Sankashti Chaturthi is a special day of the month in the Hindu calendar when Ganesha’s devotees invoke His blessings to rid themselves of problems and impediments. This sacred time falls on the fourth day after the full moon.
“Sankata” in Sanskrit means difficulty, crisis or obstacle, while “hara” refers to removal or elimination. On this day, devotees fast from morning until moonrise. In the evening, after a ritual bath, Ganesha is worshipped with sacred Durva grass. Devotees recite His prayers – the Ganesha Gayatri, the Ashtothram Shatanamavali (His 108 names) and the Ganesha Atharvashirsha Avartan. The moon is also worshipped with offerings of flowers and sandalwood paste.
On Sankashti Chaturthi, Ganesha temples close down about an hour before moonrise. The idol is bathed with milk and rosewater to the chants of Vedic prayers. Ganesha is offered steamed modaks and His other favored foods.
Performing this puja is believed to liberate the worshipper’s soul from the cycle of birth and death.
King Abhijeet was a wise and powerful ruler with no heir to his throne. Upon the advice of Sage Vaishyampane, Abhijeet and his queen undertook a long penance. They were rewarded with a baby boy whom they named Gana.
The child, who grew up to be called Prince Ganaraja, once received an invitation to visit Sage Kapila’s renowned ashram. The sage was a generous host for he had in his possession, the mystic wish-fulfilling gem Chintamani. Using this he conjured up a delectable feast for his royal visitor. Ganaraja was astonished and impressed. He was filled with intense desire to obtain the gem for himself. Would the sage give it to him? Kapila predictably refused, whereupon the prince wrested it out of his hands and made off to the palace. The distraught sage prayed to Goddess Durga, who advised him to approach Ganesha for help.
Ganesha battled Ganaraja beneath a Kadamba tree and won the Chintamani back for the sage. By this time however, Kapila had lost all interest in the stone. In gratitude however, he hung it around Ganesha’s neck.
Theyoor, near Pune (Maharashtra) where this incident is believed to have taken place is also called Kadamba Nagar. In the temple erected nearby is the idol of Chintamani Vinayak – one of the eight pilgrimage centres for Ganesha’s devotees, known as the Ashtavinayak circuit.
Who would not want to own a gem imbued with magical powers to fulfil one’s every worldly need and desire? Prince Ganaraja was no exception to this all too common human weakness. But more interestingly, why did Sage Kapila, after seeking Ganesha’s help, lose interest in the stone? Watching the Lord do battle with Ganaraja, Kapila realised that having Ganesha on his side was a far greater asset than owning the gem. The legend is a reminder to visiting devotees that the benevolence of Ganesha will always ensure their well-being and prosperity; they need seek nothing beyond His blessings.
As a child, Ganesha loved playing with his bows and arrows. Spotting a white cat one day, he decided to play hunter and shot arrows at it. The terrified creature ran for cover, but Ganesha thought it was playing a game.
He looked behind a tree – there it was, trembling and round-eyed. “Aha, got you! ” said the chubby god and shot at it again. Miaowing with fear, the cat scooted for cover under a log. Ganesha chased it down and pulled it out. He rolled it around in the mud and threw it up in the air like a furry ball! Once more, the cat escaped. Ganesha lost interest and went back home.
He was in for a shock. There sat Parvati, his lovely mother, her face and arms scratched and mud-stained.
“Ma, how did you get hurt?” cried the little fellow.
“I’ve no idea,” said Parvati. “What have you been up to?”
“I was playing with a cat and..um...I was pretty rough with her.”
“Now I know why I have these bruises!” said Parvati. Drawing Ganesha close, she explained, “Ganesha, my body is the world and every living creature in it. I was that cat, too! Whatever you do to other beings, you do to me as well!”
Ganesha was stunned and deeply remorseful. “So my every little action matters…wow! I’m so sorry, Ma, I’ll never do harm to anything…ever!”
Smiling at her son, Parvati said, “That may not be possible, son. But do be aware of your actions and harm as little as possible.”
Nodding, Ganesha ran off to find the little cat and make peace with her.
This ancient myth works at many levels. When told to a young person, it brings home the message of non-violence, for which child can bear to see its mother hurt? It also exemplifies the concept of the sacred feminine. By personifying the earth and all of creation as a benevolent and beautiful goddess, the legend drives home the vital importance of respecting the environment and caring for it.
