What Ganesha means to a Muslim like meEven as we get ready to celebrate the ten day long festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, beginning September 17th, marking the birth of one of the most beloved Hindu deities and undoubtedly the most popular one
Even as we get ready to celebrate the ten day long festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, beginning September 17th, marking the birth of one of the most beloved Hindu deities and undoubtedly the most popular one for Maharashtrians, the chants of Ganpati Bappa Morya that springs from the deepest crevices of faith and devotion, the colorfully decorated Ganesh pandals and idols and the sweet coconut-jaggery laden Modaks beckon us all, Hindus and non-Hindus alike, to partake of this extravaganza, that celebrates not just a mythical-religious figure but a cultural icon of sorts who is regarded by the Hindu devotees, as the Lord of prosperity, the Lord of removing obstacles or Vigneshwara, a liberal patron of the arts and the bearer of intellect and wisdom.
The story of the creation of Gajanana, the one with the elephant face, by Shiva, has different narratives in the Indian mythology. The most popular one is that Parvati had created a little boy by using her sandalwood (some say turmeric) paste to ensure no one entered while she was bathing and while doing his duty the little boy showed immense loyalty and courage to his creator and stopped no less than Shiva.
Earning his wrath, the boy's head was severed by Shiva. But seeing Parvati in pain, Shiva asked Brahma and his followers to bring back the head of the first creature they saw facing north. They brought back the head of an elephant, which Shiva placed on the boy's body thus bringing Ganesha to life.
Ganesha's attributes have many different interpretations. The big head represents wisdom, the big ears- the ability to listen and understand, the trunk represents flexibility, the big belly is a sign of prosperity.
He represents the balance between material prosperity and spiritualism, features embodied by each of his parents. He sits on the back of a rat symbolically representing the ability to control , desires and ego. His broken tusk, is yet another symbol of his dedication to Vyasa, under whose dictation he had agreed to write down the great epic of Mahabharata without stopping.
When his stylus snapped, Ganesha did not hesitate in breaking off his tusk to continue writing, all in the pursuit of knowledge.
Although Ganesha emerged as a deity as early as the 4th and 5th centuries, it was Lokmanya Tilak in 1893 who turned the private celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in one's home into a public or “Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav” by installing a large idol at Kesariwada in Pune, to mobilize the masses against the British. In that sense, Ganesha is an important part of our freedom movement.
He is a non-sectarian deity whose appeal cuts across caste lines. In that sense, he is a social reformer of sorts for whom class and caste matter little. I am pretty sure there must be a Ganesh idol wearing a suit resembling that of Babasaheb Ambedkar holding the Constitution. It would be a fitting tribute to the reformist agendas of both heroes.
Muslims like me may not worship Ganesha as a God but the sense of reverence for this deity exists in the mind of every Maharashtrian and especially every Punekar like me. How can we ignore him? The Ashtvinayaka Yatra covers the pilgrimage of the eight ancient holy temples of Ganesha which are situated around my city.
And within the city we have the Shreemant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati located just a walking distance away from Shaniwar Wada, once the seat of the Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. Till date the loud Aartis of Dhole Patil Ganpati Mandir put the same smile on the faces of our Hindu staff working in our house that the Azaan would bring to the countenance of the faithful.
The city of Mumbai also boasts of two of the most famous Ganesh idols in India. The Shree Siddhivinayak Ganpati who is often visited by the high and mighty of the city including A listers from Bollywood and the Lalbaug Cha Raja- the hero of the working classes of Mumbai which lives in slums and chawls.
Like I mentioned before, Ganesha transcends all barriers- economic, social, regional and cultural. His popularity is just as high in states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Andhra Pradesh too.
Ganesha is the one deity that can be represented in a wide range of poses and depictions and no sentiments would get “hurt” or “offended”. He is a tolerant deity and one is given a liberal artistic license to portray him.
Dancing, singing, sleeping, running, reading, cycling, playing cricket and even taking a selfie! I have seen Ganesh idols doing all of these. One even made to look like spider-man! Can any other deity claim to be so contemporary, hip and modern? This is why I find him to be a cultural and socio-political icon more than a religious figure per se.
This time around, the one theme I would like Ganesha to touch upon is the agricultural crisis particularly in Maharashtra's Marathwada region. Hundreds of farmers are killing themselves. That the favorite children of the Lord of Prosperity should commit suicide is just not acceptable.
I hope this season there are depictions of Ganesha in his avatar as a “Kisan”, fighting for their right to protect their land, cultivate it and harvest it. I hope those images can motivate his Bhakts to not waste their money on ostentation but to help the farmers in distress like Nana Patekar has started.
I hope that Ganesha can give some wisdom to our policy makers too so that they can focus on issues like farmer suicides and not things like meat ban.
Ganpati Bappa Morya
(Shehzad Poonawalla is a lawyer and civil rights activist. He is the founder member of the think tank PolicySamvad. His twitter handle is @Shehzad_Ind)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author. India TV does not take any responsibility or liability for the same.