Maha Ganapathy and Mahatma Gandhi have something in common. Figures of both are drawn in million different ways and each one of them is easily recognizable. More about this in a minute.
My Cousin Manogar or Mano Anna to us, narrated this story sometime in the early seventies. As every elder brother, he was a hero to three of us (JK, Mohan & I) – he still is. He had just finished College and entered the glamorous world of ‘selling.’ He scored the highest marks in SSC in the family but rued the fact that he missed centum in Math by just 4 marks. Since he hailed from the city of Trichy, he went and prayed in one of the most famous Ganapthy Temples – Ucchi Pillayar Kovil and offered 1 Rupee or one paisa for each mark if he scored 100% in Math in the final exams in SSLC. I am not sure whether he put 1 Rupee in the Hundi or 96 Paise as got only 96 Marks.
The God Ganapathy or Ganesa or Pillaiyar or any other dozens of names is the first God you go to with an offering and a quid pro quo. “You do this for me and I will offer you this.” And believe me more often than not your prayers are answered. Rachna carries her favorite Ganpathy Bapu wherever she goes so she can always pray him.
‘The more about this in a minute’ I referred to is this. Ever since the caveman started drawing about 40,000 years ago, I don’t think any other figure would have been drawn more number of times and in thousand different ways than Lord Ganesa and Father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. There are drawings and paintings, Cartoons and caricatures, doodles and freehand forms on both of them. One can draw picture of Mahatma just by drawing half a spectacle and a question mark. Add few more lines and you will get an image of Ganesa.
Gandhi and Ganesa – just a couple of strokes with the pen.
The only difference between the two of course is, Mahatma Gandhi has been photographed a million times and for the Lord we have to be content with the drawings made over many centuries.
Lord Ganesa is the first God in Hindu mythology and he is the one, children get introduced first. There are Pillaiyar temples in almost every road, street and gully in Tamil Nadu and you will have to cross him while going to school or college or office or playground. In Tamil Nadu, every village panchayat, town and city will have one Pillaiyar Kovil Street, at least one.
In TN, Pillaiyar Suzhi is the first letter you draw on a slate even before learning to write the first alphabet – This remains with us through rest of our lives. Till I started writing on a word processor, I always put the Pillaiyar suzhi before I start writing a document or a personal letter. Even today, I draw the Pillaiyar suzhi before affixing a signature on any paper. It can be seen on all my rental agreements and property papers and on the cheques as well. You just don’t start anything without invoking Pillaiyar’s name.
I always talk about the festivals and not about The God or the religion. Learned people and scholars have written on that. My thoughts are about the joy and happiness the festivals associated with The God bring to common man. I have written about Lord Krishna – Makhan Khayo – Songs for Krishna Jayanthi. and Deepavali, the biggest festival of India – Gushing Joy of Happy Diwali.
This blog is about Vinayka Chathurthi festival. It is not as big as Diwali or Durga Pooja but celebrated grandly in few states in a grand scale – Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Telangana and I have been fortunate to live in one of these three states throughout my life. In my younger days, Pillaiyar Chaturthi just lasted for a day in Chennai and it was grand. People brought an idol of Lord Ganesa home, decorated it, made sweets as offering and the next morning it was immersed in the well at the backyard. Every ganesa temple was decorated beautifully and we children went around offering prayers and got plenty of prasadam mostly sundal and kozhukattai.
In Maharastra, the festival is celebrated over ten days and the scale is differetnt altoghther. On a 1 to 10 scale if Chennai was 1, Maharastrat tilted the scale beyond 10, such was the grandeour. It was also the time people came home from different parts of India, now from different corners of the world. My boss Nandu Dehkne comes to Pune every year during Ganesh festival, it does not matter if he is in Shanghai or San Francisco. He would make a trip to meet his parents, brothers and sister.
I am not sure when did the ten day festivities for Lord Ganesh actually start. But it was Bal Gangadhara Tilak, the great freedom fighter, who used the festival to bring people together during the struggle for freedom. In an era without WhatsApp, the festival provided an opportunity to bring the people together in every village, town and city in this vast country. The famous Bombay Dabbawallas disappear from the city and go home (mostly to Konkan region) during the festival. The festival indeed unites people and families.
Also, I am not sure how Hyderabad also became a big center for Ganesh festival. After all it was ruled by Nizam for decades, so state patronage could not have been a reason. My guess is, there is a substantial Maharashtrian population in the city who must have brought the festival with them when they migrated from present day Maharashtra centuries ago.
Though less in grandeur than Pune or Mumbai, Hyderabad has one unique record. The Khairtabad Ganesh Temple has the tallest idol of Ganesa in India, which one can see during the festival.
A couple of stories about The God Ganesa always fascinated me. The elephant headed God always features a broken tusk. Vyasa Muni wanted to dictate the epic Mahabharata and chose Ganesa as could write fast. His condition was the writer should never stop when he is dictating and he was narrating the epic at a fast clip. Suddenly the writing instrument Ganesa was using broke down and The God did not want to interrupt Vyasa’s flow; so he broke his tusk and used it as a pen to write. You can see the broken tusk and Pillaiyar Sushi in the following photograph.
