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Friday, September 2, 2011

Who is Gaṇésh?

Based on the current Hindu understanding his resume would read like this:
Gaṇésh (गणॆश)
Kunjarāsurabhanjana (कुंजरासुरभंजन)
Vighnésh (विघ्नॆशः)
Pārvatīnadana (पार्वतीनंदन) etc. etc ……
They are not just the list of his names. They describe his career- positions, achievements, core-competences, family and relationships. But if we venture to know his name, we will be stumped. Because he has no name! He goes only by his designations.

Let me explain why.....

The names such as Gaṇésh, Gaṇapati (गणपति), Vināyaka (विनायक), Gaṇādhyaksha (गणाध्यक्ष), Gaṇanātha (गणनाध) etc. are derived from his position of being the Leader of the Gaṇās (गण) or Troops. An attribute he shares with many others and amounts to being a superfluous designation as we have no great evidence of his leading the armies of the Dévās (दॆवा) on any great campaign. While his so-called brother, Murukan (मुरुगन् / முருகன்) had certainly led the armies on a campaign against the demon Tārak (तारकः). He is not only an acknowledged leader of the army, but also he had taken a consort whose name symbolizes ‘Armies of the Gods’ – Dévasenā (दॆवसॆना).
Further, Gaṇésh had no political power over the Dévās, either. The overlord of the Dévās has always been Indra (इंद्रः). And he is not an incompetent general. If we go by the Védās (वॆदा), which we always consider as the most fundamental source of Hinduism, Indra’s long string of achievements overshadow those of every other protagonist. Ironically, we have no reference to our beloved Gaṇésh in any of the four Védās.

The ubiquitous family picture always shows the original couple with their two sons. Not a good example in these times when the sex-ratio is falling. How I wish that one of them is a girl child? It was a monumental goof-up by the writers of the Pürānās (पुराणा), who lived in their times when war and calamity necessitated a need for more male offspring. Had they any inkling of the times to come, they would have invented a more balanced family.
Now, our Gaṇésh certainly belongs to the family, even though he is not a biological child of his parents. If you go by the story, he probably was cloned from the somatic matter of his mother – some kind of parthenogenesis. His father might have had rejected him initially, but he had relented and adopted him. His other son of course is a natural child, conceived after the legendary courtship, immortalized by Kālidāsa (काळिदासः) in his epic Kümārasambhavam (कुमारसंभवम्). 
If we go by the story of Gaṇésh, it is very improbable for him, a clone, to be male. He had no option but to be an image of his mother, the original Mother Goddess. 
If we start questioning logically his various names and designations as we know them now, the questions will lead to more questions and never any answers.
But, he is our most beloved God, why?
One probability may be due to the string of names which denote his prowess as the ‘Remover of Hurdles’:  Vighnésh (विघ्नॆशः), Vighnarāja (विघ्नराजः), Sankat Mōchan (संकट मॊचन) etc. No doubt, a billion-strong Hindus believe that he can remove hurdles in their path. I’m not so sure if he could be effective in clearing the Bangalore traffic for an ambulance, but he is certainly reliable whenever I embarked on a longish drive, and invariably I pray to him before starting on one such. And in terms of hurdles in life, he is always a great support, as long as the solution is part of his job description and within his jurisdiction. If the karma states otherwise, any amount of bribe and prayer will not make him budge.
Catal Huyuk
We pray to him first before any other god, logically a position which must be reserved for the original God / Goddess. None of his names or designations as we understand them today throws any light on his preeminence.
Now, let’s step aside and think more logically – ‘Who should be the godhead which deserves the first prayer?’
Anthropologically speaking, humans originally worshipped a female goddess, a symbol of the mother earth, provider of sustenance. Therefore let’s say that she deserves our first prayer.

