With the arrival of Janmashtami, Lord Ganesha we celebrate the ushering in of the festive season that goes right until Holi early next year, but what is it about all these deities, the elaborate process involved and the chanting of hymns, slokas and sacred texts, it does something for sure, but what and how? Join me here as I share with you my reflections on these fascinating facts about elements of symbolism, rituals , mantras and tantra that go on to shape the vibrant pathways that we get to choose from! You too will perhaps know why the ancient sages were as wise as they were and how that wisdom still continues to shape and align us to the path of righteousness!
Hinduism is replete with symbolism, everywhere you see, whether it is the form of the deity, the vatsu of the temple complex, the selection of offerings, the timing of the prayers, etc etc. One interesting fact is the concept of the “Vahana”. Unlike what normally people think that they are the vehicles for the deity to travel- the real reason is much more philosophical and in depth and the whole thinking that it’s just about a mode of transport is where many go wrong! I will share with you a few examples to help you understand and then you can too, explore your journey by observing the deity you follow and appreciate the symbolism coming from the Vahana of the deity to you!
If you see Lord Ganesha, the Vahana is the Rat, now one hand we have Lord Ganesha who is the personification of purity, justice, compassion, who overcomes obstacles and challenges, an element of The Rudra, Brahma and Vishnu all embodied within one powerful deity, not to forget the Brilliance of Intelligence! So what is a Rat (Mooshaka)- which perhaps personifies everything opposite to what the deity does, doing here? The Rat stands for destruction by carelessness, recklessness, being a pest, being a trouble creator, being a self-centered, selfish, low thinking, slyness and every other negative aspect you can think of – its the darkness of ignorance, its the fear of the unknown (which again comes from ignorance). So why has Lord Ganesha chosen the Rat as the Vahana- why does he sit or ride one? Well the fact is that Vahana not only means what it does literally, but when you split this word- Va-Hana: It means to stop, arrest, prevail over the vices that are around and this the essence of symbolism across all the deities you can think of! Let’s speak about Goddess Saraswati- even in the Saraswati Vandana there is definition of the grace, simplicity and elegance, not much ornaments, a book , a musical instrument (the most difficult one to master among)and she is seated on a Lotus with a Swan around or at times on a Swan- Swan which represents, beauty, a swan gets easily distracted, attention keeps fleeting always. The Swan is majestic and opulent, always craving for attention and wanting to be the centre of attraction! the Lotus signifies that no matter how detrimental your surroundings are, no matter how adverse your situation in life- as long as you leverage on the power of wisdom, knowledge with humility and do away with ignorance, arrogance you will be able to blossom into the most beautiful soul that you can be!
So you see, here too, through symbolism, what is been conveyed is that the pursuit of Knowledge and Wisdom only happens to be fruitful when you are steadfast, ready to be humble, simple, elegant, persevering but not ego driven, ignorant or arrogant, reflecting inwards at all times and pursuing what the truth is, not at all being distracted by commotion, praise or brick bats that come your way, a person who is able to devote this way to learning and knowledge is who understand the real truth of singularity of the universe and all that there is!
Likewise for Lord Shiva, Nandi- the resemblance of power, strength, brute force is made to wait and wait and wait in front of Lord Shiva- who is the personification of patience, endurance, power and destruction. Here this relation signifies the importance of the fact that power is only relevant till it resides within you, once you unleash it outwards your power is at the mercy of the external world and you loose all that makes you who you are, this relation also signifies the value of patience, devotion and fact that when one life form enhances the threshold of patience others too will follow, and even the most aggressive, restless creatures can be made to align once you, yourself are aligned and achieve that level of poise and calm! It also sends the message that no matter how big or powerful the adversary may be- a calm poised mind is the ultimate weapon that can subdue even the strongest of the enemies!
You, see this is the true essence of symbolism among deities and their vahanas- and this is just one aspect, just imagine how many such symbolism’s you may come across if you were to spend a day in a temple complex that is possibly a few hundred years old! It is no wonder that at the time when the great vedic texts were written possibly the grandeur and the symbolism would have been even more detailed and intricate to educate and instill values of compassion, righteousness and collaborative existence among the people living in those societies! If this is the open secret that is everywhere for us to see, as far as symbolism is concerned, what about rituals and mantras etc? Read on!
