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The Ganesha Principle

We celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi on September 19, 2023. Ganesha is a universal deity. So, along with millions of devotees in the Indian subcontinent, millions more around the world also celebrate this festival. Swami celebrated Ganesha Chaturthi on a grand scale for many decades in Prasanthi Nilayam. The festival is also called Vinayaka Chavithi, indicating that it comes on the 4th day in the holy month of Bhadrapada (6th month of the Hindu calendar). Swami says that a festival ‘holiday’ becomes a ‘holy day’ when we understand the spiritual significance behind its celebration.

The Same Divine Principle Behind All Names and Forms

Bhagawan Baba often reminds us:

There is only one religion, the religion of Love.

There is only one language, the language of the Heart.

There is only one caste, the caste of Humanity.

There is only one God, and He is Omnipresent.

In His divine discourse on May 17, 1968, during the First World Conference of the Sathya Sai Organizations in Bombay (known as Mumbai today), Swami reveals glimpses of His divinity and further elaborating on this declaration, He proclaims,

“This is a human form in which every Divine entity, every Divine Principle, that is to say, all the Names and Forms ascribed by man to God, are manifest.”

In this issue of the Eternal Companion, we relive the experiences of two devotees with Lord Ganesha–Swami Amritananda from India and Prof. John Grimes from the USA. These experiences demonstrate that our Bhagawan encompasses all names and forms, including Ganesha, also known as Vinayaka and Ganapathi.

Why Immersion?

Ganesha Chaturthi is the day people offer their homage, adoration, and worship by remembering Ganapathi and singing His glories. Devotees revel in making different forms and artistic styles of Ganapathi idols for worship. On one occasion, 750 unique forms of Ganesha were exhibited in Prasanthi Nilayam.

Referring to the grand presentation, in His Divine Discourse on September 1, 2000, Swami says,

Today, devotees from Bangalore have brought 750 idols of Lord Ganapathi to worship, as this year happens to be the commencement of the 75th year of Swami’s physical body. One may bring 750 idols or 7 crore (70 million) idols, but Ganapathi is only One. No benefit accrues from offering worship to any number of Ganapathi idols without purity of heart. It is enough if you worship one Ganapathi idol with the feeling of oneness.

Ganapathi idols are made in clay and, after being worshipped for the stipulated days, are immersed in water bodies–ponds, lakes, seas, or oceans, in an auspicious ritual known as vijarjan or nimajjanam. There is an important inner significance behind this ritual. Understanding the ‘spirit’ behind the ‘ritual’ makes it ‘spiritual.’

The ritual symbolizes the concretization of the formless into a form and the dissolution of that form into the formless. Clay, which has no form, is used to create a beautiful idol of Ganesha. Immersion in water dissolves the form into clay again. The manifest Universe comes from the formless and returns to the formless state. The nirguna nirakara (attributeless and formless) God takes a beautiful form for our redemption before returning to the original state. This is true for all Avatars–Rama, Krishna, Jesus, Buddha, Shirdi Sai, and our Swami. The ‘descent’ of God is for the ‘ascent’ of Man.

Inner Significance of Ganesha

All the ashrams and institutions that Swami set up have idols of Ganesha, apart from the temples dedicated especially to Him. Swami says that Ganapathi stands for wisdom and purity of the heart. Ganapathi is the one who gives us spiritual potency and endows us with supreme intelligence. These two blessings are called Siddhi and Buddhi, respectively. These qualities are essential to understand the principle of Ganapathi as well.

Swami has delivered many discourses on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi over the decades, expounding on the inner significance of this unique form of God.

Lord Ganesha has many endearing names, such as Vinayaka, Ganapathi, and Vighneshwara. Vinayaka means the one who has no leader (Vi+nayaka; Vi = without, and nayaka = leader). He is the supreme leader, with nobody above Him. He is the highest. Swami says He worships nobody, but all Gods and Goddesses bow to Him. In fact, Vinayaka is also called Prathama Vandana (the first worshipped deity). Any ceremony or worship always begins with the worship of Ganapathi. That is why, He is called Gana-pati, meaning the ‘Master of Ganas,’ and Ganesha, meaning the ‘Lord of Ganas.’

The Ganas are all Shiva’s friends and followers in the yogic lore and are of 12 kinds. But Swami again gives us the inner meaning for these. He says that the 12 Ganas are there in each one of us. They are the 5 Karmendriyas (organs of action), the 5 Jnanendriyas (organs of perception), the mind, and the intellect. These 12 ‘Ganas’ take us toward God when we tread the path of truth and righteousness. They take us away from God when we tread the path of untruth or unrighteousness. These Ganas are mastered when we worship Ganesha, thus taking us toward God.

The Elephant-Faced Lord Riding a Mouse

Two aspects stand out among the many unique features of the Ganesha form–the elephant face and the mouse, which serves as His vehicle. Ganesha is called Gajanana, meaning ‘the elephant-faced one’ (Gaja = elephant; Aanana = face). Swami explains that Ga stands for Gamyam (goal), Ja stands for Janmam (birth), and Aanana is face. Gajanana is the one who brings us face to face with the ultimate goal of our birth, i.e., God. This explanation reinforces the inner meaning of ‘Ganesha’ and ‘Ganapathi.’

The elephant head is also symbolic of great intelligence. Apart from that, the elephant has large ears but a barely visible mouth, which conveys the message to listen more and talk less. Swami often says, “Shut your mouth and open your heart.” The trunk of an elephant is unique in its ability to lift the smallest needle and also the largest log. This implies that a true spiritual seeker can tackle any task, from the smallest to the largest, by the grace of Lord Ganesha.

The elephant is also known for its extreme loyalty to its master. It is ready to sacrifice its very life for the one it loves. The direct proof is Sai Gita, Swami’s favorite elephant and ardent devotee. Swami has often spoken of her devotion and dedication to Him. Therefore, like Lord Rama, who did the last rites for the great bird devotee, Jatayu, Swami too performed the last rites for the elephant devotee, enduring long hours in the hot sun.

Ganesha is called Mooshika Vahana (One whose rides a mouse). What does the mouse represent? The mouse moves about in the night, and thus, it represents darkness, symbolizing ignorance. Ganapathi, riding the mouse, is regarded as controlling the darkness of ignorance. The mouse is also known for its strong sense of smell (Vasana). Based on the smell of an object, however faint it might be, the mouse finds its way to it. In fact, if anyone wants to trap a mouse, they exploit its acute sense of smell as a weakness for trapping it with a piece of food.

The inner significance of Vasana concerning humanity is our inherent tendencies (Vasanas) from previous lives. These Vasanas trigger our actions in our present lives. They also signify desires. Vinayaka riding the mouse, signifies the triumph of wisdom over the twin problems of ignorance and desires that trap man in bondage. Thus, He drives away our ignorance and inauspicious selfish tendencies (ashubh vasanas) and makes us inculcate auspicious selfless tendencies (shubh vasanas), thus helping us progress toward Self-realization.

Vighneshwara (Lord of Obstacles) is another name for Ganesha. Swami beautifully explains that Lord Ganesha removes obstacles whenever we do good and selfless acts of service. But Lord Ganesha also creates obstacles when anyone is involved in evil deeds or unrighteous activities. Either way, He helps us progress in the right direction in our spiritual path.

A Common Prayer to Ganesha

Shuklambaradharam Vishnum Shashivarnam Chaturbhujam,

Prasanna Vadanam Dhyaayeth Sarva Vighnopashantaye

Here is the literal meaning of the words and the inner significance as given by our Beloved Swami:

  1. Shuklambaradharam: One who is clad in white. White signifies purity.
  2. Vishnum: Vishnu, in Sanskrit, means one who is omnipresent. Ganesha pervades all.
  3. Shashivarnam: One with a grey complexion (vibhuti). Vibhuti also refers to glorious divine powers.
  4. Chaturbhujam: One who has four hands. These four hands represent the four aspects of Ganesha’s compassion and benevolence. He holds the pasha (rope) in one of the hands to pull us toward God when we adore Him or put us into bondage when we forget Him. The second hand carries the trident, used to redeem the good and punish the bad. The third hand is the varadahasta or boon-bestowing hand. The fourth hand is abhayahasta, or the hand bestowing fearlessness to devotees. In other versions, the fourth hand carries a mace, a tusk, or a steam-boiled sweet (modaka).
  5. Prasanna Vadanam Dhyayeth: We meditate on Lord Ganesha, who has a pleasant and smiling face. Swami’s ABC of life is ‘Always Be Cheerful.’ He would often say, “Have a smiling face. Don’t have a long face or a ‘castor oil face’ (a face with a grimace when one is given castor oil as a laxative).”
  6. Sarva Vighnopashantaye: Removes all obstacles (when we act right) to make us progress in the right direction.

