Aug 21: Ganesha Chaturti

21 Aug

The Namasankirtan was led by Sri Zivanji from Chicago.

Sri Narayanan from Boston provided the introduction.

This weekend is a special weekend – because the Sunday happens to be the day of Ganesh Chaturti.  We often see Lord Ganesha who is to be propitiated to get rid of obstacles.  ‘Vigna’ – obstacles, and hence he is Vigneshwara.  In Vaishnava Sampradaya, Vishwaksena, the Lord with an Elephant head, removes obstacles, not just for the devotees, but for the Lord Himself.  Before a procession, Vishwaksena goes on rounds and ensures that there are no obstacles for the Lord. He is also called ‘Senai Mudhaliyaar’.

Why is Ganesha so important to us?  Not just because he removes all obstacles.  Another reason, according to me, is, that, he is a great Bhagavata.  Today, we have 10 major avatars for the Lord. But for Ganesha, we would have only 9 Avatars!  Which Avatar is Ganesha responsible for?

Bhagavatam talks about Amrutha Mathanam (stirring the milky ocean).  The Devas lose their wealth (aishwarya) and along with Brahma approach Lord Vishnu and praise Him.  The Lord has a divine intention to play a Lila and uses Devas and Asuras as a cause.  He advises the Devas that they could churn the milky ocean and obtain nectar, which would bring back their lost wealth and lost glories.

Bhagavatam introduces beautiful management concepts subtly, now, with the Lord as the mouthpiece!

The Lord says:  you are undertaking a major task and the result of which is going to be life-saving.  The only way to accomplish this is to get your enemies to help you.  At a later point in time, you may part ways.’   Deadly enemies – snake and mouse can become friends in a box where both are trapped.  The snake would befriend the mouse in order to get its help biting out the box, and the very moment both of them escape, the snake eyes to gobble the mouse and the mouse flees the snake.

Secondly, He says, ‘when you are undertaking such a noble task as churning an ocean, more can be accomplished by charity / donations in good faith rather than fighting.’  Give away to Asuras whatever they ask for. Don’t fight.

Thirdly, He says, ‘When you have a noble task on your shoulders, be devoid of any personal agendas and sinister desires.  Don’t interest yourself in petty things that might come in your way and distract you.  Eventually you will attain the good.’

Finally, the Devas and Asuras churn the ocean using Mandra mountain,  and Vasuki snake and the Lord helped all along.  In all the hectic activity, they had forgotten to perform Ganesha Puja.  Ganesha, being a little upset,  didn’t keep up his job of keeping obstacles away.  So, thanks to him, the Mandara mountain started sinking into the ocean.  The Lord realized that this is the play of Ganesha, and became a huge tortoise, eventually lifting the Mandara mountain.  Thus the ‘Kachchapa Avatar’ is thanks to the great Bhagavata – Ganesha Maharaj.

Following this, Nishaji from Houston gave a nice talk on the glory of Ganesha.

It is only in our religion that we have so many paths and Gods.  The reason is because the world is made of people of different tastes and preferences – both worldly and godly.  So for varied Bhavas – there are varied Gods.  Brave,humble and devoted can worship Hanuman.  A lover of lilas worships Krishna.  All these Gods are different forms of the same Supreme Being.

It is said, that a child and God are alike.   The child is innocent, doesn’t appreciate distinctions – poor-rich, ugly-beautiful, good-bad etc.  So God and Jnani are akin to a child.  It is also said ‘kuzhandaiyum deivamum kondaadum edathile’ – a child and God go wherever one fondles them.  Ganesha is such a God.  – Bala Vinayaka – always a child.

In India, the floor in a home having a child can be seen spread with puffed rice because a child puts into its mouth anything it finds on the floor.  Being a child-god, Ganesha ‘s favorite is puffed rice (‘pori’).  He is a lover of foods and sweets – ‘modakas’.  Adi Shankara, in his hymn sings Ganesha as ‘sadaa baalaroopaapi’  – ever a child.

