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Sunday, July 12, 2009



Lord Ganesha (Ganapathi, Vinayaka) has the head of an elephant, a huge big belly, large ears, a large trunk ( since he is in the form of an elephant) and has a small little mouse to ride on(vahana). What do these things symbolize?

The large head symbolizes knowledge and wisdom. The large ears emphasize the importance of listening. He listens to his devotees carefully. The long trunk can handle heavy logs of wood; it can also pick up small peanuts. This suggests that we need wisdom that can handle heavy philosophical truths and also small details of daily life.

The elephant head also symbolizes another basic teaching of the Vedic tradition – namely the “neti” philosophy. ”Neti” in Sanskrit is made of two words : Na (not) + Ithi (this) = neti. In other words, we are supposed to reflect on this world and the universe which are limited by time and space and keep realizing that “This is not the truth”. What has this got to do with an elephant? If you have seen elephants, you will see that they rarely stay still. They keep swaying their body and keep moving their heads from side to side very much like the way people in India say “no”.

Am I making this story? No. There is actually a Sanskrit Prayer explaining this simile. It is the 8th sloka of Ganeshashtakam in the Ganesha Purana and runs as follows:

yatho vedavacho vikuntta manobhih, sadha nethi nethi ithi yattha grunanthi.

We are asked to keep realizing that the elephant’s to and fro movements indicate the impermanence of material things and therefore the need to seek the eternal truth.

Ganesha’s belly is big – representing the fact that the entire Universe is contained in Him.

Ganesha is very large and heavy. But, to a true devotee He can be as light as a mouse. He can ride on a mouse (you) and the mouse will not even know He is on its back!!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

My friend had just taken me to lunch at an Indian restaurant and Ganesha greeted us as we walked in the door with some food before him as an offering.

I am trying to learn from listen, seek and be open to the eternal truth, but not be lost to the ordinary miracles of the most ordinary kind. The trunk is such a wonderful metaphor

To contain the entire universe, yet ride on a mouse...hmmm

What a wonderful teacher.

Thanks for the reflection, Balu.