Gatjapati: Song of the Self presents a wide-range of information about Ganapati/ Ggiesa, the Hindu Lord of Beginnings, the Keeper of the Threshold, the Remover of Obstacles, Master of the Mind, Son of Siva, Elephant-headed, plump and loveable, gathered from such diverse sources as hymns, poems, myths, shrines, practices, and the blogies. However, besides being a handy reference work, the book is also an attempt to understand this information from within a tradition, and further, to follow how that understanding may have universal connotations.
Gapapati is found everywhere: in temples, in wayside shrines, in homes, in devotee's hearts. His praises are sung. He is worshipped and adored. He is represented in art and literature. Stories are told about him. The thinkers think, the scholars scholasticise, the devotees worship. But what is Ganapati's hidden meaning? Who is he really? Side by side, seemingly incongruous facts are simultaneously found. Gapapati: An enormous popidarity which transcends sectarian and territorial limits; a seemingly rather late, yet dramatic, full-blown appearance into a religious pantheon; a confusing, conflicting, yet interesting and intriguing mythology; and an elephant's head atop a plump human body! This book considers this complexity of Gapapati lore and presents possible ways of understanding it.
John A. Grimes received his Masters and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy at the University of Madras. He has taught at Universities in India, Canada, and the United States and is presently teaching at the National University of Singapore. His publications include. A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy; Problems and Perspectives in Religious Discourse: Advaila Vedanta Implications; SaptaVidha Anupapatti: The Seven Great Untenables; Quest for Certainty; A Comparative Study of Heidegger and Sarikara; An Advaita Vedanta Perspective on Language; and The Naiskarmyasiddhi of Sureivara.
Who is Ganapati? On the one hand, with his elephant's head atop a plump human body, he is easily the most recognizable of all the deities in the Hindu pantheon. On the other, he is an enigma. Merely to label him "the elephant-headed god" does not advance one's knowledge very far. That is but to give him a name-and, as we shall see, the elephant-headed one has many names. His earliest historical reference was as "Ganapati"; the most popular name by which he is now known is "Gariega." But a name does not tell us who he really is, where he came from, what he embodies or represents.
The profundities of things, their deeper, hidden nature, can be discovered only by penetrating their apparent surface. Ganapati/ GaneSa shapes, and in turn is shaped by, many factors. His sphere of influence touches personal experiences, religious texts, creeds, moral codes, ritual procedures, rites, myths, stories, parables, dramas, festivals, ethical admonitions, attitudes, and beliefs. In a myriad of ways, Ganapati gives shape to a world, order out of chaos, meaning out of incomprehensibility. Exactly what it all means is another matter, however. Observers, participants, scholars, and devotees are certainly free to read into the materials whatever seems consistent, fair, and faithful to their own understanding. Ganega is many things to many people.
Further, the Vedic tradition itself informs us that three levels of scriptural interpretation happen simultaneously: the extrinsic or physical (adhibhautika), the intrinsic or cosmic (adhidaivika), and the transcendent or spiritual (ddhydtmika). O'Flaherty charts four levels of meaning possible in a given myth.1 These are the narra-tive (the story itself), the metaphoric (wherein various themes link together), the metaphysical, and the social/psychological. Court-right adds a fifth level of possible meaning, the etiological.2 Of these five levels, he says, "It is important to note that these levels of meaning operate simultaneously. Any adequate treatment of the myths' possibilities for interpretation must take them all into account."
There are those who say that Ganapati is the writer of one's destiny. At least one legend speaks of him as the scribe of the Mahabharata, an Indian epic. Others contend that he is but a quaint elephant-headed god of good fortune, a sort of coffee-table good-luck charm. Others think he is but a derivative of various other deities, made much the way the camel was made by the proverbial committee. Still others believe that he is a manifestation or embodiment of the Divine, though exactly what that manifestation may mean (symbolical, physical, literal, analogical, enigmatic . . . ) is open to individual interpretation.
Scholarship is replete with records of those who have at-tempted to plumb the mysteries of Ganapati. Anthropologists, religious aspirants, historians, indologists, philosophers, religionists, sociologists, linguists, artists, and contemporary devotees are but some of the more recent representatives of this enquiry. Each group has attempted, and continues to attempt, to make sense out of this enormously popular deity. And isn't it strange that even though Ganapati is so incredibly popular, there has been relatively little work done to date to explain this popularity?
