The Ganesha festival comes to life in our October (1) 2012 issue
More than 250 people gathered in a Girraween celebration of Ganeshotsav organised by the Australian Telengana Forum in end September. The elephant-headed pot-bellied god of good beginnings, the remover of obstacles, was felicitated by the Telugu community of Western Sydney at the event. They were joined also by a sizable number of mainstream Australians, in a wonderful spirit of multiculturalism.
Priest Phanindra Sharma performed a two-hour prayer ceremony as guests walked in and paid obeisance. Children received a pooja pen each from the priest, besides of course the special prasad on the occasion. A cultural program followed, the highlight being Taruni’s classical dance.
Earlier some twenty kids had participated in a clay Ganesh idol making activity, with prizes going out for the best creations.
The fun-loving Ganesha is one of the most loved among the pantheon of Hindu gods. His particular love of sweet laddoos makes the food item a must at this event, even considered auspicious. In a wonderful Telengana twist, the traditional ‘laddoo auction’ was performed at the Girraween celebration. Vani Elete organised the auction, which started modestly at $50 but soon crossed last year’s record of $350, and with much excitement and fanfare, ended up at $700, the victorious bidders being Abhilash Reddy and team, who broke into chants of “Jai bolo Ganesh maharaj ki jai!”
ATF President Upender Gadey ably led his executive committee team in organising the event. General Secretary Venkata Prasad Ragipani was pleased at having shared this ancient Indian tradition with local Australians.
Ganesha comes to Sydney’s north shore
The Ganesh festival was held at the community level for the first time at Hornsby this year. Led by the Bedarkar family who are well-known for recreating the spirit of the iconic festival, the event saw some 200 people gather at Asquith Community Centre. They offered joint prayers to Ganesha, the God of Good Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles.
The priest Sriparashara Hrishikesha Bhatt performed the rituals in Sanskrit, translating as best as he could in English while also elaborating, and got the crowd to repeat after him at significant points. The clay idol of Ganesh sat in all its glory on a raised platform, as Shailendra and Rashmi Bedarkar took turns to offer, on behalf of all present, the ritual druva glass blades, red flowers, coconut, modak and chandan sandalwood paste.
The crowd chanted together the 108 salutations dedicated to Lord Ganesha, and the singing of the Ganesh Aarti reverberated in the hall.
For Shai and Rashmi, the Marathi tradition of Ganeshutsav has been a labour of love. An annual event at their home, they prepare for the ten-day celebration months in advance, painstakingly sculpting their idol of Ganesha and decorating it with a particular creative theme each year (Ashta Vinayaka, the twelve chakras, lotus, swan, and muladhara being a few).
Their festivities began to attract such numbers each year that this year it simply had to take on a public form. There is no doubt that it will become an annual community celebration from here on.
“Our aim was always to recreate the passion and fervour of the celebrations in Mumbai, for our kids here”, Shai told Indian Link.
He certainly seems to have succeeded, as he pointed out that evening, in the case of young Roma Kore. She first came to their Ganesh festival ten years ago as a baby in her mother’s arms. She returned, quite like Ganesh himself, each year, and this time round, presented a dance item as a confident and beautiful eleven-year-old.
Besides the pooja and cultural items, friends and family chipped in to create a mela feel – with stalls offering food and mehendi and other services.
Iconic festival brings communities together
It’s traditional pomp, splendour and fanfare at SVT’s Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations Sydneysiders ushered in the season of festivities recently with grand Ganesh Chathurthi celebrations at the Sri Venkateshwara Temple (SVT) in Helensburgh. Marked by day-long events, SVT’s Ganesh Visarjan festival draws Hindu devotees of diverse ethnicity and ancestry (and more recently non-Hindu, but no less enthusiastic onlookers) by the thousands.
In recent years, Hindus not merely from India and Sri Lanka, but those from Nepal, Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa have been actively involved in the celebrations. The temple committee is now determined to reach out to Hindu brethren of Bhutanese, Thai and Cambodian heritage as well.
Significantly, talks are currently in progress between SVT and Wollongong Council to make the iconic festival a regional fixture. “The council wants to work closely with us to make this a regional or even a national event and create major activities around it,” temple vice president Murali Dharan told Indian Link.
Murali Dharan further indicated that the Hindu Council was liaising with all Hindu temples and associations in Sydney to bring them together for Ganesh Visarjan.
Celebrations this year were extra special as the event coincided with the annual Brahmotsavam. The sprawling temple complex was packed to capacity, with crowds peaking at midday. Whether it was supervising transport arrangements, directing traffic, cooking sumptuous meals or manning queues at the canteen, SVT’s dedicated army of volunteers were on their toes, coordinating the whole exercise without a glitch. Be it veteran committee members or new recruits, service with a smile was the recurring motto.
As is customary, the Chathurthi celebrations began with Trisathi homam, abhishekam, alankaaram and deeparadhana for both the moolavar and utsavar at Siva complex. In keeping with the custom of many decades, SVT president Dr Kanag Baska’s handmade Ganesha held pride of place as thousands paid homage to the God of good beginnings. A number of clay creations made lovingly by devotees young and old, shared the centre-stage. Amidst chanting, the idols were then taken in a grand procession around the temple, as bhaktas vied with each other for the privilege of carrying the divine burden. The whole temple was decorated with elaborate thoranams, pandals and intricate flower arrangements, with the best naturally reserved for the deity.
The occasion was as much social, as religious. Outside the praahaaram, the newly erected canopy served as a perfect backdrop for the daylong cultural showcase. Carnatic renditions, bhajans, Bharatanatyam performances both group and solo, kept the milling crowds entertained. Dedicated volunteers engaged young children with clay modelling and decorating workshops.
An absolute stand out was the community kitchen, which has always been a great draw card. It is to the temple committee’s credit that parallel annadhaanam and canteen lines were simultaneously catered for. The maanga saadham (mango rice) was a great crowd pleaser while masala dosai fans tucked into their all-time favourite. Crunchy ulundu vadais, fluffy idlis, rotti parathas and SVT canteen staples – mixture, laddu and jangiri were also on the menu. Sydney Ayyappa Samaj volunteers doled out endless cups of delicious neeru moru (spicy buttermilk made with a secret recipe apparently). The specially erected pandals offered devotees the perfect venue for relaxed outdoor feasting.
It was time for the much-awaited segment – the final procession to Stanwell Beach. Each year the ‘Bambaiyya’ style procession gets bigger and better as the favourite Hindu god is farewelled amidst chiming of bells, blowing of trumpets and beating of drums by devotees. This year the Marathi community provided a welcome addition – a traditional percussion band that has already wowed audiences at the Australia India Fair. As the high intensity group unveiled their repertoire, the crowds broke into spontaneous dance. What a feast for the senses; it was a time to forget life’s unending worries and surrender to call of the divine!
It may be recalled that the tradition of communal celebrations was first started by Lokmanya Tilak to awaken the spirit of nationalism among Hindus and unite the community. Despite surging costs, safety issues and increasing pressure on crowd and traffic management, this concept is hugely popular back home. It is little wonder that this age old tradition is bonding the extended Hindu community here in Sydney. If talks with Wollongong Council eventuate into positive action, the Ganesh Visarjan festival may well become an integral fixture of the region and a testimonial to the vibrant multiculturalism in Australia.
By USHA RAMANUJAM ARVIND
Why we love Ganesha
This popular Hindu elephant god has complex symbolism in every facet of his divine avatar
Mooshika vaahana modhaka hastha
Chamara karna vilambitha suthra
Vamana rupa maheswara puthra
Vigna vinayaga padha namaste
Vignavinayaka, Vakrathunda, Lambodhara, Sarvasidhantha, Gajanana, Ganapati are just a few of the 108 names that extol the virtues of Ganesha.
The elephant-headed, pot-bellied elder son of Shiva and Parvati is not only the foremost God among the Hindu pantheon, he is perhaps the most loved too. In his capacity to remove all obstacles, Ganesha is remembered everyday by one and all.
Often associated with the auspicious ‘Om’, he is among the most enigmatic as well. Ganesha’s physical attributes are themselves rich in complex symbolism. In fact, every part of Ganesha’s sumptuous body tells its own little tale.
Primarily, the image of Ganesha is a composite anthropomorphic one. Four living entities – man, elephant, serpent and mouse have contributed to the makeup of his figure. All of them individually and collectively have deep symbolic overtones. Ganesha thus represents man’s eternal striving towards integration with nature. This has to be interpreted taking into consideration the fact that despite evolution over many millennia, man remains closer to animals today than he was ever before.
The most striking feature of Ganesha is his elephant head, symbolic of auspiciousness, strength and intellectual prowess. On the forehead, the Trishula (weapon of Shiva) is depicted, symbolising time (past, present and future) and Ganesha’s mastery over it. All the qualities of the elephant are contained in the form of Ganapati. The elephant is the largest and strongest of animals of the forest. Yet he is gentle and, amazingly, a vegetarian, so that he does not kill to eat. He is very affectionate and loyal to his keeper and is greatly swayed if love and kindness are extended to him. Ganesha, though a powerful deity, is no less loving and forgiving, and moved by the affection of his devotees.
Yet at the same time the elephant can destroy a whole forest and is in himself, a one-man army when provoked. Ganesha is similarly most powerful and can be ruthless when containing evil.
Again, Ganesha’s large head is symbolic of the wisdom of the elephant. His large ears like the winnow, sift the bad from the good. Although they hear everything, they retain only that which is good; they are attentive to all requests made by the devotees, be they humble or powerful.
While the large ears and head receive all information, the small mouth talks less and the tiny eyes represent utmost concentration.
Ganesha’s trunk is a symbol of his discrimination (viveka), a most important quality necessary for spiritual progress. The elephant uses its trunk to push down a massive tree, carry huge logs to the river and for other heavy tasks. The same huge trunk is used to pick up a few blades of grass, to break a small coconut, remove the hard nut and eat the soft kernel inside. The biggest and most minute of tasks are within the range of this trunk which is symbolic of Ganesha’s intellect and his powers of discrimination.
