Thursday, January 17, 2008

Symbolism behind worship of Lord Ganesha

Symbolism behind worship of Lord Ganesha
The most popular image when one thinks about Hinduism is Lord Ganesha, For we Hindus, Ganesha is the first and foremost deity to worship. This practice can be seen from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
What does the form of Ganesha symbolize ? Why do we worship Him?
In South India and especially in Tamilnadu, as a child I used to play around a big pipal tree, ( Aswatta in Sanskrit, Bodhi in Hindi, Arasa Maram in Tamil), under which there was a Ganesha icon. He sat on a raised stone pedestal. There were two vertical stones , one with two snakes intertwined with their heads meeting after two twists. The other stone had one cobra with its hood opened out.
In the mornings, many womenfolk in my area, after bathing , with their hair still not fully dry, carried water in a pot and perform abhishek ( pouring) of water on the deities, put a few grass on them, apply chandan and kumkum. They used to do a typical sit up with hands in opposite ears called ‘Thoppukkaranam’ , then they would tap the knuckles on either side of the temples gently five times and finally they will cicumambulate the whole tree with the pedestal three or five times and then offer a final prostration before the Lord. They will sit in front of Him for a minute murmuring slokas and will rush home.
I always wondered about the Ganesha’s form and the symbolism behind this typical worship. I found it only in my 44 th year. The profoundness of the entire rituals struck me forcefully. I also wondered at the wisdom of our Rishis and siddhas for making towering yogic knowledge expressed in simple worship. As usual, I am sharing it with you all.
1. The Snakes:
First we need to get basic regarding yoga and its outline.
Most of us know that our human body has many thousands of ( in fact 72,000) invisible ducts , called nadis, carrying energy to the entire body. Three of them are very important. They are ida , pingala and Sushumna which run along the spinal chord. The ida and pingala are the paths along which our prana (or life force) flows. They can be felt with slow rhythmic breathing with total inward focus. The Sushumna is the third which runs in the hollow of the spine. This starts at the root of the spine called ‘mooladhar’ and ends at ‘sahasrar’ the vertex.
It is said that the Kundalini shakti , likened to a cobra, is coiled up in the mooladhar chakra in a dormant form. Except for a few , the entire mankind has the kundalini in its dormant, unawakened state.
Only simple, pious, virtuous living with austerities, vegetarian diet, shunning of evil habits, dissociation from mad wealth mongering, and continuous practice of yoga in one of the known four paths of Gnana, Karma, Bhakti, Dhyana , awakens the kundalini and it starts to raise through the sushumna.
The sadhak has to pursue with his practice till the Kundalini starts ascending from
1. Mooladhara – base of spine
2. Swadhistana- corresponding to the position of genitals along spine
3. Manipooraka- opp to naval (solar plexus) along spine
4. Anahata- opp to heart (cardiac plexus) along spine
5. Vishuddhi- opp to neck along spine (here the spine ends)
6. Ajna- the point between the eyebrows(pituitary gland)
7. Sahasrar- the vertex (pineal gland)
The Kundalini at Sahasrar gives total awakening or self realization or Jeevan mukthi.
2. Snake icons
Coming back to the snake icons, the first icon has two snakes crossing each other in two places. The snake on the left is likened to ida, and the one on the right symbolizes pingala. They both originate at the feet, then cross once at Mooladhar, then again at Anahata and finally meet again at Ajna. This is the symbolism of the two intertwined snakes.
Now to the other stone slab with the cobra with opened out hood. This is the direct depiction of the Kundalini , which is said to be about three and a half feet in length. In its awakened state, it has raised through the Sushumna nadi and has reached the Sahasrar, the last chakra with a thousand petalled lotus. This symbolizes total illumination.
3. The Elephant face:
Now Lord Ganesha, shows us the way to illumination. How ? By his own form. His elephant face is in the form of Omkara, the primordial sound. By the help of the Omkara that is Pranava , the Sadhak is helped towards enlightenment.
4. The Mouse- Ganesha’s Vehicle:
Another curiosity is Lord Vinayaka’s vehicle, the mouse. This symbolizes an elephant riding on one of the smallest creatures, the mouse. This explains us how our human body came to be the vehicle for the infinite Atman.
5. The five Hands:
Ganesha’s left hand holds the ankush- which is used to punish errant elephants. Depicts how He guides humans.
Right hand holds Pasa- The rope that is used to tie the elephant- with which he ties the creation.
The third hand has the broken part of its tusk with which he wrote the entire Mahabharata- denotes knowledge and education.
The fourth Hand holds the japamala- the chain of beads- Shows us the necessity to chant God’s names.
In the fifth Hand, which is His trunk, Ganesha hold the Modhaka, a sweet delicacy made of pounded and boiled rice, jaggery and coconut scrapings- This denotes good food.
6. The third eye:
This denotes the Eternal Knowledge.
7. The Large ears
Shows how we should listen and absorb more and express and talk less. Ganesha is always attentive to our outpourings.
8. Pipal tree:
The Pipal tree is the most sacred of Trees of Hindu tradition. Sree Krishna says ‘ Aswatta: sarva VrukshanAm’- that of all the trees he is the Pipal tree. The Aswatta tree is said to hold enormous Aura around it which can heal many mental and Physical illnesses. Its aura also creates an ambience for a pious session of worship.
Tapping on the forehead
The typical gentle knocking on the forehead is for activating the chakras in the head. The Ajna and Sahasrara.
The typical sit up is called as Thoppukaranam in Tamil. " Thorbi karna" in sanskrit. (literally meaning hands on the ears). The sadhak holds the opposite year by the respective hands and sits with the feet fully flat and grounded. In my younger days , my school teachers used to make us do this as a punishment in school. But, this has proved to be a brain synchronizer as found out by American researchers who call it as super brain yoga. See the video

The first and foremost to be worshipped
Is it any wonder that Ganapathy, with Pranava as his Swarupa (form) is worshipped as the first and foremost deity ?
Vinayaka depicts Knowledge, Wisdom, Power, Enlightenment and Mukthi.
The next time you go to a Vinaya Temple, do stand in front of Him and recall all the above to understand Him in His very presence. He is the Lord of Siddhi( Powers) and Buddhi(reasoning). He wants you to know Him and worship Him for what he is.
Sri Maha Ganapathaye nama:
1. Kadavulin Vadivangal- Swamy Chidbhavananda( Tamil) Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam, Tirupparaithurai, T. Nadu, India(
2. Avvayar Aruliya Vinayagar Agavalum Kundalini Yogamum- N. Thampanna Chettiyar, (Tamil), Puthiya Puttaga Ulagam, Chennai, T. Nadu(