Here comes the God of all things

Here comes the God of all things

He is the numero uno in the line of Gods that wait to be worshipped by mortals. This Ganesha Chaturthi, Shruthi Rao enumerates why Ganesha is, arguably, the most popular deity in the country.

Ganesha is her friend. He always helps her; she also talks to him when she’s bored. For Siddhi Bhaskar, 7, he is no ordinary God. He is a fascinating reality.

The remover of obstacles is, arguably, the most popular God in the pantheon. We call upon him at the start of new ventures or auspicious occasions to clear difficulties from our paths. Be it the first day of school, an important exam, stepping into a new job or performing a religious function at home:

They all start with a prayer to Vinayaka. But why is he so popular, you ask? Apart from his hurdle-removing prowess, his appearance itself is so endearing. Surmounted on a mouse, he is elephant-faced, potbellied, sweets-loving – what’s not to like about him? A modaka in one hand and a laddoo-laden plate in front of him, he is known for his insatiable appetite – he once ate so much that his stomach burst and had to be tied with a snake.

Also, children can relate to him easily as he is portrayed as a small boy in most mythological stories. He is one God in whose depiction great artistic liberty is
taken, and that too, without offending anybody. You can see idols of Vighneshwara sleeping, eating, dancing, playing musical instruments, crawling and lying in a cradle.

He even strikes poses of other Gods, like Nataraja’s dance pose or lying like Vishnu on Adishesha. He sometimes stands with a bow and arrow like Rama, or plays a flute like Krishna. There are even idols of him holding cellphones, laptops, cricket bats and badminton racquets – Ganesha is particularly quick to adapt to the latest trends and technology.

There are a staggering number of stories and shlokas about him. Why, even students of Carnatic music start with Lambodara Lakumikara, a song about Ganesha. I remember a song about him (origin unknown) that we sang as children:

Come, oh, bulky stomach Ganapati Come oh, God, the son of Shiva-Parvati
Sitting on a Rat-oo, Tying a serpent-oo You have the face of an  elephant-oo.
We offer you modaka payasa You are the steno of Veda Vyasa Please do for us vighna-vinaasha

You are the guru of examination  pass-a!

Only the elephant-headed God could have inspired such a song. Stories about him are popular and easy for children to understand. Not to mention that they are particularly exciting – the story of how Parvati sculpted him from sandal paste and breathed life into him to protect her, and how Shiva beheaded him in anger
because Ganesha didn’t let him enter his own house and then, gave him the
elephant head to replace the one he lost.

Then there’s the story of how the moon laughed at Ganesha because his tummy burst with all the excessive eating, and Ganesha cursed the moon. And that’s why you mustn’t look at the moon on Ganesha Chaturthi, if you don’t want to be falsely accused of something you didn’t do. Then, there is story of how he broke off his tusk and used it as a pen to write the Mahabharata, which Veda Vyasa dictated to him.
If there’s one God whose appeal transcends all boundaries, it has to be the God of wisdom. All sects worship him, even if they are otherwise fiercely
loyal to a particular God. He is equally popular with all economic classes, and
rural and urban households.

He is  worshipped in all parts of the country. He appears even in Buddhist and Jain
representations, and his popularity extends to countries other than India.
Besides, even people who shun overt  religious displays, do not mind a miniature Ganesha sitting on their car dashboards or a small terracotta Ganesha hanging over their doorway. That makes Ganesha ubiquitous.

The media is also full of movies and serials about him. Besides, there are a
multitude of storybooks about Ganesha and new stories keep coming up, depicting him as a naughty, friendly, helpful child. Shops stock dolls, toys, stationery and countless other paraphernalia that cash in on the Ganesha craze. And the more books and movies and toys there are, the more children love this adorable God. 

As the remover of obstacles, he is probably the God who is invoked the most for almost everything, making him the God of all things. Ganesha is worshipped and a prayer sung to him at the beginning of nearly every occasion.

According to Mridula Naresh, mother of a seven-year-old, the rituals associated with the Ganesha festival play a large part in the love that little ones have for the God.

The entire process of going to the market, selecting an idol, bringing it home,
installing it, decorating it, conducting the puja, inviting people home, visiting other people’s homes to see their Ganesha idols, and finally, immersing the idol at the end of the festival – is something which children love to take part in. Though other festivals do have pujas and associated rituals, children aren’t as involved in the happenings as in the Ganesha festival, and that makes them relate to Ganesha in a way they cannot connect to other Gods.

Delicacies like kadubus, holiges and modakas also do their bit in upping the enjoyment of the festival.

One more notable reason why Ganesha is so popular is, perhaps, rooted in India’s struggle for independence. Bal Gangadhar Tilak popularised public celebration of the Ganesha festival to bridge the gap between all classes and castes, and bring people
together to arouse in them feelings of nationalism.

That tradition continues till date, especially in Mumbai, where we see celebrations in each street or locality, with big pandals, music, cultural programmes, stage-shows and competitions. Everybody is involved in the organising, decorating and worshipping, in contrast to other festivals where only priests have access to the deity and rituals.

So, you see, Ganesha has been around since ages – and will, without doubt,
continue to enthral the young and old alike for years to come. Especially when it comes to  children. The new-age cartoons and heroes cannot really hold a candle to
Ganesha's enduring appeal, can they?

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