A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Japanese Ganesha

Last time we read about the female Ganesha. On the final day of Ganapati’s earthly visit, let us look at a ‘foreign’ Ganapati! Today, we will discuss the Japanese Ganapati, who is better known as Kangiten. Besides Kangiten, which means the God of Bliss, he is also called Shoten, i.e. a sacred god, or Binayaka (from Vinayaka), amongst other names.

It is interesting to note that according to the Japanese, Binayaka is the creator of obstacles, and that is why he needs to be propitiated, unlike the Indian Ganesha, who is the remover of obstacles, Vighnaharta. However, one (probably pre-puranic) version considers the Indian Ganesha to be a threshold deity, who had to be propitiated at thresholds, like borders of villages, etc. to ensure that the commuters were not harassed for anything. This was considered to be one of the main reasons why Ganesha was propitiated before beginning anything, from travel to events to rituals. This theory has now been overlooked in view of the more sanitised version of the modern day Ganesha, being worshiped first due to a boon by Lord Shiva!

According to an ancient Japanese text, Subako-Doji-Shoman-Kyo, the Binayakas were known to create serious obstacles for the ascetics who tried to devote their lives to religion and religious practices. According to the text, Binayaka was known to create loss of sleep in ascetics, appearing in different evil forms and naked figures, skulls and bones in the dreams of the ascetics. All these were considered to be different forms of Binayakas which tried to disturb them and create obstacles for those who were trying to follow the religious path.

Besides the above, other obstacles created by the Binayaka were, causing various types of diseases, like increase in body temperature and some minor ailments, arousing unlawful desires like sexual desires, love for widows, hunger for meat and wine, making them arrogant, etc. Propitiation of Binayaka was mainly to overcome such obstacles

The worship of the Indian Ganesha is supposed to
have traveled from India to China where it became part of the Buddhist pantheon and then traveled further to Japan, where it gained prominence, as Binayaka. The most important form of this deity is the dual-Binayaka or the Embracing Kangiten, where both male and female forms are seen embracing each other.

There are different legends to explain the embracing Binayaka’s. Let us look at some of them.

According to one legend, a 17th century monk by the name of Kozam Tanki, couldn’t attain the ultimate truth, in spite of severe austerities. He then started praying to Shoten and uttered his mantra 18000 times a day. He had a dream, where he found himself pouring oil over a statue. He then saw himself taking bath, purifying himself and entering into a chamber which was decorated with jewels, with an altar on which was placed an idol of the embracing deities. A female deity appeared there and explained to him the two embracing deities were none other than the sun-goddess and the god Isangi. Later the monk devoted his life in the worship of the embracing Binayaka’s.

Courtesy - Wikipedia
According to another version, the King of Marakeira had an odd habit of eating only beef and radish and that too in very large quantities. Soon the population of cattle diminished in the kingdom, and so he took to eating human flesh and reached a stage where he could not spare even dead bodies. Seeing this people were terrified, and together with the soldiers attacked the king who fled into the skies. In the absence of the king, there were calamities and epidemics which were the doings of the Binayaka. The people prayed to Kannon (Avalokiteswara, a Bodhisatva), the eleven-faced deity, to save them from the predicament. Kannon disguised as a female Binayaka, seduced the King and brought him to mend his ways and the embracing Binayakas are the representation of the King and Kannon.

Another version says that Daijizai-ten (Mahesvara) and his wife Uma had three thousand children, half of which were benevolent and were under the command of his son, Senanayaka (Kartikeya) and the other half were wicked under the command of Binayaka. The people were tired of the troubles by the Binayakas and prayed to Kannon, who then took the form of a woman and aroused the passion in Binayaka and convinced him to follow the righteous path.

A slight variation to the above says that Senanayaka was born as a female child and was an incarnation of Kannon. She managed to pacify the agitated mind of Binayaka by her pleasing habits. The two of them ultimately unite as a brother-sister couple to give rise to the twin Binayaka form.

One of the most famous temples of Kangiten is the temple of Hozan-ji in Japan. He is regarded as the protector of temples and amongst the offerings made to the deity are radishes and rice-wine (sake).

It is important to mention that there is a strong sexual-connotation to the embracing deity, even though we have seen in the last instant as the couple being brother-sister. This sexual connotation was during the tantric influence in Buddhism. However, with rise of the Confusion philosophy, the idols or the statues of the embracing Binayakas were kept behind closed doors or were kept under linga-kosa or phallic covers. The worship didn’t quite cease and it is said that women bow to such idols to seek blessings of children from them, while geishas seek the blessings of active flow of clients at their place!

