by Swami Krishnananda
Ganesa Chaturthi message given in September, 1981.
Human life is beset with obstacles. We face oppositions and encounter difficulties galore, and the whole of our daily activity may, in a sense, be considered as a struggle against all odds which come in different forms as the sorrows of life. The moment we wake up in the morning, we have to face the obstacle called hunger which we try to obviate by cooking and eating food, the obstacle called thirst which we have to get rid of by drinks, and the obstacles called disease, exhaustion, fatigue, sleeplessness and the like, which we endeavour to remedy by the introduction of various types of medicines. The very presence of people around us is an obstacle and the human individual suddenly becomes restless, and both consciously and unconsciously puts on an attitude of self-defence, as if one has found oneself suddenly in a terrific war field.
The difficulties of life are, to a large extent, the very substance of life itself. The whole of life is a bundle of difficulties. It is a mess of oppositions, which calls for a continuous counteracting force which is what is called human enterprise. If the whole earth were filled with milk and honey, and if there was no fatigue, no old age and death, no hunger and thirst, no opposition and nobody to utter a word, then there would be no activity, no necessity to do anything and no incentive in the direction of any movement. The quantity, the expanse and the magnitude of the opposition which comes before us in life is such that no single individual will be able to face it. This whole world is too much for a single man, and considering the incongruous, disproportionate relationship between a single human individual and the vast world outside, there is very little hope of man's achieving anything in this world, successfully, because we cannot bail out the ocean of waters with a spoon, though our effort may be laudable. We are, no doubt, very sincerely industrious in emptying the ocean of its waters with a little spoon or a ladle. Notwithstanding the fact that this effort on our part is praiseworthy, it is not going to lead us to any success, and the expected result will not follow. The ocean cannot be emptied by any amount of bailing out with a spoon. Such seems to be the type of world into which we are born, and people who are acutely conscious of this situation become humble enough to accept that even an inch of success cannot be expected in this world without the miraculous grace of God. So, even the little success that sometimes seems to come to us is a kind of undeserved promotion, as it were, granted to us by the mercy of the Almighty. Our efforts are only a puny child's whining and weeping with a helpless weakness of body and mind. The traditional annual worship of God in this role, as the remover of all obstacles, as Vighna Vinayaka, is known as Vinayaka Chaturthi or Ganesa Chaturthi. It is the day on which we offer special adoration to the Remover of obstacles.
We are terribly afraid of obstacles. There is no other fear in this world except of obstacles. So, we always cry, "Remove the obstacles, clear the path, cleanse the road." On the fourth day of the bright half of the lunar month of Bhadrapada (August-September) every year, the great Lord Ganapati, called the Lord of Hosts, is worshipped throughout India, and perhaps in many other parts of the world also. There is no Hindu who does not recognise the pre-eminence of the worship of this mysteriously conceived deity called Ganapati whose name occurs right in the beginning of the Rig Veda itself, the earliest of scriptures, where pointedly the name is taken in a Mantra, "Gananam tva ganapatim havamahe..."
The fear of God is supposed to be the beginning of religion. A person who has no fear of God also has no religion, because religion is respect for God. The fear of God goes together with the acceptance of the greatness of God and His Power. Wherever there is power, we are afraid of it. An ocean, a lion, an elephant are all powerful things, and we dread the very sight of them.
Tradition conceives this great Remover of Obstacles, Ganapati, as the son of Lord Siva, with a proboscis of an elephant and a protuberant belly, with weapons of various types and with His right hand in a benign gesture of goodwill, grace and blessing. The family of Bhagavan Siva is of a peculiar setup. The Lord of all the worlds lives as one possessing nothing! This manner of living in Mount Kailasa by the great Master of Yogis, Lord Siva, is perhaps a demonstration of the great definition of the glory of Bhagavan, the Supreme Being as possessed of all-knowledge, all-power and all-renunciation. What is Bhagavan and what are His characteristics? 'Bhagavan' is one who has six characteristics. "Aisvaryasya samagrasya viryasya yasasah sriyah; jnana-vairagyayoh chaiva shannam bhaga itirana" – these six characteristics mentioned are all called Bhaga. One who has Bhaga is called Bhagavan. All prosperity, all wealth, all treasure, all glory, all magnificence is Aisvarya. Entire Aisvarya is there. Virya is tremendous energy, force and power. Yasas is fame and renown. Srih is prosperity. Jnana and Vairagya are the pinnacle of wisdom and the pinnacle of renunciation, respectively. Knowledge is supposed to be a benediction from Lord Siva Himself. In the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, at the commencement of the second Skandha, Sri Suka delineates the names of various deities who have to be adored for various purposes. "Jnanam mahesvaradicchet": All knowledge is to be expected from the great Siva. They say that the ocean of Siva is incomprehensible; a part of it was contained in a pot by Brihaspati, and a spoon of it was taken by Panini who is the promulgator of Sanskrit grammar.