Analasura was a ferocious demon whose voice made the earth tremble and whose eyes emitted fire. His thirst for bloodletting spared none – powerful sages and strong men included. The god Indra engaged him in battle several times and retired defeated.
Weary of his rampaging, all the celestials trooped to Lord Shiva for advice. Shiva did have a remedy for them – that they should approach Ganesha, whose huge pot belly alone could contain Analasura.
Ganesha agreed to help and transformed himself into a chubby, little boy. Analasura approached him, his eyes shooting fireballs, reducing the environment around Ganesha into cinders. In the battle that ensured, Ganesha suddenly assumed enormous proportions and gulped down the demon.
This was somewhat akin to our swallowing a plateful of chillies. Ganesha was in agony, unable to lie down or remain still. The panicked gods offered several remedies to cool Him down but nothing worked. Finally, relief came in the form of 88,000 sages, each of whom performed healing rituals with 21 blades of Durva grass.
Ganesha declared that henceforth, anyone worshipping Him with Durva grass would be the recipient of his benevolence.
Durva grass has played an important role in Hindu rituals since ancient times. It is believed to have purifying and healing properties. When plucked, it grows back rapidly. It is thus an enduring symbol of renewal, regeneration and fertility leading to associations with prosperity. For this reason, Durva is linked to a householder god like Ganesha, rather than His hermit father, Shiva.
Durva is derived from two words – duhu, the first word means “that which exists afar” while avam is “that which pulls closer”. Interpreted in the context of Ganesha, the use of Durva during worship draws His great power, which in turn dispels the negativity within our bodies.
The Durva’s three blades symbolize the essence of Shiva, Shakti and Ganesha.
At a more basic level, the ritual exemplifies how easy it is to please Ganesha with the offering of this humble grass.
India’s IT capital is home to the Dodda Ganesha, the built by Kempegowda I, a 16th century chieftain and the founder of Bangalore.
One day, Kempegowda stumbled upon a rock. Finding an etching of Ganesha on it, he commissioned sculptors to create an idol from the rock. In 1971, a grand temple was constructed to house this idol sculpted out of a single rock. At a height of 18 ft and girth of 16 ft, Satya Ganapati or Shakti Ganapati, as this idol is called, cuts an impressive figure.
This Ganesha is all white, thanks to the 100 kilos of butter that coats him from head to toe! Interestingly, his garments and features are picked out in bright colors with rather modern accessories like buttons and lace. Dressing up Ganesha is a labor of love that commences in the evening after temple hours and gets completed only by early next morning.
Is Ganesha gaining weight? It would seem so – his right side is becoming wider, judging from the decreasing gap between the idol and the wall of the sanctum. The legend grows…
Whether you recite, whisper or utter them silently to yourself, mantra japa or repetitive chanting is said to be the simplest way to access God. The 15 Ganesha mantras are described as ‘siddhi mantras’ (siddhi in Sanskrit varyingly means “perfection”, “accomplishment” or attainment of spiritual power.), with each one containing powers attributed to the elephant God. Meditating on these awakens our own untapped potential for accomplishment in varied endeavors. Regular chanting will also enhance one’s ‘psychic body’, energizing the kundalini or subtle energy that lies coiled at the base of the spine. Thus, the worshipper is freed from negative thoughts and emotions; at the same time, his mortal body too is cleansed of toxins.
Om shrim hrim klim glaum gam ganapataye...
vara varada sarva
janamme vashamanaya svaha
The bell-like tones of this mantra bring forth a shower of blessings from Ganesha. In uttering them, the worshipper surrenders his ego to the Lord, seeking His protection and grace at all times. Notice the first line which contains several seed (in Sanskrit, “beej”) mantras, single syllabic utterances from Vedic texts whose meanings vary depending on their intonation and the purpose of incantation. ‘Om’ for instance, is an affirmative sound, one which fuels our energies and is associated with divine protection and benevolence. ‘Shrim’ invokes love and beauty; it concerns the heart and hence, both physical and emotional health. ‘Hrim’ is associated with Maya, a syllable that empowers us to see through the illusory nature of the world. ‘Klim’ is forceful, stimulating and energizing; symbolically, it is represented by a thunderbolt that destroys lowly ignorance. ‘Glaum’ is the earth element while ‘Gam’ is the primal Seed, Ganesha himself. In chanting this mantra, the devotee seeks the grace of Ganesha in his present life and all future lifetimes.