Legends apart, an interesting metamorphosis of one of the most popular and favoured god of the Hindu pantheon.

NB. Some references have been taken from ‘Ganesha – The Remover of Obstacles’ by Shantilal Nagar.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Female Ganesha

On the eve of the ten day Ganesha festival, I found that I have written quite a bit in my earlier blogs on Ganesha and different stories related to him. That left me with very little on write on him, till I came across and interesting aspect of Ganesha, i.e. the female Ganesha, variously referred to as Vinayaki, Ganeshani, Vighneshwari, etc. all taken from the male names of Ganesha.

(Courtesy: www.kamakotimandali.com)

There are different versions to this and let us try to understand them and the concept behind it.

A simplistic explanation of this could be from the goddess Malini, the elephant headed goddess. According to some versions, Malini had drunk the bathwater of Parvati, and given birth to a five-headed elephant child, which was claimed by Parvati to be her child. Later, Shiva intervened and severed four heads to make it Ganapati and declared the child to be that of Parvati. Some versions say that though given birth by Parvati, Ganesha was nursed by Malini, and thus the female version is none but a more deified version of Malini.

Another interesting version says that once an asura named Andhaka, tried to take Parvati by force to make her his wife. When Parvati cried for help, Shiva appeared and struck him with his trident. However, Andhaka had a boon that from every drop of blood spilt on the ground another Andhaka would be created. Parvati then invoked all the forms of shakti of all the gods. So, on her calling, Indrani (of Indra), Vaishnavi (of Vishnu), Brahmani (of Brahma) etc. turned up and absorbed all the blood before it touched the ground. Finally, it was left on Vinayaki (the shakti of Ganesha) to drink up the entire blood, which killed Andhaka. This act is acknowledged in the form of Vinayaki Chaturthi, celebrated on the fourth day after the new moon, i.e. Shukla Paksha, of every month as per the Hindu calendar.

The principle of shakti is one of the most common explanation given for the female form of Ganesha. This however should not be seen as his wife/s, as is prevalent in the other forms of shakti of the other gods, as Ganesha’s wives all go with different names (for more, read http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.in/2010/09/ganesh-marriage.html ; http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.in/2013/10/kala-bou-or-banana-bride.html ;).

This female form seems to have gained prominence with the rise of the tantric sect around the 16th century. This sect believed that the female form represented the reproductive powers which enabled the perpetuation and nurturing of life, while the male form was responsible for implanting of the life only. Thus according to these followers, the power to generate was more venerable and thus they worshiped the female avatar of Ganesha as against the more popular male version.

Ganeshini as part of the 64 Yoginis

Another theory says that Vinayaki is part of the 64 Yoginis, (Chausath Yogini) or a part of the sapta-matrika, the seven-mothers. The presence of such sculptures in the Yogini temples of Bhedaghat (Madhya Pradesh), Giryek (Bihar), Ranipur Jharial (Orissa), and some such temples in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and even Sri Lanka, only lends credence to the female form being a part of the Yogini cult.

Bheraghat, Madhya Pradesh

The representation of Vinayaki or Ganeshi is similar to the popular forms of Ganesha, however the presence of breasts and the lack of tusks are the major differentiators.  A few are also shown her wearing a red saree, giving it a distinct female look.

Next, we will look at another unusual form/representation of Ganesha! Till then, keep reading…….

Monday, August 18, 2014

Death by Deceit

On the occasion of Janamashtami, the birthday of Krishna, I would like to discuss an important allegation leveled against him in the epic Mahabharata. These views are not subjective opinion shrouded in devotion; rather, these are objective views of a rank rational, if there was one!

In the epic, Mahabharat (Mb), the deaths of Bhishma, Drona and Karna are all seen as acts of treachery by Krishna. The perception is that these deaths were unethical and against all norms of war and also the fact that none of the Pandava’s wanted to kill them under the said circumstances. They were made to resort to such unethical means at the behest of Krishna.

Was this fair? Was it moral? Was it ethical?

To put this in perspective, Mb was not about right or wrong or black and white, instead, it teaches that life is grey. Defining the grey is not easy because it is deeply rooted to the context. Every character has a shade of grey and that is what makes him or her closer to a human being. S/he was a combination of strengths and weaknesses and thus consequences.

