By Roli S
I remember singing Ganesh Aarti with my mother when I was young. She did not make any effort to teach me the Aarti as such, but she would sing it with so much devotion and belief that I would feel drawn to the power of faith. I decided for myself that I had to learn the Aarti if I wanted anything good to happen to me. So, by just listening to her I memorised the complete Aarti. My love for singing and music helped me as well. Soon, I was being praised by my grandmothers, my neighbours, my relatives and friends for singing the Ganesh Aarti so well at such a young age. I was so happy at the achievement that I would run around singing “Jai Ganesh, Jai Ganesh, Jai Ganesh Deva” all over the house. While playing out in the lawn, while having a bath, while sitting on the swing and sometimes even at the dining table! My grandmother would stop me time and again with the advice, “Beta, aarti, has to be sung before Bhagwaanji, in the temple, do not sing it all over the place.” I used to ignore her. Something that makes me and others happy, according to me, must be done all the time. That was my exposure to Ganesh Aarti and Ganpati Bappa. Growing up I knew that Ganesh was an important manifestation of the Infinite that was worshipped at the beginning of any pooja.
If a child is naturally curious, there are many questions that keep troubling him or her. Intelligent children, if encouraged to speak up, will ask questions and expect answers in return that will satisfy their curiosity about numerous powerful symbolic images of Gods and Goddesses that surround them. I don’t know how many parents are equipped enough to provide those answers because Sanatan Sanskriti does not limit itself to any one type of explanation. I am still learning about my heritage, my culture and sanskriti and growing as a consequence. I could not satisfy my children’s curiosity about the Gods, for sure. In fact, their questions made me think deeply on the subject. This is the power of Sanatan. The questions are aplenty and explorations are even more. One can have a personal God – Ishtdeva or a God for the clan- Kuldevtaa, or one can worship one idol or dozens of them, one can visit hundreds of temples or just sit at the bank of a river and feel God’s presence, the choices are as innumerable as the number of Gods!
Over the years, I continued on the learning path. I learned so much more about Sri Ganesha. I began to appreciate his presence at all the prominent places. In offices, in shops, in houses, in hospitals, in schools and in many other places, wherever people’s faith took him, he was seen. And slowly, without any pushing, preaching, recommending or compulsion, I began to love Ganesha. The elephant-headed bringer of good fortune, wisdom and prosperity, with piercing eyes and overgrown, rounded belly, Ganesha grew on me. I could see his lovable figure on my study desk or in my car’s front panel. He was there dangling in my key ring and even in my earrings! On my front door and painted on my favourite dupatta. He was seen giving me company everywhere. Who needed a friend when one had Ganapati as my takeaway. I fell in love with Ganesha. I read a lot about him in the way he is mentioned in Vedas. How he came into being and how he wrote ‘Mahabharat’ for Rishi Ved Vyas, how he swallowed the ‘Milky Way’ how he troubled Kuber, etc. Each of these stories about him taught me some values of life in a playful manner.
In Mumbai, his popularity brought me even closer to him. It is such a great feeling to have someone near you in so many different forms, someone who is a Mangalmurti (Symbol of goodness and prosperity) and Vighnharta (Remover of obstacles) – such a boon!
The human world is replete with festivals – which if celebrated with a sense of humaneness, instead of a sense of cultural exclusivity, could make all discriminations powerless. This year, observing the Ganpati Pooja Celebration across Mumbai after the pandemic has reinforced my belief in Ganesha and the power of celebrating together the messenger of all good things. This Ganapati celebration was the occasion to empower the person on the street in the course of humanity –it was the occasion to rekindle the promise of humanity in their heart – the promise that we keep forgetting in the cacophony of manmade labels.
Throughout the year, in all regions, in all seasons, we Sanatanis find reasons to worship and celebrate almost anything and everything, anyone and everyone; from people to Gods; from animals to plants; from planets to stars!
At this point I would mention the story that I heard from an acquaintance when I had gone for Ganapati darshan to his house. I asked about the two Goddess statuess kept with lots of sweets and fruits. I was told that those idols of Gauri were brought home usually after the beginning of Ganesh Chaturthi. I was also told that Gauri came as the sister to visit her brother Ganesha or, in a few cases, even as an aunt. I was quite surprised because as far as I know Gauri is mother of Ganesha. Furthermore, I also came to know that, in West Bengal, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati are sisters of Ganesha and all three are children of Goddess Durga and Gauri Puja is also considered as worship of Goddess Lakshmi in some regions!
That is when I acknowledged that each region in India has an independent culture and most of these cultures are 5000 or more years old. Each region has developed its own way of interpreting the deities. But what is common in all regions is the basic idea – all idols are an attempt to give form to the Nirguna Parabrahman. Brahman cannot be defined but each individual has the freedom to try to define it. The greatness of Sanatana Dharma lies in this freedom, respecting an individual’s quest to define Brahman and not in imposing ideas or set of rules strictly to be followed by all and sundry.
What was interesting to know and derive happiness from the story was the fact that on the day of Gauri Puja all the women folk of the household stay awake the whole night and play traditional games like Zhimma and Phugdi, etc., to celebrate a sister’s or aunt’s homecoming, and basically have a party and a good time.
This knowledge took me back to the time when I was a little girl and had learnt Ganesh Aarti from my mother. How happy I would be just to sing, dance and rejoice in that newly learnt Aarti. It was a devotional or religious song I came to know much later. Some fifty years down the line, the Ganesha Idol kept in my mother’s tiny mandir is still fresh in my mind. The lovable Ganesha installed in the pandals and at homes during Ganesh Chaturthi has not changed much and so have I. Isn’t Ganesha the beginning and always?
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane)