Escaping Ganesh

Festival Issue 86 Jul, 2010
Text by Looza Mahaju / Photo: ECS Media

There’s no escaping him. He’s on  T-shirts, printed on gift items, souvenirs and such-like. He’s even on the tube, splashed on the screens. He’s brushed on canvas, etched on screens, sung in numerous songs across various mediums. He stands guard at the entrance of every bahal (a  neighborhood or colony) welcoming anyone and everyone. He stands vigilant on ancient alleyways, listening to the mumble of the folks who have matured before his very eyes, watching as life passes him by in brilliant hues. And, oh – he loves Tuesdays!        

Poster-boy of the Gods
So, who is this mysterious ‘he’? A superstar? Nah, much better and bigger, sans the tantrums and the emotional baggage superstars tends to come up with. No, shady past deals as well. Sweet! And, no, he’s not a Hollywood heartthrob, nor a superhero who wears his ‘you-know-what’ outside his pants. He’s a homegrown superhero, the likes of which no one has ever seen. And, if there’s any such thing as a poster-boy for gods, he’ll definitely be the one to claim it. He is truly the unchallenged king of pinups, a king among the gods of the Hindu pantheon. He, the mysterious ‘he’, is none other than Ganesh.

Ganesh. The pot-bellied, rat-riding and laddu (a Nepali sweet) munching god is the most beloved of the entire Hindu pantheon. Maybe his eyes have got to do something with it. Deep like the bluest of blue oceans, emanating knowledge like warmth emitting from a fire kindled from the oldest logs. He has an aura of grandfatherly charm. With his ears fanning about him, his tusks resting quite serenely on his pot belly, Ganesh is the image that most visitors remember from their trip across the city as ancient as the time itself. But why? Is it the rather ‘healthy’ looks in an age that reveres size zero? Is it the irony that his hulking mass has, somehow, to travel on a tiny rodent? Is it the incessant flow of sweets that never seem to leave his side? Is it the sweet aroma of the incense that devotees leave at his place? Or the innate calmness that springs to your mind whenever you see his statue or his picture? Nah, it’s none of the above. It’s much simpler than that. People seem to remember him more simply because there’s so many of him!

On every street
Around the corner, just across the street, in every nook and cranny, at every junction and virtually everywhere in his cozy shrine, Ganesh sits and watches the hurly-burly of the world. Like the center of a spinning top, he’s waiting and watching the world gone crazy. Lore and stories that have been passed throughout the age relate this to a boon, a blessing given by the person who had the heart big as the infinite universe, his father Shiva. “Anybody will be assured success if they pray to you before they commence their task,” boomed Shiva, his voice echoing around the universe. His decree was put to words thousands of years ago, when, on the banks of the River Ganges, holy men gathered to impress each other by composing complicated Sanskrit slokas (verses) that would end up as the first hymns of the Vedas.

Things haven’t changed since. On every street, just before the narrow alleyways hop past the narrow bands of houses, facing each other like angered siblings, to mingle with the wide sidewalk of the chowk, you will find a Ganesh shrine. The boon married the image of Ganesh with auspiciousness and before any task is started in the subcontinent, the priest makes a point to holler out his name. He will first light the incense, fan the perfume making sure that heaping helpful enters into his trunk, and then recites hymns that venerate the lord. The priest needs to do that, just in case Ganesh is listening.            

Spreading an urban legend
Many a people easily flick a coin or two into water spouts when they are out and about in European countries, the idea being that the coin somehow manages to charm the thrower to come back again. What a miserly thought, to travel thousands of miles for spare change! That an urban legends for you. Why hanker after that, when you can create one yourself and see if it works or not. Next time, when you are out and about the valley escaping the pollution and the mad evening rush in a cozy small alleyway, keep your eyes open. Look for Ganesha’s shrine. He is easy to spot. His shrine always gets the best place: at the entrance. Hunt for some spare change in the recesses of your baggy trousers, but don’t flick it at him! He’s a god, after all, and he demands respect. Enter the temple and offer the coin politely to the god – put it on his feet and if you’ve got a nagging issue with which you want divine assistance, now is the time to mention it.

See? That’s not hard, is it? Still skeptical? Were you skeptical when you easily threw a coin in the water fountain? A waste of good money, that! All that shimmering might look beautiful on the bed of the water fountain, but a god’s feet, your offering with a wish has a higher chance of being granted.