You may know the interesting story as to how Panini, the originator of Sanskrit grammar, received knowledge from Lord Siva. He was supposed to be the dullest of the students in a group that was studying from a Guru in Taxila, Taksha Shila. The other boys were very intelligent. Panini was the most stupid, the least intelligent, very much belittled and made fun of by the students in the class. He was deeply hurt that he was being cowed down by other students and that he could not understand anything that the teacher said. Almost in a desperate mood of disgust with everything, he went to the forest and deeply contemplated on Lord Siva. He prayed, "O Lord! Bless me with Knowledge." It is said that Lord Siva appeared before him, danced and revolved His Dakka or Damaru fourteen times, and the following fourteen sounds were made: 1. Aiun, 2. Rlrk, 3. Aowng, 4. Ai ouch, 5. Ha ya va rat, 6. Lan, 7. Na ma nga na nam, 8. Jha bhanj, 9. Gha dha dhash, 10. Ja ba ga da das, 11. Kha pha chha tha tha cha ta tav, 12. Ka pay, 13. Sa sha sar, and 14. Hal. All this constitutes the very essence of Sanskrit grammar. These sounds, meaningless as they may appear to us, became the foundation of Sanskrit grammar and Sanskrit literature.
So, God can teach us without books and without the usual medium of instruction, by a thought, a sound, a look, a touch or a benign gesture.
Such a Master's son is Sri Ganapati, Sri Ganesa. We have endless stories about our Gods, all partly humorous and partly highly illuminating. The usual belief is that Lord Ganapati is a celibate and He never married, though there is a belief in North India that He has Siddhi and Buddhi, two consorts, behind Him. There is a humorous story about His marriage. He was about to be married and the bridegroom's procession was moving with great gusto from Mount Kailasa, evidently, to the bride's palace. We do not know who that contemplated bride was. We know only that there was a procession of the bridegroom. And His potbelly, it seems, burst on the way due to eating too much, and He took a snake, which is sometimes identified with Subrahmanya, tied it around His stomach, and again ate. It seems Chandra, or the moon, looked at this scene and laughed, saying, "Look at this man who is going for his marriage! His stomach has burst and he is tying it up with a snake!" This took place on the fourth day of the bright half of the lunar month, Bhadrapada (August-September). Ganapati was irritated very much. He cursed the moon: "You fellow, you talk about me like this. You have insulted me. Well, whoever looks at you on this day will also be similarly insulted." So, people dread to look at the moon on that day. Chauthi Chandra, the moon on the fourth day of the bright half of the lunar month, is considered very inauspicious, resulting in Apavadam or censure and reproach for the one who sees it. Apavada means undeserved blame and scandal. You might have done nothing, yet somebody will go on telling some evil against you. This is the result of looking at the moon on the fourth day, because it has the curse of Ganapati. But they say, in our tradition of curses, that there is also what is called Sapamoksha, or a kind of remedy. The moon said, "Please excuse me. Why do you curse me like this?" The moon pleaded for some remedy. Then Ganapati, in reply, said, "OK, alright, I pardon you. Whoever looks at you on the first day after the new moon will be relieved of this curse." I have seen people running to terraces and climbing trees and trying to see the little streak of the moon appearing like a thread on the first day after the new moon, to be rid of all the evils that might have grown around them even by an unconscious look on the fourth day because on that fourth day, especially, the moon is just before our eyes and is very clear. He is located very peculiarly in a position in the sky where one cannot avoid seeing him. So then, when our eyes fall on the moon on the fourth day, we rub our eyes and say, "Oh, very sorry, some mistake has taken place," and we expect some trouble afterwards. Somebody will say something against us. Anyhow, the remedy is seeing the moon on the first day after the new moon.