Ganesha Pilgrimage

Shree Ashtavinayaka Darshan. The eight holy shrines of Ganapati:


As noted in our guidebook, Gana means people and Pati means leader. Hence, Ganapati, or Ganesha, is the leader of the people. I always begin my workshops with a prayer to Ganesha, that he remove any obstacles that may arise, and that he preside and be pleased with the teachings that I pass on. One of my teachers once remarked that we are all too obsessed with ourselves, and that we really are not that “important”. In modern parlance, “get over your small self”. With a mental bow and a silent prayer, I acknowledge my position as a conduit in the larger scheme of things.

Every hindu religious function begins with a prayer to Ganesha. As such, he is the remover of obstacles. An interesting twist, however, is that for many of us, the obstacles may jump right up in our face! As we continue our sadhana, the burning tapas of awakening to an understanding of the patterns that inhibit us, or the beliefs that bind, us may become a trial by fire. Ganesha tries to help remove the obstacles by first revealing the seeds, and this will always push us out of our comfort zone.

From the guidebook: “Lord Ganesha is also a God of wisdom and prudence, and a good scribe and learned in scriptures. It was he, who at the dictation of the sage Vyasa, wrote the Mahabharata. Before agreeing to write it down, Ganesha stipulated that the diction should never falter and sage Vyasa in turn stipulated that Ganapati should never pen down the shlokas without understanding the meaning.” So it was an oral tradition, to be lived, absorbed, and fully embodied before being passed on.

“The huge body and capacious belly of lord Ganesha is said to represent the cosmos or the universe and the trunk of his elephant head, turned towards the left, symbolizes OM which is the symbol of the universal soul. His elephant head denotes superior intelligence and the snake around his waist represents cosmic energy. The noose is to remind us that all worldly attachments are a noose and the hook often seen in his hand is to prod us to the path of righteousness. The broken tusk of Lord Ganesha is symbolic of knowledge as it is with this tusk that he wrote down the Mahabharata. The modak, or sweet, in his hand is to remind us of the sweetness of one’s inner self.”

“The awkward and corpulent physical form of Ganesha teaches us that beauty of the outward form has no connection with inner beauty or spiritual perfection and Ganesha on his vehicle, the mouse symbolizes the equal importance of the biggest and the smallest of creatures in the eyes of the supreme God.”

The temples house the “Swayambhu” or self-emanated stone forms of Ganesha. Each stone in some way resembles the head, trunk, and in some, the body of the elephant God. It was a particularly fun trip for Ross, and myself, as we have our own “Swayambhu” that we found at Muir Beach, by the light of the rising full moon, on the seashore. It is a stone about 12 inches high, with a very distinguishable trunk and eyes. He resides with us and is the center piece of our alter.

The journey began early on a Saturday morning. Michelle, Peri, Ross, Annie and I packed into an AC SUV. We were prepared that the journey would be a long one. The first day was hot, dusty, and followed on the heels of a late night birthday party for Ross’s 43rd. Such an auspicious beginning for him! I purchased a special mala that he could take with him and offer up for blessings at each site.

Suffice it to say that the 400 kilometers traveled in a 14 hour period left us pretty tired! Michelle and Peri bailed on the second day. It definitely takes time to acclimate to India, and a pilgrimage is not exactly comfortable.

While India can be laborious, it can also be enchanting. From our privileged vantage point, in our AC car, we soaked in the beautiful countryside; the grape, pea, and sugarcane fields; the festival processions along the roadside, bright turbaned heads singing; people moving herds of goats, sheep, donkeys, small horses; the women carrying urns of drinking water piled atop their heads at sunset; the women washing clothes, women picking produce, women cooking chapatis, women carrying children, women women women hold up the society here, while the men preserve the holy rituals. Some things are slow to change!

I submit this story and a few of my personal reflections (which I would normally keep private) to you as an example of how you can shape and celebrate your spiritual journey. And how you might commemorate, and hence affirm your spiritual path. I find that such physical acts pour strength of purpose into my otherwise seemingly haphazard life. Sometimes I ask for clarification, or I set an intention, perhaps I ask for a blessing for myself or for someone else. These are but a few ruminations, I invite you to share yours.

