As GANESH CHATURTHI comes up, let us look into the many fascinating stories surrounding the Elephant-Headed God.
GANESH is among the Gods we know the most stories of —– and yet, the one we understand so little about. GANESHA has so much to teach us. What is the significance of Ganesha’s Symbol? Why is an elephant head placed on Ganesha shoulders? This is because only a rich, fertile eco-system can sustain an elephant. So, the elephant’s head is a symbol of prosperity. Ganesha’s rather rotund body represents not only affluence, but also repose —- in other words, success without too much work. The rat that Ganesha rides symbolises the pestilence of problems in our lives that he keeps in check. It is also a symbol of fertility. The MODAK’S shape is like that of a money purse and its contents represent the sweetness of material pleasures. At the same time, the triangular form (upward facing) is a symbol of spirituality.
Why is Ganesh’s name chanted before beginning any new endeavours ? Before the Gods began churning the ocean of milk for AMRIT, they forgot to propitiate Ganesha. To teach them a lesson, Ganesha caused the serpent king Vasuki (which they were using as the churning rope) to vomit out venom. Choking on the poison, the Gods called out to Ganesha to remove this obstacle to their success. Pleased, Ganesha asked his father Shiva to drink the poison, thus clearing the air and enabling the Gods to restart churning till the AMRIT emerged. Ever since, Ganesha’s blessing is always sought before any new task.
In his book 99 Thoughts On Ganesha, Pattanaik explains how our ancestors’ ideas of the “perfect life” are reflected in Ganesha’s unique physiology: “Our ancestors concluded that there are two ways to live life —– as a hermit who steps back and contemplates on the nature of the world and as a householder, who stays in the world and experiences it fearlessly. They visualised the hermit as SHIVA……. and the householder as SHAKTI. Shiva does not want to be a father and deal with the trials and tribulations of a worldly life. Shakti wants to be a mother and engage with all things worldly, and she cannot do so without Shiva’s support. From this tension between the hermit and the householder, is born GANESHA —– his animal head representing material joys and his human body representing spiritual bliss”.
For Ganesha’s “broken tusk” too, there are several explanations. The “tusks” of an elephant symbolises power and aggression. The “broken tusk” implies that the elephant has been tamed. The most popular story about the purpose of the broken tusk is that Ganesha used it as a replacement for his quill while writing down the Mahabharata for Sage Vyas.
——————– Rohini Nair.