Ganesha Pancharatnam composed by Adi Shankara (that goes as ‘mudakarata modakam sadavimukti saadakam… kalaadharavadamsakam vinaasiloka rakshakam…’) is set in ‘Chamara’ meter – signifying the movement of a hand fan / the ears of an elephant as our Ganesha is elephant God.  This was composed in Tiruvanaikaval in the sanctum of Mother Akhilandeswari, when she was in a fiery (ugra) mood.  How else could someone console an angry mother, other than singing the praise of her beloved son?

Parvati created Ganesha with the turmeric on her body and asked her to safeguard her palace against intruders.  When Shiva came in, not knowing who he was, Ganesha blocked Shiva’s entrance.  Out of anger, Shiva severed his head.  Realizing that her wife would be enraged if she sees her son beheaded, Shiva through his ‘ganas’ (assistants)fixed an elephant’s head and makes him the head of his ganas – and hence he becomes ‘Ganapati’.

Arunagirinathar sings how Lord Subrahmanya  left for Tripura Samhara without worshipping Ganesha, and how his chariot broke down.  The same Subrahmanya seeks Ganesha’s help to win Valli’s hands.

There is a small town called Thirupangur  close to Vaitheeswaran Kovil.  It is the place where Nandi moved a little to let Nandanar have Shiva’s darshan.  One day, Nandanaar gathered his people and wished to have Tirupangur Lord Shiva’s darshan.  His employer laid down a condition, ‘you can leave for Tirupangur only the day harvest is done’.  Nandanar was disappointed because it was only that day that they had sown the seeds!

That night, in his dream, Nandanaar saw that the grains had grown fully! He rushed to his fields to find that the grains had indeed grown!   How did this happen overnight?

Once folks made fun of Ganesha that he had a pot belly and was idle all the time.  So Ganesha, as a young boy, approached a farmer and offered his services.  In return, he was given a handful of grains.  Ganesha proudly took the earnings to his mother.  Parvathi directs him to his father saying that it is only the father who is pleased with the son’s earnings.  When Ganesha gave the rice-grains to Shiva, being a ‘pitha’ (lunatic) that Shiva is, he threw them on his head.  Already Shiva’s head was filled with sand.  How was this?  Once Shiva helped an old devotee in the banks of Vaigai river by lifting sand on his head.  Moreover,  Shiva had Ganges on his head too.  With sand and water, the grains sprouted on his head.  And this happened in synch with Nandanar’s prayers and Shiva was more than happy to send those plants to Nandanar!

Various Sadhus have sung hymns in praise of deities – because the Lord loves praises – frank and truthful praises (‘nija stuti priyan’) unlike us!  Lord Ganesha is sung as ‘mathala vaiyiran’ (stomach like a drum) and ‘muram pol kaadhu’ (ears as big as a sieve!) and yet He is happy to be sung so!

Once Kanchi Mahaperiyava was in a place called Thenambakkam, a few miles away from Kanchipuram.  One evening, the sound of fireworks was heard.  When enquired, He was told by His assistants that Kamakshi Devi was being taken in a procession in Kanchi and it was time for her return, and as is customary, fireworks are being displayed.  The Acharya nourished a desire to have the Mother’s darshan.  Disciples around Him said ‘But Periyava! If we were to walk to Kanchi to have the Mother’s darshan, the procession would be long gone.’  The Acharya was adamant.  No amount of the disciple’s dissuasion could stop the Acharya.  As he left the Tenampakkam camp, he stopped by the Ganesha who stood at the entrance and whispered something to Ganesha’s ear, and then continued His walk.  Accompanied by His whining attendants, the Mahan strode towards Kanchi.  When they eventually reached Kanchi, they found, to their surprise, that the Mother had not moved an inch from where she was about to return and the Acharya had a blissful darshan of the Divine Mother.

The Acharya’s attendants enquired as to how the Devi was still at the same spot!  The temple priests said, ‘Soon after the fireworks, the elephant that led the procession would not move from where it stood and would get wild if the procession proceeded. It would remain silent if the procession wouldn’t move!  We were confused about this strange behavior!’

