Deepavali – the Festival that everyone loves

Deepavali elevates goodwill to a whole new level. Deepavali – often called the festival of lights – is very special – it oozes goodwill and gratitude. You share sweets, gifts and greetings with your neighbours, relatives and every one involved in your life (yeah – dont forget the security folks who ensure your life is safe or the local merchants who bring the choicest delicacies to your doorstep!) and perhaps it’s the one day where smiles are truly infinite. You also buy new clothes for the occasion and stuff for your home – society and the traders benefit. Abundance, sharing and love shine forth together in this unique festival.

I love the fact that we honour our ancestors (and gods too) too. We burst fireworks and play with sparklers (yeah green ones these days 🙂 to light up the world so our ancestors can see us (and chuckle at the fun we are having perhaps) and also to illuminate their paths to the higher worlds they are transitioning to. The sarams (the string of crackers tied together) is also believed to help guide laxmi, the goddess of wealth to your home! Fun and gratitude – can there be a better mix?

Earthernware lights and kolams (fantastic designs made of edible stuff that insects and ants can digest) are a brilliant way of bringing out our exuberance and joy and sharing it with the world. Indeed, function and form come together in an amazing synergy lighting up the world on this day – and importantly – all of this is also imbued with a sense of higher purpose and meaning. Can can you think of a better way to honour mother earth?

Importantly, you take care of yourself as well. There’s a ritualistic oil bath and a home-made medicine that ensures your body is able to accommodate the wonderful sweets and savouries that will punctuate your Deepavali at frequent intervals! A prayer to God with gratitude for all the good things in your life sets you perfectly. This is enhanced further by blessings from your elders – at home and those you visit through the day.

This festival has you covered from all aspects – physical, emotional, spiritual – you name it. Kids love it – so creativity is at the heart of it. It gives a chance for everyone – elders, children, adults – to bring out the child in themselves and provide for others in their own ways. It’s also a chance to love and be loved back in return. It is a gift from our ancestors to us – a benediction from a wonderful and multi-faceted Hindu way of life passed on to its descendants and indeed the world. Let us cherish this extraordinary festival of joy and light – happy Deepavali to everyone…

Now its an ode to a very affable God…

Let’s start with an exercise, close your eyes and imagine (don’t ask me how you can read this sentence if your eyes are closed though!) a plumb largish figure seated on a small mouse (yes, you got that right!). Sweets of numerous kinds are placed at his feet (yes, it’s a he). You are surprised to see he has multiple hands – some holding weapons of destruction (a trident for instance) while one hand is raised in a blessing. You move your gaze upward – and you are astonished to see an elephant’s face looking back to you – with large flapping ears, trunk and tusks (albeit one is broken). There’s a serene smile on his face, a sense of prosperity all around him and his wisdom envelops you. Here’s an image that may help with the visualization.

I dare say it’s a touch tough to imagine this – but if you have done so, congratulations – you have just been introduced to one of our most beloved gods, Ganesha. Note that I don’t say feared – but loved – for this is a god that is comforting, generous and loving and today is the day he is worshipped all over the country (and indeed the world) – so what else can be right but to pen some perspectives (as usual reaching for perspectives as opposed to scripture – which are plentiful on the internet and more authoritative too.

A visual tale – breaking down the barriers

The most interesting thing to me is how his image immediately breaks down reservations about believing him. People may break into laughter, they may feel like cuddling the odd-shaped baby god or playfully pulling his ear. The image does not command undue courtesy or formalism, there’s really no “holier than thou” image at play here. No censure, no rules, no long faces, no qualifications – if a god can come and meet you in this format – he really should be accessible you feel. And before you know it, you like him and if you are lucky, you can move on to discover the amazing nuances of this affable god.

Prosperity – before spirituality

Man needs money, he needs hope. He needs his genuine desires to become realities. He needs these before he can set his sights on elevated spiritual truths.

This model is accepted by the vedas and they therefore describe us as each having seven chakras (or seven energy centers) which lead us from an earth-bound life to universal truths. The base chakra is called the root chakra (muladhara chakra) and when this flowers in an human being, he is able to realize fulfillment (and interestingly also aspire only the things that are essential!) and remove obstacles. And the lord for this particular chakra is none other than Ganesha.

In every Hindu temple, his is the first shrine people visit and he grants them the will and the skill to fulfill their key needs before moving further. So whether it’s a new bike, that condo, the private jet or the need to pass a tough paper – this is the guy you should go to.

Symbolism – for moving you to other planes

Most of us stop at the above level. We also prostrate to him in a unique way (holding our ears and squatting a few times) – something that the ancients say is a very beneficial physical activity. But some of us have a few unanswered “why’s”…
– Why does he have that mouse, and why does it look so obedient?
– Why does he have those sweets and gifts placed at his beck and call?
– Why does he have an elephant’s head and why is the trunk broken? And so many more…
This curiosity takes us into the very heart of the Hindu way of becoming a great man or woman. The mouse we are told represents the ego – its best to make it small and keep it at our control (unless you want to become an egomaniac – in which case we need another role model!). If your ego (and your desires) is under control, paradoxically all the riches of the world will be at your disposal too say the scriptures.

We are told the elephant uniquely possesses the strength to destroy as well as the finesse to pick a pin in its trunk – suddenly we are given clues on what makes a man successful – and fulfilled. We of course pick lots of very interesting trivia as well. And every aspect of the image thus enthralls us with grandmotherly, scientific and even scholarly truths.

And onto wisdom we move

That’s when they tell us about his wisdom. Infact he is considered the wisest among gods (another aspect we are celebrating this day) and has written the “mahabharatha” which was dictated byanother great sage( vyasa). We are told that the great sage and ganesha had an agreement that they would dictate and write – in one continuous cycle – and to slow down ganesha, the sage had said the god had to first internalize the truths expounded (and believe me the mahabharatha has multi-layered truths as well) and then write it down. This god is truly wisdom personified – but to only those who have moved beyond the need for desire fulfillment and have satisfied their intellectual questions (through an understanding of symbolism). To them there are several moving poems which illustrate the various aspects of this lord and move one to what seem to be calling “the present state of oneness” these days.

Turning the pages of history and mythology

For those who are interested in pedigree – ganesha is the son of shiva (one of the tallest, darkest, most-mystical gods who dwells among the lofty peaks of the Himalayas!) and parvathi (considered the fairest among her kin!). Shiva also epitomizes “the spirit principle”, while parvathy epitomizes “the matter principle” – and hence ganesha as their offspring also symbolically represents the earth and all of what we know.

So in this sense, he is all there is.

Like him for his looks, request him to fulfill your wishes (a year round santa claus if you will), spend time exercising your intellectual muscles and interpreting the symbolism or simply give in to the charm and internalize the wisdom – any which way it’s a win-win. Let’s raise a toast to this most popular of gods on this very auspicious day.