What follows are brief descriptions of each temple. We would purchase flowers for performing puja to the deities; and offer rupees to the priests who maintain the temple. They would often give us prasad, little sugar candies or ghee and chickpea flour balls as sacred food. It is different than the Christian personification of offering the wafer as the body of Christ. Rather, as nourishment would be to a child, it is to saturate the subtle body with the blessings of the God/Goddess. Chanting mantras, shlokas or prayers, a procession of women in saris, children, men with hands in devote prayer and lips silently moving, would slowly move toward the inner sanctum. Upon entering the sanctuary, I ring a bell to announce my petition to the deities. And once inside, I would touch my forehead to the foot of the alter and either wait for my spontaneous supplication or say my prayer.

Shree Moreshwar, Morgaon. Shree Moreshwar, who is far from three qualities, who is Swayambhu, who is without any form, who resembles OMKAR, who is always in fourth state of yoga … spontaneous prayer that I may be a graceful conduit for the transition to Mahasamadhi for both my parents. This thought arose the moment my head touched the shrine. It seems to correspond with being in the fourth state of yoga, the turya state, beyond form, beyond the physical body … Mahasamadhi

Shree Siddhivinayak, Siddhatek. By small row boat we were ferried across an industrial zone of a river that was being dredged of its rock to make cement. No connection with this one, too hot. It was like a sauna inside the temple, and the priests were probably in a bad mood! We did have a lovely outdoor picnic though!

Shree Chintamani, Theur. “Here the restless mind should be taken to get rid of all obstacles and calamities”. Beautiful marble sitting hall, Gansha yantras … found myself reciting sutra 1.33 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (look it up, it is most special, the only place in the sutras where Patanjali mentions compassion):

Maitri Karuna Mudito Upekshanam sukha dukha punya apunya vaishayam bhanavataha cittaprasadanam.

Shree Mahaganapati, Ranjangaon. The great “maha” Ganapati. We arrived after dark and were greeted at the gate to this final temple of our first day by two huge, circa 15 feet tall, idols, or door keepers named Jay and Vijay. I requested the boon that I may remain in good health so that I can fulfill the former two prayers. This temple was encased by a large pavilion for feasting and feeding the pilgrims. One wall was decorated with various stories of Ganesha and Shiva (Ganesha’s father) exploits vanquishing evil, teaching, healing, and celebrating. It was a fitting end to the first day. We left home at 8 in the morning, and returned at 9 in the evening. I went upside down to quiet my overheated nervous system, and ate a light dinner.

Shree Vighneshwar Vinayak, Ozar. By the riverside. The story goes that there was a king who performed great sacrifices. Indra thought that this sacrifice, if completed, might deprive him of his post. (Note the jealous gods, even though we expect our teachers to be embodiments of their teaching, we are not surprised to find that the gods have petty characteristics. Have we fashioned the gods after our own dramas?) Hence, he ordered Kala, (time) to create obstacles in the sacrifice. The fierce kala has hence created obstacles for sages and all others.

I prayed that my insight be awakened, and for a deepening of the meditation practice, which will only come with my own hard work and a little bit of grace.

Shree Girjatmaj Vinayaka, Lenyadri. On the mountain, 18 Buddhist meditation caves, and Ganesha inhabits one of them. This is the baby Ganesha, born of Parvati’s prayers. For me, that as I continue my sadhana, I remain innocent and fresh, not naive; but as if “seeing” for the first time with the insight of my 49 years.

After a bumpy 4 hours through green woods and fields, we arrived at a more remote site. Along the way we passed an evening carnival complete with two Ferris wheels. They were spinning so fast I would be afraid to climb on board!

Shree Ballaleshwar, Pali. This story reveres the devotion of a Brahmin boy who inspired his fellow children to sing and dance the name of Gajanan (Ganesha). My prayers for devotion to erase any doubt I may have in myself.

Shree Varadvinayak, Mahad. We arrived late, around 9pm. Families were doing their own puja, which was a fitting conclusion to my journey. Again, I asked that my parents transition be smooth, and that I be an embodiment of wisdom absorbed through their parenting. That my meditations and remembrance of sacred space and the sacred flame remain alive, and that I return in two years time.

Om Namah Ganapati!

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