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Saturday, September 17

Ganesh, and The Tale of Sathya Sai Baba and the Impatient American Devotee

Why an elephant's head on a baby? There are different stories about how it happened but if you think of an elephant using its trunk to rip up a large tree and tossing it aside like a matchstick, you have the idea of Ganesh's function as remover of obstacles. It's traditional among those who follow the ancient religion of the peoples of Indus Valley to pray to Ganesh before starting a journey or enterprise where big obstacles can be in the offing.

That this son of Shiva is in the form of a baby, however, is a warning. See the baby tusks? That signifies he removes ordinary obstacles, human-sized ones. Best not to get cute and call on his father to remove obstacles for you. At least this is my opinion.

Shiva, Lord of Destruction a.k.a. Lord of (Hindu) Yogis, has several other functions; one of them is weapons master. However, in my view those weapons are for the gods; they belong to the god realm, not this realm. So I think a human has to be nuts to pray to Shiva for help unless the human is a Yogi or otherwise a complete renunciate petitioning for the destruction of whatever bad character traits he still retains.

But even there I venture one needs to be extremely careful about what one asks of a god of destruction who does double duty as Lord of Yogis. Again, that's just my view but it's buttressed by a story of Sathya Sai Baba and one of his dizzier devotees.

If I'd known I'd be telling this story decades after I heard it I would have written it down verbatim, but what follows is close enough:

This devotee, an ordinary American 'householder' whose knowledge of Hinduism and Yoga could have fit on a flea's wing, saw Sai Baba as the embodiment of Shiva -- as did many genuine Indian Shaivites (devotees of Shiva). Once while at Sai Baba's ashram he got it into his head that he wanted to be enlightened in this very lifetime, and being one of those Americans who want everything now, he decided the fastest way to do this was to become a complete renunciate.

So he prayed to Shiva take away all his worldy attachments. I don't recall whether Sai Baba told the American point blank that this request wasn't a good idea, but at the least he must have warned him that Shiva wasn't a toy.

In any case, the devotee was insistent: Take it all away!

When he returned to the United States, he found a realtor putting up a 'For Sale' sign outside his house. During his absence his wife had started divorce proceedings and taken possession of their house and furnishings after removing all funds from their joint bank accounts and other financial instruments.

When he opened his mail he learned that he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service and because he hadn't responded to their inquiries in timely fashion he was in big trouble.

He also learned that he'd been fired from his job for accounting irregularities.

His car and boat had been repossesed because after the bank account was shut down, the automatic payments on these had stopped.

Finally he put two and two together. He borrowed enough money to return to India and Sai Baba's ashram. Then he sat on the darshan line and prayed his head off, explaining that while he wanted to become enlightened, he'd decided not through the route of complete renunication.

When he returned to the United States the 'For Sale' sign had been removed; his wife had changed her mind about divorcing him; his employer had realized a terrible mistake had been made by an internal audit, and rehired him; and the IRS decided to drop their audit when he explained his hard-luck story.

In my view, very lucky for the man that Sathya Sai Baba had incarnated for the express benefit of 'ordinary' people and because of this was an ocean of patience.

Anyhow, the symbolism of Ganesh makes this god far more approachable than his father, although some people say Ganesh is a stickler for correct pronunciation of mantras and stotras in his honor. Frankly I think these people must be Brahmin priests.

Here, from the 'vernacular' world of bhajans (the ordinary person's version of mantra and stotra) is Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Devī's rousing song to Ganesh to entreat his help.

The words of the song are in Malayalam, Amma's native language. What follows is a translation from the YouTube site. Notice the discussion of food in the lyrics. Here is a priceless photo of Amma gleefully feeding a rice cookie to a baby elephant:

kindrecords 11 months ago - YouTube
"Uṇṇi Gaṇapatiye" - 2014; Malayalam
uṇṇi gaṇapatiye uḷḷam vaṇaṅgànày enthada kuñjñaññe nammalum povèndè
Oh little brother, shouldn’t we also go to worship baby Ganapati (Ganesha) with all our heart?
uḷḷamazhiññu tozhàm meyyitulaññu tozhàm uḷḷilezhunnitaṇe uṇṇi gaṇapatiye
We pray with fervor; we pray as we sway.O baby Ganapati, please be present within us.
màlarum mauli tozhàn mànattil nòkkiṭunnè pàràte pàdam tozhàn pàritil vìṇiṭunnè To bow down to His purifying crown, we look up to the sky. To bow down at His feet, we look down to the earth.
ambiḷikkìraṇiyum vambezhum kèśabhàram tumbòṭu kaṇṇariññè mumbàyikkaitozhunnè
We bow down, beholding His thick hair adorned with a crescent moon.
embàṭu mumbartozhum mànpezhum nalpadaṅgaḷ vembalakattiṭànày nambivaṇaṅgiṭunnè
To remove grief, we bow down with faith to His feet which are worshipped by the gods.
tumbamakanniṭànày tumbikku kumbiṭunnè imbamiyanniṭànày kumbayum kaitozhunnèn
To remove sorrows we bow down to His trunk. To acquire joy, we bow down to His belly.
vambezhum kombatinè anpinày kaitozhunnèn lambòdaranivane ambòṭu kumbiṭunnèn
For grace we bow down to His tusk; we bow down with love to this large-bellied Ganapati.
nallavil śarkkarayum veṇmalar kèramatum nanpezhum nalpazhavum màtaḷam nìḷkarimbum
We offer You beaten rice, jaggery, puffed rice, coconut, excellent plantain bananas, pomegranates, and sugarcane
nallaṭa mòdakavum kalkkaṇḍa muntiriyum añcàte nèdichiṭàm ayyanè kàttiṭanè
We offer You rice pancakes, modaka, rock candy and grapes. Please protect us!
nalluma yankamatil àrnnirunnennumennum nanmayaruḷiṭaṇè uṇṇivinàyakanè
Oh little Ganapati, seated on the lap of Goddess Parvati Devi, bestow goodness on us always.
àdi vaṇaṅgiṭuṇè àdhikaḷattiṭaṇè śankara nandananè śakti nìyèkiṭaṇè
We bow down at the very beginning to remove all our anxieties. O son of Lord Siva, give us strength!

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