The Tree of Knowledge
Sri Lord Venkateswara
(Considered as the most auspicious festival, the Brahmotsavams’ devotees believe, it herald prosperity. Celebrated every year in the solar month of Kanya, the nine-day fete is said to have been first organised by none other than Lord Brahma for the welfare of the people.)
Venkateswara is believed to be a unique incarnation of Vishnu in Kaliyuga, to protect humanity from adverse effects of declining Dharma by Hindus. He is also popularly called Srinivasa in the South India and Balaji in North India. Out of 18 Puranas, 12 Puranas mention and glorify Lord Venkateswara. He is married to Devi Padmavati, daughter of Aakasaraja of Tondaimandalam who is an incarnation of Lakshmi. The marriage, officiated by Brahma, was celebrated with great pomp and splendor. Still the same marriage is celebrated as “Kalyaanotsavam” at Tirupati and wherever Venkateswara moortis are installed in temples. This is for the peace and prosperity of the family of the devotee in particular and the world at large in general. The stone moorti (Moola vigraha) is never seen with Padmavati together according to the Puranic story connected with it. Venkatesa Mahatmya glorifies the incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the name of Venkateswara on the Seven Hills (Tirupati). Seven Hills are: Seshadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrishbhadri, Narayanadri and Venkatadri.
There are two words associated with “Venkata”; “vem” meaning sin and “kata” meaning to burn in Sanskrit. This is confirmed by the following verse from the Puranas (mythology).
Sarva paapaani vem praahuhu katastat daha uchyate
Sarva papa haratvatvaat venkatesha iteerite
Lord Venkateswara is seen with four hands. Upper right and left hands are seen with Chakra (discus) and Shanka (conch) respectively. Lower right hand which is in the posture of Varadamudra (the hand with the palm facing the devotee but with the fingers pointing downwards — the boon giving posture) points towards his divine feet suggesting the devotees to surrender at his divine feet. Lower left hand is in the “Kati mudra” posture pointing at his knees suggesting that the ocean of life is knee deep for the devotees who surrender to him.
Venkatadri samam sthaanam Brahmaande naasthi kinchana
Venkatesha samoe devoe na bhootoe na bhavishyati
There is no place in the world equal to Venkataadri and no divine being equal to Lord Venkateswara in the past or the future. Venkateshwara’s temple today is located at the top of the Seven Hills in Tirumala. It stands as a special place, commemorating the marriage between the two. Everyday, a kalyanautsavam celebrates the divine union in a celebration that stretches to eternity. Even today, during the Brahmotsavam at the temple, turmeric, kumkum and a sari are sent from the temple to Tiruchanur, the abode of Padmavati. In fact Tirupati is rarely visited without paying a visit to Tiruchanur. In the light of this background, it has become the favored destination of many newly-wed couples who pray for a happy wedding similar to that of Srinivasa and Padmavati.
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We are all familiar with the story on how Ganesha became the elephant-headed God. Shiva and Parvati had been celebrating and Parvati becomes dirty. When she realizes this, she removes the dirt from her body, creates a boy out of it and asks him to keep guard while she bathed. When Shiva returned, the boy could not recognize him and obstructed his passage. So Shiva chopped off the boy’s head and entered. Parvati was shocked. She explained that the boy was their son and pleaded with Shiva to save him at all costs. Shiva then instructed his helpers to go and get the head of someone who was sleeping with the head pointing to the north. The helpers then got the head of an elephant, which Shiva affixed to the boy’s torso and Ganesha was born!
Does this story sound strange? Why should Parvati have dirt on her body? Didn’t the all-knowing Shiva recognise His own son? Was Shiva, the epitome of peace, so short-tempered that he cut off the head of his own son? And why an elephant head on Ganesha? There is a deeper meaning to all these.
Parvati is symbolic of festive energy. Her becoming dirty signifies that celebration can easily become Rajasik or feverish and can take you away from your centre. Dirt is symbolic of ignorance and Shiva is symbolic of the Supreme Innocence, Peace and Knowledge. So when Ganesha obstructs the path of Shiva, this means that ignorance, which is an attribute of the head, does not recognize knowledge. Then knowledge has to overcome ignorance. This is the symbolism behind Shiva chopping off the boy’s head.
And why the elephant head? The elephant represents both gyan shakti and karma shakti. The principal qualities of the elephant are wisdom and effortlessness. The enormous head of the elephant signifies Wisdom and Knowledge. Elephants don’t walk around obstacles, neither do they stop at them. They just remove them and keep walking straight on – signifying effortlessness. So, when we worship Lord Ganesha these elephant qualities within us are kindled and we take on these qualities.
Ganesha’s big belly represents generosity and total acceptance. Ganesha’s upraised hand, depicting protection, means, “Fear not – I am with you,” and his lowered hand, palm facing outwards means unending giving as well as an invitation to bow down – symbolic of the fact that we will all dissolve into earth one day. Ganesha also has a single tusk which signifies one-pointedness. Even the implements Ganesha wields are symbolic. He carries in his hands the ‘Ankusa’ (signifies awakening) and the ‘Paasa’ (signifies control). With awakening, a lot of energy is released, which without proper control can go haywire.
And why does Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, travel on something as small as a mouse? Isn’t that so incongruous? Again there is symbolism that runs deeps. The mouse snips and nibbles away at ropes that bind. The mouse, which gradually nibbles away, is like the mantra which can cut through sheaths and sheaths of ignorance, leading to the ultimate knowledge represented by Ganesha.
Our ancient Rishis were so deeply intelligent that they chose to express Divinity in terms of symbols rather than words, since words change over time, but symbols remain unchanged. Let us keep these deep symbolisms in mind as we experience the Omnipresent in the form of the Elephant God, yet be fully aware that Ganesha is very much within us. This is the wisdom we should carry as we celebrate Ganesh Chaturti. — Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
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