Perhaps the most popular god in the Hindu pantheon, the elephant-headed Ganesha is known by many names
By Gita Mehta
Perhaps the most popular god in the Hindu pantheon, the elephant-headed Ganesha is known by many names: the Pitcher of Prosperity, the Remover of Obstacles, the Grantor of Boons, the Guarantor of Success, and the Lord of Beginnings. It is hard not to recognize Ganesha, with his head of an elephant, protuberant belly, many arms — girdled by a serpent and riding a mouse!
In Eternal Ganesha, the author, Gita Mehta, provides chapters for each of Ganesha’s characteristics — examining the origins of the god as well as the symbolism behind, for example, the serpent or the mouse. Of the juxtaposition of contradictory animals such as elephant and mouse, Mehta writes: “They also point to a moral imperative — that opposites can and must live in peaceful co-existance. Non-violence and humanism derive from that imperative. The elephant does not kill living creatures to survive; it is a symbol of ahimsa or non-violence. A human body encircled by a snake connects the elephant to a mouse, the union of the small with the great, the microcosm with the macrocosm…Ganesha incarnates Hindu philosophy’s fundamental law, the unity in diversity that it is humanity’s primary duty to maintain.”
Eternal Ganesha completely enchants the reader in the chapter entitled “Ganesha’s Miracle.” Discussed here is the phenomenon that occurred on September 21, 1995, “…at dawn in a temple on the outskirts of Delhi, India, when milk offered to a statue of Ganesh just disappeared in thin air.” More and more reports came flooding in, describing scenes where the idols — all over India — were drinking milk! “Within seventy-two hours the international press began reporting an even more astounding development. The miracle had jumped national boundaries. Now Hindu idols around the world were consuming milk by the gallon.” Many apparently felt a new god been born to save the world from evil.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture and book-signing given by Mrs. Mehta at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City on September 13. The Rubin Museum is the first museum in the Western World dedicated to the art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions, and it houses a good-sized statue of Ganesha where offerings of flowers and dollar bills can be found at its base. Mrs. Mehta was joined by moderator Kathryn Selig Brown, a museum curator (who promises a Ganesha exhibit in 2009).
Mrs. Mehta, who has been a television war correspondent as well as the author of several best-selling books, discussed Eternal Ganesha at length. The author told a story explaining why the god is so loved by writers — he lost his tusk while transcribing the epic narratives of India, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. After days of writing, his last pen ran dry, and quick-thinking Ganesha broke off his own tusk to continue the task of transcribing. The author also noted how the trunk of this idol is shaped into the symbol for “OM — the sound of God.” Ganesha is therefore “believed to embody OM in the physical form.”
I am delighted by this book and the wonderful photographs that accompany the text. It lends itself to a lovely coffee table book, but one that you may also want to keep on your bookshelves for reference — and a healthy dose of inspiration.
Eternal Ganesha by Gita Mehta
128 pages, 125 color illustrations
Publication Date: October 2, 2006
$25 hardcover, Vendome Press
Review by Diane Saarinen