Today — Thursday, Sept. 17 — is the beginning of Ganesha Chaturthi.
Here’s a look at how the celebration is happening in Mumbai:
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated across Indian homes but it is frenetic Mumbai that infuses it with the greatest community fervour. This is all thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Lokmanya Tilak who rightly believed that it would help to bring Indians together, during the freedom struggle. For ten days, the city is sprinkled with majestic Ganpati pandals. Perhaps the biggest is Mumbai’s favourite Lalbaugcha Raja, who presides nonchalantly over an ocean of nearly a million visitors. The 12-foot tall Raja raises crores of rupees each year, and (like most of the other pandals) much of it is filtered back into the community through initiatives such as health camps, scholarships and hospitals. Similarly, almost every locality has its own pandal, ringing with the tintinnabulation of bells and bhajansthrough the day.
As the world keeps turning, Ganesha idols keep evolving. This year, you will spot a selfie-taking Ganesha, a Bahubali – inspired Ganesha with bulging biceps and plenty of environmentally-friendly Ganeshas (for example, Thane’s Viviana mall has a papier-mâché one and fish-friendly ones are being made by an NGO called Sprouts). Navi Mumbai even has a Ganpati swathed in the colours of the Brazilian football team.
The Irish poet W.B. Yeats was active right at the turn of the 20th century, when people like Harry Houdini and Madam Blavatsky were experimenting with what falls under the general name of “mysticism.” They paved the way in the West for the early foundations of yoga. One evening, Yeats’s wife tried “automatic writing,” channeling a spirit and answering, in writing, the questions of a seeker. Yeats was stunned by the results, and when he asked “the spirits” if he should spend his life deciphering their messages, the answer his wife wrote was, “No. We come to bring you metaphors for poetry.” The result was his book, A Vision.
A Vision gave Yeats a way to believe in his own imaginative vision. But he also wrote,
Some will ask if I believe all that this book contains, and I will not know how to answer. Does the word belief, used as they will use it, belong to our age? Can I think of the world as there and I here judging it?
He dodged the question by asking, Is it necessary that I believe? Think of Carl Jung’s statement: “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.”
This week marks the celebration among believers of Ganesha Chaturthi—Ganesha’s birthday. In India, particularly in the South, it’s a ten-day celebration of the Son of Siva and Pavarti, the Lord of Obstacles, God of Wisdom, Ekadanta (“One Toothed”), The Elephant Faced one.
I learned as part of my Ashtanga practice that it would be a good idea to consider the benefits of self study as a regular part of my practice, and to also consider that it might help to surrender my practice to a deity. “Each time you practice mula bandha,” Guruji told Tim Miller, “do it as an offering to Ganesh.” I also know, through my study, that Patanjali says,
Self study promotes union with one’s chosen deity. Perfect absorption is possible through surrender to the Divine.
Ganesha, it should be said, is my istadevata, my chosen diety, my one point of focus when seeking the Divine. I came from Irish
Catholic stock, although not from a devout family, so I’ve had to learn to do the most basic mental exercises of faith. My route to Ganesha was circuital, and my relationship with Him is complicated. I’m only beginning to learn the real complexities of belief, even though, as an American, it’s said I live in a “religious” country. It has been Ganesha that has removed the obstacles to belief for me (and placed others).
He has helped in the physical, asana practice: It’s Ganesha that I chose to have tattooed on my back, to allow me a place to focus my imagination in the geography of my back pain–a displacement of focus, maybe.
If you would ask why Ganesha, it seemed natural to me to address the Lord of Obstacles in order to find the wisdom of their placement (or absence) when it comes to understanding God.
But belief is and probably always will be an essentially imaginative act for me. Like Yeats, to some extent “belief” doesn’t even enter the equation. You could say that Ganesha gives me metaphors for belief. But because my belief in metaphors is so strong, that I see a metaphor as an imaginative equals sign that’s also quite literal, it becomes something tantamount to belief: Poetic faith.
I recognize, in other words, that as I do puja to Ganesha, as I offer my prayers to him, I am essentially offering my prayers in the forms of the human imagination to a form of the human imagination, which I see as the highest Good. It’s the forms of the human imagination that bring us to Union, or at least a kind of concordance, with the vast landscape of the Divine.
4-6 pm SPECIAL EVENT! Veda chanting, kirtan and arati on the Hudson River at Pier 40 (entrance at Houston St.)
9-12 noon puja, homa, japa, arati and prasad 4-6 pm Veda Parayana, homa, japa
6-6:45 pm Kirtan 7-8 pm Special evening Indian music concerts
Sunday 1 pm SPECIAL TALK by Robert Moses on last year’s Namarupa pilgrimage to amazing sacred places of India
Tuesday 6 pm SPECIAL EVENING TALK by Swami Sadasivananda on Vedanta and the inner meanings of worship
WEDNESDAY 19TH GANESHA CHATURTHI DAY
10-1 pm puja, homa, japa, Ganapati abhisheka and special alankara, arati, prasad
6-8 pm SPECIAL EVENT! Homa, japa and Ganesh Utsava Murti procession thru Soho with kirtan our most joyous event of the year – don’t miss it!
8 pm Homa, final arati and prasad.
Now the message:
LATEST GANESH FESTIVAL INFO!
The annual Ganesh Festival is fast upon us – here are our last two important pieces of information:
1. Saturday afternoon’s Vedic chanting on the Hudson will be at Pier 40, entrance at Houston St., on the West Side Highway. We will have chanting, kirtan and the first ever Hudson Arati from 4-6pm, and will be joined by special guest Deepak Chopra for a talk on Ganesh as a state of consciousness. Please join us if you can, and bring your friends! Full program schedule is here.2. Throughout the year, the daily and weekly services performed at the temple are free of charge, and are performed as service to the devotee, and to please the Lord. During festival times, however, we depend on your support to be able to hold our grand celebrations, serve the deities in a reverent fashion, and feed all of the devotees! Please give as generously as you are able to.Each of the below offerings are traditional in Hindu temples, and represent different ways of offering praise, surrender and devotion to the Lord. It is said that through devotional service a purifying effect is enacted upon one’s individual consciousness, which gives rise to a feeling of inner peace, gratitude and clarity to the devotee. As well, the collective prayer and individual sponsorship of the different types of worship contribute to the charging of the spiritual battery of the temple, increasing the presence of Divine energy in the sanctums.
All donors will receive special prasad, and your name – or the name of a loved one – will be included in our daily puja and your names listed on our thank you page.
Flower Sponsorship $7
Nama archana $11
Prasad sponsor $25
Ganapati Homa or Abhisheka $51
Sponsorship of one priest $301
Sponsor full week Ganesh Festival $501
Sponsor Ganesh Procession and help carry palanquin! $1001
All donations are fully tax-deductible as allowed to the extent of the law, and letters of acknowledgement will be sent upon receipt of your donations. We thank you for your support in helping us to continue our mission of providing a sacred sanctuary and traditional Hindu temple in the heart of Soho.