Ganesha Chaturthi: Experiencing the Formless through the Form

Happy Ganesha Chaturthi! The following article by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gives an insight into the symbolism behind this festival venerating one of the most beloved deities in Hinduism. Enjoy reading and do share your thoughts!

 Experiencing the Formless through the Form

Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated on the a day on which Lord Ganesha is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees. Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. Though it is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the symbolism behind the festival is much deeper.

The essence of Ganesha is brought out beautifully by Adi Shankara. Though Ganesha is worshiped as the the elephant-headed God, the form (swaroop) is just to bring out its parabrahma roopa. Ganesha is described as Ajam Nirvikalpam Niraakaaramekam. This means that Ganesha is never born.

He is Ajam (unborn), he is Niraakaar (formless) and he is Nirvikalpa (attributeless). Ganesha symbolises the consciousness which is omnipresent. Ganesha is the same energy which is the reason for this universe, from which everything is manifested and it’s the same energy in which the whole world will be dissolved. Ganesha is not somewhere outside of us, but the very centre of our life. But this is very subtle knowledge. Not everybody can percieve the formless without the form. Our ancient sages knew this; so they created the form for the benefit and understanding of people at all levels. Those who can’t experience of the formless, over a period of sustained experience of manifested form reach the formless Brahman.

The Panchamukha Ganesha in the Panchagiri Campus, International Art of Living Center, Bangalore

 The Panchamukhi Ganesha at the International Art of Living Center in Bangalore, India

So in reality, Ganesha is formless; yet there is a form to which Adi Shankara prayed and that form carries the message of the formlesness of Ganesha. Thus, the form serves as the starting point and gradually the formless consciousness begins to manifest. Ganesha Chaturthi marks a unique art of reaching the formless Paramatma called Lord Ganesha by worship of the manifest form. Even the Ganesha Stotram, the prayers recited in the praise of Ganesha, conveys the same. We pray to Ganesha in our consciousness to come out and sit in the idol for us for a while so that we can play with him. And after the puja, we again pray asking him to go back to where he comes from; that’s our consciousness. While he is in the idol, we offer back whatever God has given us through the puja of the idol.

The ritual of immersing (visarjan) the idols after few days of worship reinforces the understanding that God is not in the idol, it’s inside us. So experiencing the omnipresent  in the form and deriving joy out of the form is the essence of the Ganesha Chaturthi festival. In a way such organised festivity and worships lead to an upsurge in enthusiasm and devotion.

Ganesha is the lord of all the good qualities in us. So when we worship him, all the good qualities will blossom in us. He is also the lord of knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge dawns only when we become aware of the Self. When there is inertia, there is no knowledge, no wisdom, nor is there any liveliness (Chaitanya) or progress in life. So the consciousness has to be awakened and the presiding diety of consciousness is Ganesha. That’s why before every puja, the Lord Ganesha is worshiped to awaken the consciousness.

Therefore, install the idol, worship it with infinite love, meditate and experience Lord Ganesha from within. This is the symbolic essence of Ganesha Chaturti festival, to awaken the Ganesha tatva which is masked inside us.

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All One!

Today, December 8, 2012, is my grandfather, Acharya Ratnananda’s 88th birthday. I fondly recollect my childhood and   growing up with him. His stories enriched our imagination and values. His example continues to inspire us to walk a path of love and service, in a humble yet joyous manner.

Acharya Ratnananda  All One!

–       By Acharya Ratnananda

“Give way! Get away!” shouted a disciple, while another screamed, “The Master is coming, everyone give way!” Most people  on the way complied. However, one rather unclean looking man and his company of dogs declined to budge, and stayed right in the middle of the path. The disciples accompanying the Master were quite upset with the behavior of this man and his barking dogs.

The Master also perceived the obstinacy of the obstacle and said in anguish, “Are you deaf? Did you not hear my disciples? Take yourself away from my path.” The man just laughed, increasing the discomfiture of the Master and the anger of his disciples.

He calmly looked at the Master and asked, “Whom do you want me to take away from your path? The Soul, which is in you and me, and is non-dual, or this body, which according to your teachings is a product of maya (illusion). How can you or I take either of them away from you or me?”

The disciples were shocked and stunned at these words from an unclean and uncouth specimen of humanity. However, they were prepared by now, to forcibly lift the man out of the way of the Master.

Even the Master was surprised. He realized that the concept of Advaita or one reality was thrown back at him in such a simple manner, by such a simple looking person.

He calmed his angry disciples and forbade them from harming the man. He folded his hands in obeisance and said, “My dear sir, you have educated the educator by polishing my knowledge with your experience. I bow to thee as my preceptor. Please could you tell me who you really are?”

“Reality is just one, and all our concepts could ultimately lead us to less than two, though it appears with a multitude of names and forms, qualities and qualifications, virtues and vices.”

“I am teaching this truth to others, but today I also learn this reality from you,” said the Master turned student.

The great Master was none other than Adi Shankaracharya, while the outwardly uncouth and unclean person was none other than the unmanifest Divinity in a manifest form.

This story teaches us to expect wisdom from even unexpected situations, and the true, non-dual nature of existence.