The other fascinating story is Lord Ganesa is probably the first one to cheat in an exam – well at least to my knowledge. The sage Narada brings a mango of wisdom and offers it to Lord Shiva and he decides to give the fruit to his children. Narada insists that fruit should be eaten as a whole to get its power. So they decide to hold a completion/exam to Lord Ganesa and Lord Muruga, whoever goes around the earth three time and finishes the race first will get the fruit. Lord Muruga is like me – in a tearaway hurry always, boards his official vehicle, the peacock and starts off.
Ganesa asks Narada what is earth and what is mother and father. Narada says the earth and his mother & father are one and the same. He asks then, “So if I go around my parents three times, it is the same as going around the earth. Correct?” Narada is taken aback a bit but he says ‘yes.’ So our beloved Lord circumambulates his parents and takes the fruit. Lord Muruga comes back to find out that his brother has cheated him and in a fit of anger leaves home.
Just like Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesa also has hundreds of songs written on him in various Indian languages. Any social function from annual function at school to huge concerts starts with a song dedicated to Lord Ganesa. As mentioned earlier, Ganapathy Bappa is chief remover of obstacles and a boon giver; so it is only natural we start every function by invoking him first.
In Tamil Dr. Sirkazhi Govindarajan has sung a few numbers. The famous aarti in Marathi is also on Lord Ganesa. Both songs evolved independently but the underlying theme is the same. In Tamil:
‘Vinayakane Vinay Theerpvane’
(விநாயகனே வினை தீர்ப்பவனே ) means
”Oh Vinayaka, you remove all the obstacles.”
The Marathi Aarti Song,
सुख करता दुखहर्ता वार्ता विघ्नची
नूर्वी पूर्वी प्रेम कृपा जयाची
Sukh Karta Dukhharta Varta Vighnachi
Noorvi Poorvi Prem Krupya Jayachi – translates toOh Lord who provides Joy, takes away Sadnessand removes all “vighnas” (obstacles) in life
I am particularly fond of the Marathi Aarti, not only the rhyme and rhythm of the song is great, it is the only song I can sing in Marathi at least half of it. You can watch the video at the end of this blog.
But one particular song (Kriti) which is sung by every famous vocalist and played on every instrument by all famous musicians is ‘Vatapi Ganapatim.’ The Kriti was composed by one of the trinity of Carnatic Music, Muthusami Dikshitar (1775-1835). The hymn praises Vathapi Ganapathi, the lord who resides in a temple in Tiruchenkattankudi, a small village in Tamil Nadu. The song is composed in Sanskrit Language in Raga Hamsadhvani. Vathapi is present day Badami in Karnataka. How and why The God from Vathapi came to reside in a small village in Tamil Nadu is not clear. There are different versions on how did this happen.
The raga Hindustani was first introduced by Muthusamy’s father Ramaswamy Dikshitar. Vathapi Ganapatim is the only hymn composed by Dikshitar in raga Hamsadhvani. The raga is more popular in Hindustani music evolved in the norhtern parts of the country.
Vatapi Ganapatim is described not only as the “best-known piece” of Dikshitar, but also one of the most famous compositions in Carnatic music – Wikipedia. The song is played in Nadaswaram whenever the Lord is taken on a procession.
Though we have listened to the Kriti from young age, we got mesmerized by the Kriti when it was sung by famous musicians during music festivals. The first Cassettes and CDs we bought definitely had this Kriti whether it was sung by Chembai or Yesudas or played on Instrumet by Srinivas in Mandolin or Kunnakudi in Violin.
During one of the Pune festivals, when Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussein played Vathapi, the entire audience got enthralled by it and on listeners’ request the maestro ended up playing it again and again.
When we bought CD cum Tape Deck in the nineties, JK and I taped Vathapi Ganapatim from different musicians from CD. The ninety minutes cassette had only Vathapi Ganapatim and we played it religiously during every Vinayka Chaturti for few years. Before the age of Internet and YouTube we made copies of this tape and distributed to relatives and friends.
Well most of these songs have survived in mp3 format. I thought, two lines from the Kriti by different musicians will be a delight to listen to on Ganesh Chaturti. I have compiled only the first two lines played by the following great musicians of India.
- Aynampatti Dhandapani – Jalatharangam
- Madurai Mani Iyer – Vocal
- U. Srinivas – Mandolin
- Bala Murali Krishna – Vocal
- Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan – Violin
- MLV & Sudha Raghunathan – Vocal
- Jayashankar – Nadaswaram
- Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar – Vocal
- Hariprasad Chaurasia – Flute
- Yesudas – Vocal
My favorites are Yesudas, Chaurasia and Chembai.
Ganapathy Bappa Moria!
Featured Image: Vatapi Ganapatim praises the god Ganesha – Courtesy Wikipedia.
Vathapi Ganapathim – Mixed Tape Here
Aarti – Sukhkarta Dukhharta