Then Acharya, after having had His darshan to His heart’s fill, patted on the elephant and the elephant silently continued the procession!  The attendants now understood the import of Mahaperiyava’s stop over at the Ganesha temple!

We all know about Avvayaar, who was a great devotee of Ganesha, since her childhood.  When she was of marriageable age, she wished to escape the mundane household life, much against the wishes of her family.  She prayed to Ganesha to turn her into an old woman so that no suitor would approach her, and Ganesha immediately granted her wishes.  Avvayar was such a great devotee that once, when Avvayar was sitting in front of Shiva-Parvati, her legs stretched out pointing to Lord Shiva, Parvati took offense to it and requested her to point it elsewhere; and where ever Avvayar pointed her legs, Shiva moved there!

All of us know the anecdote of the ‘Knowledge Furit’ that Narada brought to Shiva’s family.  When there was a predicament on who of their sons should be given the fruit, they were subject to a contest – ‘who can go around the world in the quickest time?’ – and the winner would receive the fruit.  Karthikeya immediately jumps on his peacock and travels around the world while Ganesha, knowing well that his mouse is not as fast and cognizant of the fact that parents are verily the world, circumambulates them and wins the fruit!  He shows us here the respect for our parents.

And Ganesha was the one who wrote Mahabharata. Veda Vyasa was looking out for someone who could scribe Mahabharata for him.  Ganesha willingly offered his services, and even broke a tusk for this sake, but with a condition – Vyasa should recite the slokas  continuously without leaving a hiatus!  Vyasa had a counter-condition – that Ganesha should write a verse only if he understood the complete purport of the verse!  Ganesha’s speed of penning down and the few complicated verses by Vyasa were a perfect match, and  thus we have Mahabharata today!

Ganesha is a very colorful God, very approachable, even his form is easy to sculpt and draw.  We make a small cone out of flour/ turmeric and install Him .. and lo! He is there!  He is truly pervasive – in so many countries – in different forms – any and every form that we can imagine!   He is also ubiquitous and simple.  Years ago, He was found under every pepul tree by the pond in a village.  Today, when humans have moved to cities, He has moved too! – He is found even in bus-stops, parks, dead ends, amidst smoke and dust – blessing anyone who rushes by him even without removing our footwear– unlike other Gods who warrant huge temples and ‘Praakaaras’!

It is indeed a great opportunity for us to have been remembering Ganesha during Ganesha Chaturti!

After Nishaji’s talk, Shaliniji from California narrated another nice story on Ganesha:

Once Kubera, the Lord of wealth is bloated with vanity of his affluence. He threw a party to all the devas and other gods to show off his wealth.  When he came to Kailash to invite Shiva, Shiva knewing Kubera’s intent, said, ‘I am a like an ascetic, there is no point inviting me. I will send my little son, Ganesha, instead.  He will be more than happy to attend the party!’

Ganesha is the first to arrive at the party.  Kubera thought, ‘Ganesha is a little child! Why not feed him first, and not wait for others to arrive!’  So he opens his dinner for Ganesha.  Ganesha ate his way through the kitchen. All the food was emptied and the guests have not arrived yet!  The cooks are alarmed and notify Kubera!  Tensed, Kubera rushes to Kailash and explained this to Shiva.  ‘We are not able to appease Ganesha’s appetite! All our food is emptied, and the groceries are all empty too! Please save me!’   Shiva smiles and gives him a handful of puffed rice and asks him to offer it to Ganesha.

The moment Ganesha was offered the puffed rice given by Shiva, Ganesha felt very satisfied!  Then Kubera understood – you don’t need great riches and grand offerings to please Ganesha.  Even puffed rice, offered with love and devotion satisfies Him.  A lord who loves to eat, but can yet be easily pleased!
And of course, Kubera’s ego was vanquished too!

The satsang ended with prayers with Mahamantra Kirtan.

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