Rituals, mantras have been perhaps the greatest gift that humanity has received and fortunately has been able to preserve! If you ask me in modern parlance these are the Always ON- WIFI connection with the supreme universal energy- GOD- depending on the deity you choose you are offered a pathway through the bundle of rituals and mantras to keep moving on that pathway to achieve your final destination of knowing the One Truth and experiencing it, either in the human form that you have now or perhaps in another form or a state of formlessness- who knows! You may ask if GOD is one then why so many pathways and why so many different rituals, let me explain in a very simple manner! Say you walk into a room and there is a fan, a light, a TV, an oven , a fridge, an AC and you want to say switch on the TV, what you do next is hunt for the switch and keep trying the switches until you strike the right one that turns on the device that you wanted and that is when you feel contentment and your happy! Likewise the soul feels content once it has tapped into the pathway that it so desires and the moment that happens, you will know it too! You arrive at a stage of life- where even the most pressing problems seem to stay sublimed around, perhaps not going away, but not harming you either and that divine grace is what you get when your approach is aligned to the soul’s desire and your have hit the right switch! Does this mean that other switches don’t work or are not for you, certainly that’s not what it is, as you go through your life, at different times you will have to switch on and switch off some switches and make new pathways and leave old ones and thats how the progress of your soul will be! When you are in a house, you may need the fan now, not two hours later, you may not need the light in the daytime, but at night you would, you may need the Oven only twice a day, likewise tapping into the right pathway at the right time and for the right duration is the essence of being spiritual and progressing on that pathway! You may want to ask, what happens if you don’t switch on anything, what happens if you always keep everything on, well either ways, your soul will end up sapping its energy either by being overwhelmed by an overpowering spiritual experience or being deprived and challenged at every breath to live even the normal times in extraordinary discomfort- this is like you have a fan but won’t put it on and would like to be bitten by mosquitoes! This is why the process, method and the laid down principles of the wise sages matter so much!
Rituals, mantras, tantra all of these are those pathways which were deciphered by the sages and recorded as to what purpose they serve and what is the right way to walk on each of those pathways. You see if you are on a broad pathway of bhaktimarga- the rules are simple- more about compassion and unfailing devotion to every life form and object around you as you see GOD in everyone and everything round! This is as simple as that, but just take a pause and think the empowering thought within this! Likewise you have other routes and methods, some are easier, few tougher, but all eventually serve one person- progress the soul to its final destination! So why is that GOD doesn’t seem to listen?
Well, just look at what we end up doing! We go to a Shiva temple and offer prayers to the Nandi! Sure enough Nandi has it’s own relevance but in front of Lord Shiva? This is like you go to visit a person at his residence and strike a conversation with the caretaker, sure he too is human and nothing to look down upon- he too is a soul- but will he be able to solve your challenges for which you have to meet the person of the house? Likewise we go to a Ganesha Temple and end up worshiping the Mooshaka! Seriously? you are asking all the negative influence to come to you? Sure enough there is a mythological story around it- that is what the point is – that was a story – because ancient people could only understand verbal narratives and the only way to understand verbal narratives was through story telling and that is the fact even to this day and that’s why even if you forget all that you learnt, you never forget, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”!
So if you go to your deities house and spend more time appreciating the caretaker, sure enough how do you expect your solutions to arrive, because you just ended up spending more time where you shouldn’t, like many other tings that we end up doing in our so called busy lives!
So, finally a few words, before I close this blog, no matter what religion you choose and what pathways within that you adhere yourself to for realizing and connecting with the Supreme Power, as long as you understand the deep rooted philosophy that is all over in the symbolism, rituals and mantras, you will end up almost every day hitting the wrong switches for the things that you need! It is only when you truly connect, understand in depth the sense of the symbolism of the deities, what they are saying to you, through the way they have assumed forms, through the rituals laid out for them, and the slokas and the empowering words that connect with them that you will sense a space of eternal bliss, calmness and oneness with the almighty and even as you go through your routines of life, rest assured once your back at your home, you will hit the right switch and GOD will serve you right by enacting what HE must!
I will leave your here with these thought, spend some time thinking about your favorite deity, understand the philosophy, symbolism, rituals and mantras and use it to progress your soul! Mythology is like the chocolate wrapper for spirituality! It only aims to ensure we are glued and fascinated, because the chocolate of spirituality surely enough replenishes the soul but its challenges tire the mind!
Ciao for now, will be back soon again with another article! Until then, hit the right buttons and be rewarded for what comes through!