Catal Huyuk
Upper Paleolithic Europe
What does she look like? Archaeological sites which belong to the ‘Cro Magnon’ Europe or our own Neolithic sites like Mehrgarh abound in Goddess Figurines, which belong to a time well before the earliest dates assigned to the Védās and also every other known legend of the world civilizations. 
These figurines portrayed a gross female.
Have we forgotten her?
Let us look at the various references to this lady in existing legends and scriptures from ancient civilizations:
The names such as Éréshkigal (Elamite / Sumerian), Gaiā (Minoan / Greek), Māgna Māter (Roman) which designated the original Earth Mother come to mind. All of them were considered gross and ugly and were later replaced by more presentable Ishtār, Ceres, Persephone, Aphrodite etc….
Do we have such references in our ancient scriptures?
We do have some mother goddesses – Mother of Dévās - Aditi (अदिती), Mother of Rākshasās (राक्षसा) - (Diti / दिती), Mother of Nāgās (नागा) – Kadruā (कद्रुवा), Mother of Birds - Vinatā (विनता) etc. They are all consorts of Kasyapa (कश्यपः), an ancestor but not the original one. We pride ourselves as a civilization with a wealth of scriptures and legends. They must have contained some references to the original mother?
Let’s dig. 
Corpu Mother Goddess
She was called Jyésṭā (ज्यॆष्टा) or Jyāyā (ज्याया). 
In a treatise on iconography called Pūra Kāraa Āgama (पूर्ण कारण आगमः), she was remembered as…
Kümbhi   (कुम्भी) - Pot-bellied
Hastimukhā  (हस्तिमुखी) –  Elephant faced
Vighna-pārada  (विघ्नपार्षदा) – Remover of Obstacles
The resemblance is obvious. Except that our beloved Gaṇésh is male.
Is there any connection?
If you go back to the pooja booklet which exists in every household, you will find the hundred and eight names of Gaṇésh. As we have elaborated, almost all of them denote a designation, position or a core-competence. Except …..

Héramba (हॆरंबः / हॆरंबा)

Sāyana (शायनः), the commentator on Védās gave a meaning, which he himself agreed as doubtful. He had said that it probably meant ‘beautiful’. Ironical or was he trying to hide something? Of course, he was. He belonged to the lineage of Sringeri saints. With Ādi Śankara (आदि शंकरः) credited as the founder of the six cults (षण्मत स्थापनाचार्यः), and one of them being the Gāṇapatya Cult (गाणपत्य मतः), he had to conform.

But the name is significant.
We will look at it from Dravidian etymology, since we know that the mother cult belonged to a Pre-Aryan time zone.
Let’s split the word:
HÉR – AMBA       हॆर - अंबा

Amba is Mother, we know that.
H and P are interchangeable. Like in Kannada Hālu (ಹಾಲು /हालु) = Telugu Pālu (పాలు / पालु) and many other such examples. HÉR = PÉR        (हॆर = पॆर)
Even today the ‘Hiré or Hiria (ಹಿರೆ / ಹಿರಿಯ) (हिरॆ / हिरिय) in Kannada meant Elderly. Péria (பெரிய) (पेरिया) in Tamil is a synonym

HÉR-AMBA = PÉR-AMBA = Elder Mother.

Her worship is proscribed as she is inauspicious. Was it an attempt to suppress a popular cult? And make it subservient to the new cults founded then?They failed. And she had survived. 
Lokamānya Tilak knew; a Vedic scholar of no mean repute. When he created the public festival, he had formulated it in the lines of the Dévi Pooja of Calcutta. There are a few folk festivals in North Deccan, like the Boddemma Jaatra (బొడ్డెమ్మ జాతర)(बोड्डेम्म जात्र) of Telangana, which provided the blueprint. Of course Boddemma = Peddamma = Elder Mother.  You cannot miss the similarity!

See. My wish is granted!
That’s the power of Gaṇésh!
I just asked him, how to balance the sex ratio.
And he had given me the clue. To begin with his family photograph.
ह्म दॊ हमारा दॊ
A girl and a boy. Perfect!

 Jai Ho! Ganesh!