Wednesday September 19th is the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of Ganesh, the Hindu God of Wisdom and Remover of Obstacles.
This is a very joyous occasion. Ganesh is a jovial fellow, loved by children. Every action begins with prayers to him. Why? Because he is the representation of OM (his face and trunk make up the shape), without which nothing can begin.
Do I really believe that there is a dancing elephant out there clearing a path before me? Well, I certainly believe that if the Absolute wanted to manifest Itself as a dancing elephant than dancing elephant we would see.
We are plagued with obstacles all the time: That bus in front of us stopping at every house, hen house, dog house and out house when we are already late for work. Our nemesis at work whose mission in life is to thwart our every move. Some weakness, shortcoming, or aliment in our body which prevents us from being who we want to be. That broken shoelace.
Ganesh does not remove these obstacles, per se. He serves as a reminder that every single obstacle we encounter is based within ourselves. Once we let go of our own self-importance, the obstacles disappear. This lies 100% within us—nothing external actually opposes us or frees us. I write this as a reminder to myself, as much as I write to encourage you to remember, dear reader. The problem is that we are so entrenched in our own stuff that we can’t even see we are both the cause and the solution to our problems.
That is where an external form comes in handy. The form of Ganesh is a reflection, a reminder that obstacles can be overcome.
Once upon a time, Parviti, the wife of Shiva, became lonely as Shiva liked to go off and meditate like an ascetic. She created a son to keep her company. One day she instructed her son to guard the door of her bath house when she went in to bathe. She told him not to let anyone enter. The boy was dutifully blocking the door when Shiva came home. He would not let Shiva enter. Having been away, Shiva did not know who the boy was, and, being a bit temperamental, he immediately cut off the boy’s head rather than finding out.
Parviti was grief-stricken and explained to Shiva who the boy was. Shiva immediately set out to find a replacement head for the boy. He found an elephant whose head was facing North (an auspicious sign), and the elephant gladly gave his head to the God. Shiva placed it on the boy’s body, which brought him back to life.
It is through the grace of the sage Vyasa that humanity has the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. According to tradition, Vyasa chanted the 100,000 verses to Ganesh, who broke off a tusk and used it to transcribe the epic, recording it for the benefit of humanity.
My favorite Ganesh tale:
Once upon a time, Shiva and Parviti had some sweets. Both Ganesh and his brother, Subramanya, wanted the candy (Ganesh loves sweets). Shiva said that whomever traveled around the world first would win the candy. Subramanya immediately jumped on his peacock and took off like greased lightning. Ganesh circled his parents once, folded his palms, and asked for his prize.
Shiva said “Dear Ganesh, the instruction was to travel around the world. How can you claim to have won?”
Ganesh replied “Father, a child’s parents represent the entire universe!”
May the form of Ganesh help you to realize that you are the only one who can set yourself free!
[Stories and information here are my adaptations from several sources, primarily the chapter on “Ganesh Chaturthi” from Swami Sivananda’s Hindu Feasts and Festivals published for free electronic distribution by The Divine Life Society]