Reinventing ourselves

The underlying symbolism of Ganesha Chaturti can provide us with the all-encompassing vision that is at all times a vital necessity

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

If you want any reform in your society, you have to begin with yourself. How does it matter what the other has done, or not done?
Mauni Baba of Ujjain

And by God do we need reform indeed at this time of chaotic churning that is taking place in the country, of truths and half-truths, fake news and all kinds of dystopian information! This state of affairs is perhaps best captured in the following words from the preface to the third edition of ‘A Bunch of Thoughts’ by M.S. Golwarkar: ‘The crisis in our country is more intellectual and mental than physical. Whatever physical maladies are seen today ravaging our body politic have their roots in the mental weaknesses and intellectual perversions of the leadership at the helm of our national affairs. Often these failings strut about masquerading as high ideals trying to cover up their disastrous effects.’

Tejas and Harish Gunasheela, software professionals at Cognizant, are the fourth generation of idol-makers. When the festival arrives, their entire family -including their aged father, a BMTC driver -stays away from work to sculpt around 100 earthy idols at their Hennur home, Bengaluru. Photo –

Since charity begins at home, we could start by doing our own mea culpa and then look around to the rest of the world, to realise that there are any number of countries where this kind of crisis has been ongoing or erupting – the latest being Mali and Belarus –, and where we need winds of profound change and if possible transformation. That must begin first in men’s heart, as Mahatma Gandhi said about peace, so that then minds can be guided towards visions of construction rather than destruction of countries and societies.

Meaning and message of Ganesha Chaturti

And this is where the underlying symbolism of Ganesha Chaturti (as indeed of all Hindu religious festivals) can provide us with the all-encompassing vision that is at all times a vital necessity for every country, indeed for the world at large. One can start by recalling that there is no important activity or auspicious occasion which the Hindu starts without invoking Shri Ganesha – one of the myriad forms (see below) in which Hindus perceive the Supreme – , who is Vinayaka (the Best of Guides), Vighneshwara (Remover of Obstacles) as well as being possessed of wise learning because He was the scribe who wrote down the Mahabharata as Vyasaji was narrating it.

What this means in practice, therefore, is that we must treat all entities 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 be others not discovered yet. What underlies all of them? Whence are they derived, in what are they grounded?

Call that as 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 One, and by extension, all names and forms can be considered as representing or be a symbol of that underlying Oneness. In Vedic Sanatana Dharma, we refer to the Supreme as Brahman, whose nature is Satchidananda. In simple terms, Sat is the One Eternal Truth, Chit is Universal Consciousness (of that Truth), and Ananda is the state of joyful Being one is in once one has become conscious of and lives one’s life based on that Truth.

Sadhana or spiritual discipline (austerity, fasting, prayers, etc.,) leads us to the understanding and realization of Sat and Chit, as also to experiencing Ananda. The closest approximation would be to say that Ananda is the joy that one feels in contemplation of beauty unbound – not being ‘lost’ in doing so, but constantly aware of being in such a state. In our festivals, the physical counterpart of Ananda is sattvic or good food and sweetmeats (ladoos and modaks, and panchagam too on the occasion of Ugadi), along with the chanting of bhajans, as well as nritya or dancing, which too is grounded in spiritual principles.

But there is more to these festivals than mere entertainment, as Swami Tejomayananda, former Spiritual Head of the Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, reminds us:

‘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.’

As he goes on to explain further, 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, bettering ourselves for the greater good of humanity, which begins with our society and our country.

Collapsing boundaries, Constructing the Future

As far back as 1957, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru gave an admonition: ‘I do not want any of us to hide our failings. We cannot get over them by hiding them. One of our principal failings is a great tendency to disrupt, to get excited about secondary matters. This is what we have seen in the recent elections…which have brought out not only this business of caste again, but provincialism and linguism. Kept in their proper place, they may be all right, but if they get out of their proper sphere they are dangerous to the country as a whole… Let us not mix sentiment, however justified it may be, with higher political considerations of the nation’s welfare.’

Unless we refuse to see, it should be evident that the challenges of the 21st century demand a collective can-do determination that must of necessity break down the obstacles and replace them with a robust convergence of mutually enriching mindsets. What better inspiration than to invoke Vighneshwara?

And as pointed out above, the occasion of Ganesha Chaturti should impel us to take stock of our present situation in relation to where we were in the past, and inspire us to identify any failings, and resolve to address them cooperatively so as to work towards and ensure a better and brighter future for our children and grandchildren. Everything we do must have that as the leading focus. The many festivals in the Hindu calendar are that many occasions for clear thinking and inspired action – but we seem not to be doing much of the latter.

Perhaps the pathological interest displayed by some sections of the media in the internal affairs of the Mauritius Sanatana Dharma Temples Federation – which, to be fair, the wannabees invited themselves by calling press conferences – should trigger that much-needed thinking, taking Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s remarks as a starting point. To quote him again: ‘Instead of condemning other people, rather think of your own failings. We have got to build our house on our own soil, with our own ideas. But we must keep the windows of our minds open to the winds that come from other countries’. We should, however, beware of being blown off by these winds, as Gandhiji remarked in relation to taking the best from, and leaving the rest of, other cultures.

In other words, we need wisdom and guidance in order to make the right choices and take the correct decisions by first, defining a shared vision that would translate into the welfare of the community and the country.

In so doing we would also be paying a deserved homage to the spirit of our forbears. Let us not forget how many obstacles they had to overcome so as to preserve and practise their culture, and transmit these values to us their descendants. The starting point of any construction must be these cultural values which have maintained our civilisational integrity, and which as the oldest extant civilisation it is our duty to share with others.

If the new team at MSDTF can succeed in attaining the lofty goals it has set itself, simulate fresh thinking about the social, economic and cultural objectives that need to be pursued to build a better society and a prosperous country, and pass on this legacy down the line to worthy successors, it may perhaps then begin the process of truly reinventing ourselves.

A Bunch of Thoughts can be a most useful guide in this endeavour.

* Published in print edition on 21 August 2020

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