While the said deaths are seen as injustices in the particular episode of the war, one should also see it along with the innumerable injustices meted out on the Pandavas that had taken place before the Kurukshetra, like the incident of lakshagraha, malpractices in the dice game leading to exile and that too with unfavourable conditions, Draupadi’s insult, not giving the Promised Land after 13 years, to mention some of them. The lives of the Pandavs had been spent more in jungles than the palace which was their rightful home. The war itself was not of equals – the Kauravas had a much bigger army, than that of the Pandavs. However, the deaths of the heroes were not to be seen as a tit-for-tat justice system.

In the ‘killing’ of the said ‘heroes’ there was no ill design. Such decisions were taken in what is better understood in management parlance as ethics of the emergency situation. Ethics of emergency situation implies ethical decisions which have be taken in dire emergencies. Emergency is better understood as crisis or an urgent situation. This ethics of the emergency situation in this case was keeping the greater good of society in view, and certainly not for personal gains. The deviation from the norm, was not really for any personal benefit here at all, including saving of lives. Krishna resorted to the ethics of the emergency situation in getting all of them eliminated (not killed) toward the greater good of humanity, through means that are questionable outside of the context. They were all, by the way, associated with an unjust cause, and had serious personal flaws in their characters.

Bhishma was myopic in his ‘serving the throne’. The focus on saving the throne was so strong that he could not see anything beyond it. He had a very myopic definition of his existence and a life whose virtues had serious ramifications, which in the larger interest were being misused by the perpetrators of evil. Drona was guided by first an initial enmity with Drupad and then the future of his son. Both were personal agendas, and he did not have any serious affinity for either the Kauravs or Pandavs. A teacher of his stature who had much in his power and capabilities was unfortunately driven by narrow considerations of life. Karna, a hero in the truest sense of the word, was a misplaced hero. His entire life was a quest for recognition, which made him fall slave to a person who had nothing right on his side. His need to repay debts was so strong that it became his sole objective of life.

Were any of these heroes fighting a war of ethics and morals and was their objective to fight a just war, when all in their hearts knew that the cause of the war itself was flawed? What significant efforts were made by each one of them to avoid or stop the war, especially when each one of them was in his own way strong and could have insisted on stopping the war, by just not willing to participate in the war?

Pandavs needed justice to regain all they had lost, after paying a heavy price for their mistakes and Krishna was guided here by the consideration of dharma which had been taken to a different dimension altogether. In the accepted interpretation, the ethics of the emergency situation notwithstanding, truth was by and large given an unconditional status. Krishna’s major motivation was to establish a sense of dharma and satya in the world to come. Did Krishna resort to indulging in ‘lies’ (as many call it) anywhere in the epic except in the specific case of Kurukshetra? Nowhere has Krishna advocated duty for the sake of duty, not without consequential consideration, though certainly without selfish motives. If efforts to establish dharma and satya were selfish motives then he surely had been selfish, lied and committed injustice. But ponder here – never has a lie been uttered anywhere. What was uttered was untruth. Lies are spoken with selfish motives, but an untruth need not have selfish motives.

Here I am reminded of an episode from American Civil War. When General Sherman had decided to burn down Atlanta, his Commander was shocked and wrote to him to stop it. The General is supposed to have told his Commander, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it”. According to him a war has its own logic and momentum once it begins. It inevitably escalates, and you cannot blame the soldiers and generals for the killing, sometimes mindless. You can only blame those who started it.1 Nothing could be different in Kurukshetra too!

A close look of the epic will reveal that an austere and an unforgiving streak of dharma appeared to run through the epic. If good people are not allowed to win by any means, and if they had to fight justly, then one must be prepared to face the fact that they might lose. There was no guarantee that truth and goodness would prevail in human history. The Pandavas then would have had to accept this and wait, for another day. The outcome of the entire world would have been so different if the most important thing then was to just fight fairly. Since they did not and fought the way they did, they failed in their individual dharma, but managed to uphold dharma at large.

Needless to say that they were punished too with none of them allowed to ‘live happily ever after’. Even Krishna and his community faced elimination and died a bitter death. A big price to pay on the part of the Pandava’s and Krishna for eliminating all that stood for wrong and erroneous and establish the rule of the right and just.

What do you think?

1 The Difficulty of Being Good – By Gurcharan Das

Image courtesy - http://www.stephen-knapp.com/krishna_print_onehundredsixtyseven.htm