Ganesha and ‘l’amusement’: Wrong Perception, Wrong Message! 

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

In the course of some interviews by MBC-TV reporters on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, I heard at least two ‘pandits,’ answering in Creole, saying that during this festival there is ‘chanter, danser ek l’amusement.’ I am sure that they fully understand the total symbolism of the festival and Ganesh Bhagavan, but I am afraid that others may take these terms too literally and wrongly perceive that they have the same meanings that are commonly assigned to them in the local vernacular.

We know very well that there a number of words and expressions that refer to and capture very precise and specific concepts, and this is particularly true of those which are derived from the Sanskrit language. Many of them simply cannot be translated by single words, for example, dharma, a fundamental tenet in Hinduism. Depending upon which standpoint one is considering it from – etymological, social, psychological, moral, spiritual – it has a slightly different, nuanced connotation but all of them flowing from the root meaning. And this is what makes the beauty of the language, which infuses its richness into the tradition of Vedic Sanatana Dharma that rests upon it.

As Brahmachari Yogesh from Reunion said while talking about that tradition, it is about la culture du tout sacré. And before we get into wraps about sacré, let us be clear what it denotes: that we are all part of a whole that includes living and non-living things, starting from that which has engendered life on this planet namely the Sun, and that we owe it to ourselves and to the rest of creation to conduct our lives in such a way as not to cause harm to each other. What it does not mean is blind obedience to some hypothetical human-like or humanoid creature suspended or sitting somewhere imagined, and wielding a whip or a magic wand. The magic of co-existing in peace and harmony with all that is in creation will come from us alone, or it will not come at all.

What this means in practice, therefore, is that we must treat all that exist with due care and respect. To all that exist we give various names and forms, but behind this multitude there is one thing that is common, and that is what we must come to recognize. For example, we are familiar with different forms of gold used as ornaments on different parts of the body, to which we give names such as neck chains, earrings, bracelets, anklets, nose rings and so on. Yet underlying these names and forms there is one thing that is common to all of them: gold. Now think of the whole universe of forms to which we have given names – and there may others not discovered yet. What underlies all of them? Whence are they derived, in what are they grounded?

Call that Supreme Being, Lord, God or by any other name, in our daily lives we must acknowledge its existence even if we may not know its exact nature. And thus we can see that all forms and names, in other words, all that is created, resolve into that single Unity, and by extension, all names and forms can be considered as representing or be a symbol of that underlying unity. In Vedic Sanatana Dharma, we refer to that Supreme as Satchidananda. Sat is the One Eternal Truth, Chit is Universal Consciousness (of that Truth), and Ananda is the state of joy one is in once one has become conscious of and lives one’s life based on that Truth.

And that is the l’amusement that is referred to, not manger-boire, but ananda. The closest approximation would be to say that it is the joy that ones feels in contemplation of beauty unbound – not being ‘lost’ in doing so, but constantly aware of being in such a state. Although good food and sweetmeats (ladoos and modaks, like panchagam too on the occasion of Ugadi) also form part of the tout sacré that we must partake of.

By the same token, chanter is about the chanting of prayers and mantras, and danser is nritya, again according to principles which acknowledge le tout sacré. And both these activities are meant to prepare us to travel towards ananda. This journey must be a daily one, renewed. Otherwise we tend to forget – and hence festivals that remind us at regular intervals of the necessity to keep on the path.

Commonly, festivals mean entertainment, hence the possible misconception that may be associated with chanter-danser-amuser. Let us listen to what Swami Tejomayananda, Spiritual Head of the Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, has to say on the subject:

‘The Sanskrit word for entertainment, mano ranjana, means delighting the mind, entertaining the mind…Recognizing this need for change and entertainment, the Hindu religion provides special occasions, festivals of a religious nature called utsava. No religion can last very long if it does not understand the common needs and desires of people, insisting only on strict discipline at all times. Aside from fasting there must also be feasting, singing, dancing, and joyous celebration.’

He goes on to explain that the purpose of these festivals is to not only to ‘give us occasions for merrymaking, but they also give us a noble, divine vision and inspire us to raise our mind to the heights of that great goal’ – namely, the understanding and living in the mindset of Satchitananda.

Otherwise the festival will be just like a mere vacation, leaving us with holes in our pockets and physically and mentally exhausted – and looking for yet another vacation hoping to recoup and ending up in a vicious cycle. On the other hand, after a festival is over, we may be physically exhausted, but our minds are mentally purified, as we feel part of le tout sacré in the sense alluded to above. And it is in this spirit that we look forward next to Durga Puja.

Jai Shri Ganesha Namah

* Published in print edition on 17 September 2010

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