Today starts Ganesh Chaturthi, a ten-day festival celebrating Ganesh, the Elephant Headed God. It’s a birthday of sorts! The custom is to make your own murti (statue) of Ganesh and honor it for the length of the festival, then take it to a body of water and let it dissolve there. I am not crafty in the slightest, and I’m not at home, so I have not made my own Ganesh. My hope is to get to the temple in San Diego in the next ten days and offer up some love to Ganesha there.
Ganesh is one of the most beloved of all Hindu gods. My three-year old loves him and can recognize him easily. And what’s not to love? Ganesh helps to remove the obstacles in our life, grants us sweetness and wealth, and is jollity personified. The big round belly is a further signifier that he enjoys the world. While, I think the root goal is for Ganesh to help us overcome the obstacles to our liberation, unless one is a monk with vows of renunciation, Hindus do not need to eschew the world; there is no ‘earthly life is bad, spirituality is the only good’ way of thinking. We are blessed to have bodies. The world itself is divine. We can get caught up in that, creating another obstacle to liberation, but enjoying the world in and of itself is not a bad thing. Thinking of this makes me happy, especially as I am staying in a part of the world where I see a ‘Not of this world‘ bumper sticker at least once a day. Don’t get me started on the irony of those stickers.
In my house both my husband and I have small statues of Ganesh on our altars. We place offering of coins there regularly. When it starts to overflow we move them to a jar and when the jar is full we give it to the first charity that knocks on our door. It is an act of gratitude for all that we have been blessed with, and an acknowledgment that Ganesh has been helping us. Traditionally, every undertaking and every puja begins with a prayer to Ganesh – before even praying to one’s main god/dess! I still struggle with ideas of ‘personal relationship’ with the deities. I think this comes from years immersed in Christian culture. I certainly wouldn’t say that I have a personal, intimate relationship with Ganesh, but he is definitely a member of the household.
Instead of concluding with a traditional chant, I’ll leave you with this song from MC Yogi. It’s only half the song, but it’s fun and catchy, and the video is a bunch of pretty images of Ganesh. MC Yogi’s blog also has some great pictures of graffiti and other forms of urban art with Hindu themes. Jai Ganesha om!