The curved trunk perhaps also represents the arousal of the powers of the kundalini. The trunk relates to the power of human mind. It must be strong enough to handle the external world, but delicate enough to explore the subtle realms of the inner sanctum.
Yet another intriguing aspect of Ganesha’s iconography is his broken tusk, Ekdanta – Ek meaning one and danta meaning teeth. Theologists believe that the two tusks represent wisdom and emotion. The broken left tusk signifies that one must conquer emotions with wisdom to attain perfection. It carries an interesting legend behind it: When Parashurama, one of Shiva’s favourite disciples, came to visit him, he found Ganesha guarding Shiva’s inner apartments. His father being asleep, Ganesha opposed Parshurama’s entry. Parashurama nevertheless tried to urge his way, and a tussle ensued. Ganesha had at first the advantage, seizing Parashurama in his trunk, and giving him a twirl that left him sick and senseless; on recovering, Rama threw his axe at Ganesha, who recognizing it as his father’s weapon (Shiva having given it to Parashurama) received it with all humility upon one of his tusks, which it immediately severed, and hence Ganesha has but one tusk.
A different legend narrates that Ganesha was asked to scribe down the epic of Mahabharata, dictated to him by its author, sage Vyasa. Taking into note the enormity and significance of the task, Ganesha realized the inadequacy of any ordinary ‘pen’ to undertake the task. He thus broke one of his own tusks and made a pen out of it. The lesson offered here is that no sacrifice is big enough in the pursuit of knowledge.
Ganesha is often portrayed with six hands. One is normally shown in the abhaya (fearless) pose of protection and refuge, and the second holding a sweet (modaka), symbolic of the sweetness of the realized inner self. The modak represents the reward for sadhana, while the prasad at his feet represents the world at one’s feet waiting to be conquered. Ganesha also holds an axe to cut off bonds of attachment.
In the two hands behind him he often holds an ankusha (elephant goad) and a pasha (noose). The noose is to convey that worldly attachments and desires are a noose. The goad is to prod man to the path of righteousness and truth. With this goad Ganesha can both strike and repel obstacles. Yet another hand holds a lotus flower (padma), and it symbolizes the highest goal of human evolution, the sweetness of the realised inner self.
Ganesha’s pot-belly contains infinite universes. It signifies the bounty of nature and equanimity, the ability of Ganesha to swallow the sorrows of the Universe and protect the world; the position of his legs (one resting on the ground and one raised) indicate the importance of living and participating in the material world as well as in the spiritual world, the ability to live in the world without being of the world.
The little mouse that Ganesha is supposed to ride upon is another enigmatic feature in his iconography. Lord Ganesha sits on a tray of laddus signifying the wealth and prosperity that he gave to his devotees. However, a mouse sits near the bottom of the statue to represent the ego that can eat away at the goodness of a person. At a cursory glance it seems strange that the lord of supreme wisdom has been granted a humble obsequious mouse quite incapable of lifting the bulging belly and massive head that he possesses. But it implies that wisdom is an attribute of an ugly conglomeration of factors, and further that the wise do not find anything in the world disproportionate or ugly.
The mouse is, in every respect, comparable to the intellect. It is able to slip unobserved or without our knowledge into places which we would have not thought it possible to penetrate. In doing this it is hardly concerned whether it is seeking virtue or vice. The mouse thus represents our wandering, wayward mind, lured to undesirable or corrupting grounds. By showing the mouse paying subservience to Lord Ganesha it is implied that the intellect has been tamed through Ganesha’s power of discrimination.
Any attempt to penetrate the depths of the Ganesha phenomenon must note that he is born from Goddess Parvati alone, and as such he shares a very unique and special relationship with his mother. The sensitive nature of his relationship with Parvati is made amply clear in the following tale: As a child, Ganesha teased a cat by pulling its tail, rolling it over on the ground and causing it great pain, as naughty young boys are wont to do. After some time, tired of his game, he went to his mother Parvati. He found her in great pain and covered with scratches and dust all over. When he questioned her, she put the blame on him. She explained that she was the cat whom Ganesha had teased.
His total devotion towards his mother is the reason why in the South Indian tradition, Ganesha is represented as single and celibate. It is said that he felt that his mother Parvati, was the most beautiful and perfect woman in the universe. Bring me a woman as beautiful as she is and I shall marry her, he said. None could find an equal to the beautiful Uma (Parvati), and so the legend goes, the search is still on…
In variance with the South Indian tradition, in North India Ganesha is often shown married to the two daughters of Brahma (the Lord of Creation), namely Buddhi and Siddhi. Metaphorically Buddhi signifies wisdom and Siddhi, achievement. In the sense of yoga, Buddhi and Siddhi represent the female and male currents in the human body. In visual arts this aspect of Ganesha is represented with grace and charm.
Likewise, no analysis of Lord Ganesha can be concluded without a mention of the mystical syllable Om – the most powerful universal symbol of the divine presence in Hindu thought. The written manifestation of this divine symbol when inverted gives the perfect profile of the god with the elephant head.
By USHA RAMANUJAM ARVIND