Virtually all scholars are agreed that it is almost impossible to trace, with any precision, the history of GaneSa. His roots and evo-lution are rife with hints, inuendos, speculations, imaginations, and intuitional guesses. This is to be expected, since there is scant historical evidence that provides any type of certainty as to his ori-gins or the route he took in arriving upon the cosmic stage. Even his devotees are divided when it comes to explaining, Who is Ganapati?
Within the scholastic arena, the definition and parameters of what constitutes "knowledge" are exploding. The days are ending for those who would like to dogmatically privilege rational and visual (i.e., read logical and written) approaches to knowledge and understanding. It was once thought fashionable to propound the doctrine that whatever can be known/thought/understood, can be said-briefly and clearly. Such a Procrustian bed was nothing more than a methodological presupposition (a demand for empirical evidence as the paradigm of the truth) that foisted a dogmatic criterion of truth upon thought. Map was mistaken for territory.
This work is an attempt to present Ganapati from another possible perspective, from "within" a tradition. As such, it employs (so-called) objective materials side by side with subjective interpretations in an attempt to transcend both. The presupposition made is that Ganapati points to the source of all presuppositions. He embodies the Self (Atman), which cannot logically be denied nor doubted. The Self is affirmed by the very act of its denial. It is the basis of all proving or doubting. It does not presuppose its own possibility but is the very basis of everything else. Upon the "I" hangs the tale. Anyone who questions it must assume it in order to do the questioning. It is an attempt to describe and invoke a quest into a reflective type of enquiry into the question, Who is Ganapati?
Any and every approach to GaneSa has certain presuppositions built into it. This book's approach is no different. It presumes that one may, in a thoroughly consistent manner, interpret what-ever GaneSa materials are available. Further, it presumes that this approach can be made from "within" the material's tradition.
Those in quest of the Divine, in search of the inner Ganapati, are less interested in information about Ganapati than in "who Ganapati really is," in a spiritual context. Ultimately, some will aver, the quest for Ganapati is but a quest for one's own Self. These people presuppose that the Self (Atman) is Real, that the individual human being is not (merely) the physical body, that the individual is the Self. The consequence of accepting such presuppositions is that Ganega (who is considered Real) must also be more than/other than a physical body and thus "information about" is not as relevant as "experience of." Spiritual seekers are primarily looking for a personal experience, for personal liberation, and not for information about an "other," no matter how wonderful or interesting or even divine.
In attempting to answer the question, Who is Ganapati? this book assumes the posture of a "quest for the Self." It attempts to describe Ganega from the point of view of a seeker. Further, it explores the possibility that Ganapati lore need not necessarily be parochial but can be logically interpreted or expanded to pertain to all individuals, at all times and all places, by elucidating that its purport pertains to the "I," the Self of everyone.
While acknowledging that all three Vedic levels of interpretation, or all five of O'Flaherty/Courtright's levels of interpretation are simultaneously applicable, this discussion presupposes that that which is grosser, more external, and less pervasive is less real than what is subtler, more internal, and more pervasive. By this type of analysis, one ultimately arrives at the Self, which is the subtlest, most pervasive, innermost Being.
This book brings together materials on Ganapati from such diverse sources as hymns, poems, myths, shrines, practices, and theologies. Hopefully it will allow the reader to free him or herself from a totally analytical perspective and enter into a devotee's perspective. Though it employs information about Ganeki, it is more concerned with devotion within a tradition and, further, how that devotion may have universal connotations.
One method that some traditional Indian texts employ to invoke a particular perspective is to begin in the form of a dialogue between Lord Siva and his consort Parvati.4 This allows one to enter directly into the world of the dialogue. It subtly points one's mind in a particular direction. "Who is Ganapati?" is a many-faceted question. He may be an "other." He may be the product of a fertile imagination. He may be the one asking the question. The possibilities are many. However, one should never lose sight of the possibility that the meaning of a text, or of a deity, may not always be part of surface appearances. Priceless pearls are said to exist in the depths of the ocean. It is simplistic to proclaim their nonexistence merely because one demands their presence on the surface.
The following passages are the author's imaginary internal dialogue in an attempt to point to the direction of the internal foot-steps of Ganesa which he hopes the reader will follow. Perhaps they will give an insight into, or will point towards, the path this book will be taking.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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