Category Archives: swastika

G is for Ganesha

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One of my favorite deities of the Hindu panoply of gods is Ganesha. He is fantastic. I forget when I was first introduced to him, but I have always felt a certain fondness for him, and enjoyed learning about him; the myths, the mantras, the devotions, the festivals.

The popularity of Ganesha extends throughout many of the religions that originated in India. Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, all seem to venerate Ganesha, and it seems quite a few people outside of that religion, who also are drawn to him.

His origin story is quite well published, and if you want to read it, well, Google it, but I will do a quick paraphrase here. He is the son of Parvati, the wife of Shiva, who was created to guard her while she took her bath. However, while Parvati was bath, Shiva returned and sent some of his followers to call upon Parvati. Ganesha denied them, and beat them soundly when they attempted to trespass. Finally Shiva came to see what the problem was, and not knowing the boy was his wife’s son, they fought. Shiva won, but before Parvati could stop the conflict, Shiva had used his destructive third eye upon the youth, destroying his head. In order to revive him, another head needed to be found, which was an elephant head, which became attached to the boy’s body and he was then revived. There are quite a number of different versions that fill in various details and explain various things, but that is the very short hand version of the story that I first heard.
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He is associated with having dominion over many things, but his main attribute is the Lord of Obstacles. While mostly often he is asked to remove obstacles, it is also said that he can place obstacles in the path of people who need it. One of his names reflects this power where he is identified as Vighneshvara, which literally translates as Lord of Obstacles (shvara – lord and Vighne being obstacles). There are other variations of this name, but the meaning is considerable consistent. The obstacles he governs are both physical and metaphysical and can be people, places, concepts, spiritual issues, illness and many other things. For this reason he is often called upon when beginning a new venture, to remove obstacles that may obstruct it, as well as when engaging in ritual, to remove obstacles that would impede the success of the ritual.

Another name and association is with knowledge, wisdom and learning. The concept I learned with that is his name Ekadanta which means “One Tusked” as he is often portrayed with only one complete tusk, the other one often broken off and being held in one of his hands. I have a small clay statue showing him holding this broken tusk, and it seems he was using it as a writing implement. The story that I learned is that it was Ganesha who first created writing, and started to write down what other gods said, that it might be preserved and remembered. As he was doing so, his writing implement broken, and there was nothign to replace it. So he broke off his tusk, and dipped it into the ink and continued writing. Because of his connection to knowledge, wisdom and learning, he is also sometimes known as Buddhi’s husband or Buddhipriya, buddhi being a sanskrit word for knowledge and wisdom which is a feminine word and priya meaning fond of, lover or husband.

Ganesha is also associated with a number of other concepts. It is said that the OM is his nature. The swastika is a very popular symbol and it is widely associated with Ganesha. Many statues from the subcontinent of Ganesha often have the swastika prominently displayed on Ganesha, or used in his depictions. He is also said to dwell in the muladhara chakra, as it said the “he holds, supports and guides the other chakras , and thereby governing the forces that propel the wheel of life”

The largest festival associated with Ganesha is Ganesha Chathurthi. This annual festival of 10 days happens in early autumn, typically at some time in August or September (because it is based upon a lunar calendar, the dates vary in the Gregorian calendar. You can google the date). Originally a small family orientated festival, it became a rallying point for Indian independence from the British, and for that reason is widely celebrated across the country, but especially so in specific states and in Ganesha specific temples. The beginning of the festival is marked by the arrival of Ganesha, usually as a large statue. At the end of hte festival, the statue (or statues) are then taken to nearby bodies of water (lakes, rivers etc…) and submerged. While this tradition continues, there has been some discourse over it, as the original statues were often made of clay and would just dissolve into mud, many modern statues started to be made from plaster of paris, which is filled with toxic chemicals, and then painted with toxic paints, which would then pollute the bodies of water. While I have read that some areas have returned to using clay and non toxic pigments, others have started using reusable statues also colored with non toxic paints and dyes, and so they retrieve the statue from the body of water after a few days.
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If you want to engage in devotion to Ganesha, a very simple way is through offering him incense and sweets. While he is often depicted with a bowl of traditional indian deserts, I have found he likes all maner of sweets and candies. Including incense (sandalwood is a good choice) is always good, as would including some kind of liquid, even water. The most commonly recited mantra to Ganesha is “Aum gam ganapati namah” Ganesha is very often identified with the color red, although white also is used, along with blue, and it seems orange and yellow are also popular (although usually used with different roles of Ganesha).

And now a little devotion for you

Reclaiming the Taboo

A symbol that I am currently contemplating deeply is commonly known as the swastika. It is a symbol that has a long history, mostly good, until the 20th century, where in the hands of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party, it became associated with horrors and atrocities enacted in Nazi Germany. For that reason, many countries have banned the symbol outside of restricted usage for certain religions (primarily eastern, where the swastika has a much richer usage and benevolent symbolism that is much stronger then anything in Nazi Germany).

There are many variants on the swastika, mostly in stylistic depictions, and also vary depending upon the culture. It also has many names. Fylfot, Hooked Cross, Gammadion, Tetraskelion, Tursaansydan, manji, Mjolnir, thorshammr, Mundilfari, sun wheel, At one time, a Buddhist version of the Red Cross was called Red Swastika, and performed in actions similar to Red Cross of western countries.

One of the mistaken lore about the swastika, is that there is a reversed version, which symbolize evil. That is untrue however, as artifacts and usage up until mid 20th century used the swastika with it’s bent legs facing in both directions. Whatever way the legs are turned, the symbolism of the swastika, as a symbol of good fortune and luck, holds true. It was for the beneficial association that Hitler decided to use it, along with pseudo-philosophies about being Aryan, and the connection made by German nationalists both before and current with Adolf Hitler, which encourage him to use that symbol for the Nazi party.

Some of the two best sources I have found about the Swastika and it’s attributes are from Wikipedia, which had a detailed entry, with fascinating links at the bottom leading to other variants.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika

Another interesting source was ms Catherine Yronwode and her Lucky Mojo website

http://www.luckymojo.com/swastika.html

It was from studying these websites that I decided to work with the swastika a little bit, embracing the it’s attribution of Good Fortune, and using it in a spell for myself to encourage and stimulate good luck. Not in any specific area of influence, but in the sense of any event moving odds in my favor.

To that end, I seek to reclaim this taboo symbol that has been rejected, at least for myself. While I don’t plan on showing it openly in any large way, because it seems like too much effort to explain to every person I see that I am not a Nazi, or Anti-Semetic, and it has nothing to with that, it is unfortunate that this symbols has been so tarnished by the misuse. I think with time and exposure, the idea can be taken back, and the symbol can be reclaimed and used openly again in the Western World, without misinterpretation.

Last moment addition
a blog devoted to images of the swastika