Ganesha’s Dedication to Work

The broken tusk in Ganesha’s hand is His own. He has only one whole tusk and is hence called Ekadanta (single-tusked). The story behind this is connected to the great Sage Veda Vyasa. The sage needed a skilled scribe to transcribe the great epic Mahabharata, which contains more than 200,000 verses. The Mahabharata is considered the Panchama Veda (Fifth Veda). It has in it the three greatest scriptures for one’s salvation–Bhagavad Gita (Lord Krishna’s discourse to Arjuna), Vishnu Sahasranama (1000 names of Vishnu given by the great Bhishma to Yudhistira), and Sanatsujateeyam (Advaitic treatise on how to achieve Self-realization).

Lord Ganesha agreed to be Vyasa’s scribe on the condition that Vyasa had to narrate it without pause. To maintain the pace, Vyasa composed complex verses, requiring Ganesha to comprehend them fully before writing. When He was energetically and passionately writing, Ganesha’s writing quill broke. To continue, He broke one of his tusks and used it as the writing instrument. This dedication preserved the epic’s completeness and depth. Ganesha’s broken tusk thus symbolizes sacrifice and commitment to work and knowledge, which is a lesson for all of us. We should put all our heart, mind, soul, and strength in doing the work.

The Ganapathi Atharva Shirsha

The other common prayer chanted for Lord Ganesha in the divine presence of our Lord Sai is the Ganapathi Atharva Shirsha which is part of the Atharvana Veda, one of the four Vedas. The Ganapathi Atharva Shirsha is a profound and mystical composition that praises and describes Lord Ganesha’s qualities, attributes, and significance. It is considered a form of meditation and devotion to Ganesha, seeking his blessings for various aspects of life, including removing obstacles, attaining knowledge, and spiritual growth. Let us review the major aspects of this hymn.

Right at the beginning of this Vedic prayer is the proclamation, “Ganapathi, you are the epitome of Tat Twam Asi (Thou Art That), Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma (All this is indeed Brahman) and the Atman (Eternal, unchanging reality). You are the Kartasi (creator), Dhartasi (sustainer), and Hartasi (destroyer).”

It declares Lord Ganesha as the protector from all ten directions (N, S, E, W, NE, NW, SE, SW, Above, and Below). It proclaims Ganapathi to be Satchitananda (Sath-Chit-Ananda–the embodiment of Truth, Awareness, and Bliss). It announces Ganesha to be the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space). It also says, “You are Brahma (creator), Vishnu (sustainer), Rudra (destroyer), Indra (rain god), Vayu (wind god), Surya (sun god), Chandra (moon god) and the ultimate entity responsible for all the three Lokas (planes of existence) and the Pranava (primordial sound)–OM.”

It further mentions that Ganesha is an embodiment of and beyond.

  • the three gunas (satva, rajas, and tamas)
  • three states (waking, dreaming, and deep sleep)
  • three bodies (gross, subtle, and causal)
  • three times (past, present, and future)
  • three powers (ichcha–will, jnana–knowledge, kriya–action)

Ganesha is then revealed as the resident of the Mooladhara Chakra, which is responsible for arousing the Kundalini power. The Ganapathi Atharva Shirsha also describes a potent seed mantra (Beejakshara Mantra) for Ganesha–Om Gam Ganapathaye Namaha. This mantra contains the beeja (seed) letters ‘Gam,’ which removes all obstacles and bestows knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual enlightenment.

Significance of Offerings to Ganesha

We make offerings of tender grass and steam-boiled sweets (modakas) to Lord Ganesha. This highlights the importance of sattvic and healthy food. In the modern context, this could be taken as vegetarian foods, salads, and simple healthy fresh food preparations.

