they had exacerbated conflicts between different sections of Indian society.
Tilak found a brilliant solution to both problems. In 1893, Tilak began a large public celebration of Ganesh, people’s own God, the Ish of the Gan. Tilak changed the worship of Ganesh from a family event into a societal gathering. The idea caught on and the level of spontaneous participation went viral to use today’s terminology.
Today, some 120 years later, Tilak’s Ganesh-Utsav has been transformed into a global event celebrated joyously in every continent. And the scale keeps getting larger every year. The sheer joy, the sheer noble appeal of Ganesh, goes to the heart of the extraordinary free framework of Indian Religious Philosophy.
- The Ved & the UpaNiSad, Indian religious texts that were received at the beginning of known history, teach that: the Universe is is forever pervaded by The Eternal, Immutable, All-Encompassing, All-Enveloping, Indivisible, Unlimited, Brahman that is beyond description, beyond name, beyond attributes, beyond human comprehension or grasp, & beyond the time, intellect & senses of human beings. The feelings of the sages have been well described in the various UpaNiSad:
- Ish-UpaNiSad – Thither the eye does not go, speech does not go nor the mind. We do not know, we do not understand, how can one teach This?
- Ken-UpaNisad – I do not think I know it well; nor do I know that I do not know it.
This is termed as the Nir-Gun (without attributes), Nir-Aakaar (without forms) doctrine.
- Brahman is Revealed to devotees, scholars who worship with intense penance or deep devotion. Such Revealed Representations (Roop) are in tangible forms called “Gods”. Since Brahman is Unlimited Infinite, the number of such Revealed Representations of Brahman or “Gods” are infinitely unlimited as well. But “all Gods reside in Brahman” because they are all Revealed Representations of Brahman. This is why worship of any God is the worship of Brahman and so of all Gods.
This termed as Sa-Gun (with attributes), Sa-Aakaar (with forms) doctrine. The Non-Duality between the Nir-Gun/Nir-Aakaar & Sa-Gun/Sa-Aakaar doctrines is the central essence of Indian religious philosophy.
Ganesh is one such Revealed Roop of Brahman. That is why the eternal prayer of Ganesh, AtharvaSheersham, prays to Ganesh as:
- “You are the Only Creator, You are the Only Preserver, You are the Only Destroyer, You are verily the Entire Brahman. … The entire Universe has been created from You; the entire Universe resides inside You; the entire Universe dissipates into You; … You are Brahmadev, You are Vishnu, You are Rudra, You are Indra, You are Divine Fire, You are Divine Wind, … You are the Primordial Sound… Illuminate us with Your radiance”.
A crucial and critical teaching of Indian philosophy is that Brahman is revealed to a devotee in the form in which the devotee perceives Brahman. In other words, the tangible Representation of Brahman is in the eye of the devotee. This allows the people to think of their Ish or God in many different ways. So giving different forms to Ganesh is actually the highest form of devotion instead of being sacrilegious.
The standard of scale and opulence of the Ganesh Murti is the one called Lalbaagcha Raja or the King of Lalbaag, a middle class neighborhood of Mumbai (right below). On the left below is a beautiful Murti created with sand by famed sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik
What makes Ganesh so lovable is the infinite variety in which you can express your love for your personal God – baby Ganesh sleeping, kid Ganesh, Ganesh demanding a nap before his Utsav, Ganesh finishing his shopping before going to his Utsav etc.
Our best wishes to you in this year’s Joyous Holy Ganesh-Utsav. We express our wishes in the same ancient eternal manner of our Dharma.
स्वस्ति अस्तु भवतु
May You Obtain Svasti
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