The meanings of Ganesha

During one of his discussions of Patanjali’s sutras, Tim Miller observed that one’s ishta devata–the aspect of the divine chosen for contemplation–should be “a role model.” Since we’re in the midst of Ganesha Chaturthi (which Tim blogs about this week), I thought I’d ponder my own ishta devata, Ganesha.

Vyasa dictating to Ganesha on a wall in Angkor Wat, via Wikipedia

The ishta devata is the access point for the seeker, the face or facet of the unfathomable that allows us a way in, so to speak. The “in” is into ourselves and our universal nature, with the goal to see the eternal in yourself: “Thou art that,” you are the deity and the deity is you. Because I have something of a scholarly past, and because I’m a teacher, the aspect of Ganesha I most adore is Ekadanta–“single tusk.”

Here’s the story I love the most: The great sage Vyasa was preparing to compose The Mahabharata. Realizing the enormity of the task, he asked Ganesha to be his scribe. Ganesha readily agreed, provided it be done all at one sitting. It quickly became clear that an ordinary pen would not work, so rather than interrupt the poet’s stream of thought, Ganesha broke off his tusk and used it as his pen.

There are, of course, a ton of stories about how Ganesha broke his tusk, but this is my favorite. It’s my favorite because it presents such a different point of view of the poet than what I grew up with and studied. In that tradition, the poet is “possessed by the Muse,” sometimes even in a narcotic haze, a vehicle for the external. Here, God sits at the poet’s side, blank pages before Him, tusk in hand, waiting to hear the words of a human (albeit enlightened) sage.

So you find images of Ganesha, head cocked as if listening to Vyasa, broken tusk at the ready to copy down all that he hears with his great ears. Happy Ganesha Chaturthi! Jai, Ganesha!

Posted by Bobbie