Ganesha Festival (Vinayaka Chaturthi)
Vinayaka Chaturthi is celebrated every year on the 4th day of the first fortnight of Bhadrapada month per Hindu calendar, which typically aligns with August or September month of Gregorian calendar. This day is marked in the scriptures as the birthday of Ganesha, son of Siva and Parvathi. The Ganesha festival should be an opportunity for us to understand the significance of His Form and Name and the proper way to adore the Ganesha Principle.
All festivals are pregnant with spiritual significance. One should carefully look beyond external rituals to understand their inner significance. Swami reminds us that while there is need for observing festivals like Vinayaka Chaturthi it is more important to realise the inner significance of Vinayaka worship. Thus the worship helps in the inner transformation.
Who is Vinayaka?
Vinayaka is the leader of the universe; there is no leader above him. He is the leader of all and master of all. Vinayaka or Ganesha or Ganapathi or Vighneshwara―all indicate the elephant God, who is worshipped as the very first deity, before regularly beginning any ceremony, vow, fast or pilgrimage. He is the lord of the ganas or divine forces that exist inside and outside the human body; He is the lord, who masters and overcomes vighna (obstacle), however imminent or eminent. This is the natural effect of the fact that Ganapathi is the God of vidya or buddhi (learning or intellect). He is the image of His parents, Siva-Sakthi, having the power and characteristics of both. He is the Pranava, OM. All words emanate from OM. Why is such a preeminence accorded to Ganapathi? Swami narrates a beautiful story from the purana (scriptures).
“Once upon a time Parvathi (Divine Mother) and Parmeshwara (Divine Father) wanted to decide between Vinayaka and Subrahmanya (their two sons) who was superior. They called both of them and set them a task. They were told that they should go round the cosmos. Whoever came first would be entrusted with the highest office. Subrahmanya immediately got onto the back of his peacock and started flying on its wings. But Ganapathi stayed put. Parvathi and Parmeshwara thought Ganapathi was out of the race. But on seeing Subrahmanya at a distance, Ganapathi got up, circumambulated his parents and sat down. Ganapathi claimed that he had won the race. When Parmeshwara questioned him, Ganapathi replied: "The whole cosmos is a projection of the Lord. The Lord is immanent in the universe. When I have gone round my Divine parents, I have gone round the universe." Ganapathi also asked them: "Show me any place where you are not present. You are omnipresent. You are in everything."
Because of the acute intelligence he displayed, Vinayaka was made the head of the ganas by Parmeshwara”.
Sathya Sai Speaks vol 21.26, September 15, 1988
Goal of Human Birth
Gajaanana is another appropriate name for Ganesh. The derivative meaning of Gajaanana is: ‘ga’ means gamyam (goal), ‘ja’ means janma (birth); anana means face. So this name indicates that Ganesh is not merely one who has the face of an elephant as commonly understood. He is the deity that enables us to be face-to-face with God, who is the goal of human birth.
Swami’s penchant for giving new interpretations to old themes can be seen from the following extracts of His divine discourse on the Vinayaka Chathurthi festival day, 6th September, 1997:
“Mouse symbolises darkness which means ignorance. Mouse moves about in darkness only, and not in light. Therefore the inner meaning of mouse being Vinayaka’s vehicle is that he subdues ignorance. Parvati means Prithvi or earth. So when we say Ganapathi is Parvati’s son, it means he is son of the earth. Partha, Arjuna’s another name, also means son of the soil. Every man is born of the earth. So every one is Ganapathi. Ganapathi means the Master of Ganas. The ten senses, mind and intellect—these twelve are the Dwaadasa Adityas or twelve Ganas of which Ganapathi is the Lord. So he resides in every person in the form of intellect and Jnana or wisdom.”
Vinayaka Principle is Same as Atma
In human being there are five organs of perception and the five organs of action. The mind is the master over these ten organs. Buddhi (intellect) is the discriminating faculty above the mind. The ten senses, the mind and the intellect together constitute the ganas. In the word gana, ‘ga’ stands for buddhi (intellect), and, ‘na’ signifies vijnana (the higher knowledge or wisdom). Ganapathi is the master of intellect and wisdom. Swami tells us that Vinayaka exists within every being in the form of the Atma. Like Vinayaka, Atma has no master.
Bestower of Divine Power, Intellect and Liberation (Siddhi, Buddhi and Mukthi)
He is also adored as Siddhi Vinayaka and Buddhi Vinayaka. In some texts, Siddhi and Buddhi are referred to as the consorts of Ganapathi. This is very wrong. They are two manifestations of the Divine Power or Sakthi that Ganapathi has. When Buddhi supports and guides, Siddhi (divine power) is won. These two are like two wings. They carry out His Will. They place obstacles before bad activities and remove obstacles from the path for good activities. Worship Vinayaka (leader); you acquire Buddhi (pure, clear Intellect) and Siddhi and even Mukthi (liberation).
Prayer to Vinayaka Awakens Intellect
Just as light removes darkness, the darkness of mind which is caused by ignorance is removed by knowledge or wisdom. Vinayaka, who is also known as Vigneshwara helps us overcome this delusion and enables man to comprehend his inherent divine nature. Vighneswara is the deity presiding over the intelligence and He endows devotees with purity of intellect and the power of discrimination between right and wrong and between the permanent and the transient.
Vinayaka Principle is All-pervasive
“Vinayaka is omnipresent. He teaches through silence and conducts himself in an exemplary manner. Some people think that Vinayaka is worshipped only in Bharat (India) but the Vinayaka Principle is all-pervasive and is worshipped by all. People may follow different paths, but all can experience the Vinayaka Principle. This Vinayaka Principle is present in everyone in the form of breath. It would be sheer foolishness to limit your worship of Vinayaka to idols made of clay and metals. In fact, Vinayaka is your master, who is in you, with you, and around you. By constant contemplation on Vinayaka, all your sins will be destroyed”.
Sathya Sai Speaks vol 42.12, August 26, 2009
Ganesha art work by SSE students from USA and Thailand (click to enlarge)