By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
In the course of interviews by MBC-TV reporters on the occasion ofGanesh Chaturthi in the past, I have heard ‘pandits,’ answering in Creole, saying that during this ‘festival’ there is chanter, danser ek l’amusement.Taken too literally, these terms may wrongly be perceivedas having the same meanings commonly assigned to them in the local vernacular, and therefore convey the wrong message about the many religious celebrations in the Hindu calendar, especially because festivals imply entertainment. Their correct significance is expressed by Swami Tejomayananda, former Spiritual Head of the Chinmaya Mission Worldwide:
‘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 (sangeet), dancing (nritya), and joyous celebration.’
He goes on to explain that the purpose of these festivals is 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, communion with the divine and meditation upon the Hindu vision of the fundamental unity of existenceas expounded by our rishis (sages). This is a tradition which teachesthat we are all part of a whole that includes living and non-living things, 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.
Thus, each such occasion is defined by a rich symbolism which expresses one or several aspects of that vision of unityas well as the ideas and concepts associated therewith.Just as a photograph or a sculpture is only a representation of the person, in a similar manner, wheneverwewanttorepresentideas,conceptsor principles, we use symbols. For example, the symbol for infinity in mathematics is a double interlocking loop.The objective of symbolism is to facilitate understanding of the profound truths and abstract concepts by means of forms and objects which are more or less familiar.
Symbols that are more frequently used are either geometrical forms, such as the triangle, thecircle, the dot, or natural objects from the world of plants and animals.It is a fact that the latter possess characteristics which can be similar to, different from or even surpass those of man.
The elephant is an example of a very powerful symbol, and is associated with Lord Ganesha, of whom it forms the upper half of the body. Lord Ganesha is worshipped first in any puja as the remover of obstacles. It is indeed an apt symbol of this power because as it moves forward, it has the capacity to remove everything on its wayalmost effortlessly, using its trunk and sweeping itto the left and to the right, lifting the object and bodily throwing it away. Whoever has watched an elephant in action will have a better appreciation of this faculty.
Besides its enormous strength, the elephant has other adorable characteristics.In spite of its sizeit is a very gentle creature; it loyally responds to man’s requests for its services without ever complaining, granting its favours without discrimination. It does not kill other creatures for its pleasure or for eating, making one wonder whether it is because it has innate sentiments for the welfare of and in fairness to other creatures that it is a herbivore? It is known to have a very good memory, and it allows children and even adults who are so inclined to play with it without getting irritated or angry, displaying an almost infinite patience.
The other animal associated with this occasion is the mouse which lies at the feet of Ganesha. The mouse represents fickle minds, wherein every moment thoughts are darting hither and thither – like the mouse. Many of these thoughts are desires which are endless, and which gnaw at us – like the mouse keeps gnawing at objects –until they are fulfilled, and are then followed by others in an endless stream. Like Ganesha who keeps the mouse under control under his feet, so too must we learn to rein in our excessive desires and steady our mind, and yoke it to the higher goal as pointed out above.
That is what we must keep in… mind, as we also partake of some more mundane amusement to gratify the senses with good food and sweetmeats (ladoosand modaks, like panchagam too on the occasion of Ugadi), for they also are needed to maintain the body’s health.
By the same token, chanter is about the chanting of prayers, bhajansand mantras, and danseris nritya, in which the bodily movements and the gestures express andreflect that unitary worldview of existence.
* Published in print edition on 10 September 2021
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