What then of the pot belly of Ganesha despite taking healthy foods? Swami says that Ganesha’s belly is a metaphor for the ability to digest and assimilate life’s experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant. The large stomach is also a repository of Jnana (wisdom). Just as the stomach ensures nourishment for all the organs and limbs, Lord Ganesha distributes Jnana to all the devotees.

The Divine Race Story

Once, Lord Shiva and His consort Goddess Parvati announced a competition between their sons, Ganesha and Karthikeya. The winner would be the one who goes around the world and returns first. He would receive a fruit as a reward and be crowned the Master of the Ganas. Karthikeya, riding his peacock, quickly soared into the sky, aiming to circumnavigate the universe. Meanwhile, Ganesha, aware of his own limitations of riding a slow mouse vehicle, just sat, thinking. His astute intellect prompted Him to circumambulate his parents.

He explained that, for Him, His parents embodied the universe. He then claimed victory in the race because Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati were not just His parents but parents of the whole Universe. Impressed by Ganesha’s wisdom, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati declared him the winner, as his act symbolized devotion and supreme wisdom.

Apart from reflecting Ganesha’s intelligence, this story highlights that one’s parents are verily one’s universe, and they should be so revered. Swami emphasizes that the merit of visiting all the pilgrimage places in the world cannot surpass the merit of adoration and service to one’s parents.

The One Principle in Diverse Forms

The Ganesha Purana describes the 32 forms of Lord Ganesha, and among them, Mahaganapathi is widely worshipped. The first 16 forms of Ganesha are known as “Shodasa Ganapathi,” and the latter 16 are known as “Ekavimsathi.” Each form has special powers and characteristic features. Depending on our problems and issues, we can choose an appropriate form.

  1. Bala Ganapathi: Lord in child form
  2. Taruna Ganapathi: Youthful one
  3. Bhakti Ganapathi: One who grants devotion
  4. Veera Ganapathi: Valiant one
  5. Shakti Ganapathi: Powerful one
  6. Dvija Ganapathi: ‘Twice-born’ one (‘Second Birth’ is a reference to the initiation into Gayatri Mantra)
  7. Siddhi Ganapathi: Spiritually attained one
  8. Ucchhishta Ganapathi: Lord of blessed offerings
  9. Vighna Ganapathi: Lord of obstacles
  10. Kshipra Ganapathi: Lord who is quick to act
  11. Heramba Ganapathi: Lord who protects the weak and helpless
  12. Lakshmi Ganapathi: Lord of prosperity and well-being
  13. Maha Ganapathi: Great one
  14. Vijaya Ganapathi: Victorious one
  15. Nritya Ganapathi: Lord of dance
  16. Urdhva Ganapathi: Exalted one
  17. Ekakshara Ganapathi: Single-syllabled one (Gam)
  18. Varada Ganapathi: Lord who bestows boons
  19. Tryakshara Ganapathi: Lord of the three syllables,  A-U-M (OM)
  20. Kshipra Prasada Ganapathi: Lord who is quick to reward
  21. Haridra Ganapathi: Lord of beautiful golden hue
  22. Ekadanta Ganapathi: Single-tusked one
  23. Sristhi Ganapathi: Lord of creation
  24. Uddanda Ganapathi: Lord who enforces dharma
  25. Rinamochana Ganapathi: Debt-redeeming one (worldly and spiritual debts)
  26. Dhundhi Ganapathi: Lord who helps in attaining liberation (moksha) through spiritual practices
  27. Dvimukha Ganapathi: Lord with two heads who sees in all directions
  28. Trimukha Ganapathi: Lord with three heads who is beyond three gunas
  29. Simha Ganapathi: Fearless one riding a lion who protects the devotees and removes their fears
  30. Yoga Ganapathi: Lord of yoga
  31. Durga Ganapathi: Lord in the form of Goddess Durga who destroys sins and karmic bondage
  32. Sankatahara Ganapathi: Lord who removes hardships and troubles of life

Ganapathi has these names and forms, but the underlying principle is the same–Brahman or Satchitananda (Truth, Awareness, and Bliss). Thus, when we worship Lord Ganesha with intensity and love, wherever we are, He responds to our prayers. Let us all pray to Him, understanding the meaning of the prayers, and make Ganesha our role model in our journey to attain liberation.

Jai Sai Ram.