by Swami Krishnananda
The philosophy behind all these traditional worships and Puranic allegories is that the path of spiritual Sadhana is a mystery by itself and it is not a heroic activity of the Sadhaka, as sometimes he may imagine. No heroism will work there. Even the so-called heroic attitude, which we sometimes put on, is an entry of divine force into us. Just as a child's or a little baby's walking is the strength of the mother who is holding it with her hand, whatever intelligence we have, whatever satisfaction we enjoy in this life, whatever strength we possess, whether physical or psychological, whatever security we have, whatever is worthwhile in our existence, is a modicum of the reflection of God's power. The worship of Maha-Ganapati, with the Mantra "Om Gam Ganapataye Namah", is a humble submission of the true circumstance of oneself before the might of God's glory. Who can open one's eyes before God? Who can utter one word before Him? Who can boast of one's learning, greatness, etc., before Him? We would be ashamed even to present ourselves before Him. Consider the might of the Creator, the magnitude of His power, the depth of His Wisdom, His Knowledge and His Omniscience, and our present condition! Compare it and contrast it. What Sadhana, what meditation, what Yoga can we do? The moment we begin to take one step in the direction of this holy movement towards God, the world pounces upon us with all its army, because the world is quantitatively larger. We live in a world of quantities. We require quantitative food, quantitative drink, quantitative physical appurtenances, and everything we require and ask for in life is only a quantity rather than a quality. The quantity of the world being larger than the quantity of our physical personality, we cannot face it. So there is this humble acceptance of submission and a prayer to the great Almighty as manifest in Ganapati.
There is another story as to why He is worshipped first on all occasions. It appears Parvati, the consort of Lord Siva, went for a bath, maybe in the Ganga. She scrubbed her body, and out of the dirt of her body she made a small image of a boy, gave life to it by her touch, and ordained him not to allow entry to any person while she is bathing in the river. Accordingly, that boy stood guarding. At that moment, the great Lord Siva Himself came and the boy prevented His entry, because he could not recognise Lord Siva, whom he had not seen. He had only the order of his Mother that nobody should enter. He immediately objected to the entry of Lord Siva into the vicinity where Parvati was bathing. We can imagine the feeling of Lord Siva. "What is this? The little chap is standing and preventing me from seeing my own consort!" He immediately chopped off Ganapati's head, and he fell down dead. When Parvati came up, she was aghast and said, "Oh Lord, You have killed my boy. He is my own child, and I am deeply hurt. What have you done! Oh, my Lord!" She bet her breast and would not speak. She started weeping. The Lord Siva said, "Do not weep. I shall give life to him." But ironically enough, He would not put the same head back. We do not know the reason why He did this. He said, "Bring the head of someone who is sleeping with his head towards the north." This is why it is said that we should not sleep with our heads towards the north. Otherwise, Siva will search for us! And they found nobody except an elephant lying with its head towards the north. Its head was severed and brought. The elephant's head was attached to the trunk of this boy and life was given by the great Siva. He became alive and was named as Ganapati, which designation was bestowed upon him by Lord Siva Himself, maybe to pacify Parvati or to bring about a peaceful atmosphere around. Lord Siva not only gave him life, but also made him the leader of His hosts. Ganapati is, therefore, the leader of the hosts of Lord Siva Himself. There is a large audience before Lord Siva, consisting of varieties of Ganas. Ganas are demigods; they are neither human nor superhuman, but are a peculiar type. Sometimes they look like astral beings. These Ganas are ruled by Ganapati under the order of Siva. So Ganapati means the generalissimo, as it were, of the hosts who always live in Kailasa. Apart from making Ganapati the Leader of his hosts, Lord Siva bestowed another blessing on Him, saying, "You shall be the first one to be worshipped on all occasions." So this is the order or the ordinance of Lord Siva. The ordinance stands forever. It is a permanent ordinance from the Great Master: "No one will be worshipped before you – not even me. After you are worshipped alone, anybody else will be worshipped." We will not worship Lord Siva or Lord Narayana without first worshipping Ganapati. "Om Gam Ganapataye Namah", is a Mantra to propitiate Ganapati.
The human mind is elated and enthused by hearing stories. Images, paintings, music, idols, dance – any kind of picturesque presentation of religion and spirituality or philosophy – is generally more appealing than cut and dry logic, as we know very well. The Puranas and the epics bring home to us the idea of the necessity to accept the power of God as the only medium by which obstacles can be removed. So, He is called Vighnesvara, the God who is not merely the Ganapati or the ruler of the hosts or Ganas, but also a Remover of all impediments on all paths.
When I was a small boy, I heard a story told by a neighbour. There was a person who never believed in the gods, and when his daughter's marriage was to be performed, someone said, "First of all you must worship Ganesa. Do not be in a hurry." He replied, "Let him be Ganesa or his grandfather; I do not care for anybody." He took the Murti of Ganesa and threw it into the tank. And suddenly, they say, there was a fire and the whole marriage Pandal was aflame. People bet their breasts, cried, ran to the tank and brought back the image. And then, it is said, there was rain after Ganesa was worshipped. These are all stories, and we have to take them for what they are worth.
But there is something mysterious about things. Everything is not clear to the minds of men. There are great secrets. And as I began by saying, the spiritual path is itself a great secret. The little Japa that we do, the scriptures that we read, the audience that we hold and whatever we appear to be doing, is only an outer crust of the mystery of life. The mystery is finally in ourselves. We ourselves do not know who is goading us to think in this manner. That goading principle is the mystery. If we recognise this mystery within us which mystifies even our intelligence and our efforts, we will be humble, simple and small before God, because spiritual Sadhana is an art of becoming smaller and smaller. It is not to become bigger and bigger. A person becomes smaller and smaller as he approaches God, just as a candle flame becomes dimmer and dimmer as it goes nearer and nearer to the sun; and just before the sun, it is not there. We cannot even see its existence. It vanishes. Likewise, when we approach God we become smaller and smaller, humbler and humbler, littler and littler, until we become nothing. In this nothingness, we will find God Himself filling us. When there is total emptiness created by an abolition of ourselves, in this emptiness or vacuum created, God fills it Himself. "Empty thyself and I shall fill thee," said Jesus Christ. The Mahaganapati Purana, the Ganapati Atharvasirsha Upanishad, the Ganesa Gita and several anecdotes occurring in the Mahabharata and the other Puranas glorify this aspect of the Supreme Almighty which requires our submission at His feet and expects us to recognise Him as the sole power that can remove all obstacles on the path of the spiritual seeker towards the attainment of Godhead. This seems to be a part of the meaning hidden behind the holy worship of Bhagavan Ganapati or Sri Ganesa or Mahaganapati. A dread enters our minds when we think of His Name on account of the feeling that any displeasure on His part may be doom to us. People are even afraid to forget taking the holy Prasada of Sri Satyanarayana Puja because of the story behind it. Do you know what will happen to you if you do not take the Prasada? It is mentioned in the story that the whole thing will be finished – all your wealth, property, wife, children, etc., will go to the dogs in one second. The fear of it makes us bow down and wait for the Prasada, even if it is late in the night. These stories are not meaningless narrations of cock and bull incidents. They instil into our minds a divine urge and a fear of the Divine Presence. After all, we are human beings who are ruled more by sentiments and feelings than by our reason or our so-called understanding. This psychology of the human being is taken advantage of by the writers of the epics and the Puranas to instil faith in our hearts through these stories. This is a little tribute to the glory of Maha Ganapati.