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.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Short Story

One of my short stories (non-mythological!) has been published in Litizen (again not my Blog)! Do read and send in your comments!! Happy reading!
To read - click
The Lipstick-Stained Cup

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mahalaya Amavasya

Today is Mahalaya Amavasya, also known as Mahalaya, the last day of the Pitru Paksha (the fortnight for the ancestors) and also the final day to offer oblations to ones ancestors.  According to Hindu religion, the souls of the three preceding generations reside in ‘pitru-loka’ a realm between the earth and the heavens and governed by the Lord of Death, Yama. However, during the pitru-paksha, the souls come down to earth and hover around the homes of their descendants and it becomes imperative for the descendants to feed their hungry souls. One of the ways to feed them is to feed the poor, though feeding the crows (also considered to be harbingers of death) or cows is a ritual many follow during the fortnight.
Details and significance of the day can be read in my article “Mahalaya” dated 7/10/2010 in the link - http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.com/2010/10/mahalaya.html
However, I would like to delve into another aspect of Mahalaya which is very important. This day is also marked as an important day for daan or charity which is considered to be a virtue. Many offer food, grains, clothes, etc. however, the most important of charities is donating food to the poor. This aspect of donation has its significance in an episode from the epic Mahabharata.
Karna, in Mahabharata was a well-known philanthropist and was also referred to as ‘daanveer’ – the hero of charities. All his life he had donated great wealth in the form of gold and jewels and at a crucial moment, he even donated his kavach, armour and kundal, gold earrings, (both of which he was born with and made him invincible) to Lord Indra who asks for it as alms in the guise of a Brahmin. Though Karna was well aware that he would need then during the forthcoming war and could be the only saviour, and the fact that the Brahmin was none other than Lord Indra, he gave them up as they were asked for in the form of alms and he could never deny anybody, not in the least a Brahmin, alms as long as he could.
After his death when his wounded and tired soul reaches the heavens, the way to heavens is strewn all around with the riches of the world. When in heaven, there was no food for him, just gold and silver. When he asks Yama, as to why was he not given any food, he was told that all he ever donated was gold and silver and never offered any food and water, especially to his ancestors. Karna went on to say that he did not offer anything to his ancestors, because he didn’t know who his ancestors were. He then requested Yama to grant him permission to go back to earth and feed his ancestors, so that their souls could seek salvation. Since his sons had all died during the war and there was none to do the same for him, the least he could do was seek salvation for his ancestors. Yama agreed to his request and Karna is supposed to have visited the earth for a fortnight where he fed the poor and offered water to his ancestors. It is this fortnight which is now known as ‘pitru-paksha’ and Lord Yama is supposed to have decreed that anybody who offered charities during this period would be rewarded hundred-fold in his afterlife!
The day ends with heralding of autumn and the Devi-paksha, from when the nine days of Durga Puja or Navratri starts. The inauspicious period is over and from tomorrow starts the celebrations!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sati Savitri Naari (Woman)

Indian or Hindu Mythology is replete with examples of virtuous and devotional wives. Wives whose devotion was wholly and completely towards their husbands and their families and their entire existence was centered around the lives of their husbands. Wives who did not cater to their husband’s wishes or who expressed their individuality were generally depicted as negative characters. Let us begin with the good and virtuous.
The first example that comes to my mind is the myth of Savitri-Satyavan, which also gave us the phrase ‘Sati-Savitri. In the entire myth, Satyavan is a dead-body, but his name still finds a mention in the myth. I won’t discuss the myth in details, but what is important here is the character of Savitri. The entire myth is seen as a woman’s devotion towards her husband and how she pursues the god of Death, Yama, to get her husband back from death. The fact that Savitri was an extremely intelligent woman and gets the better of the powerful, unmovable god of Death through sheer determination and the gift of gab, has been totally missed by one and all.
Sita's Agnipariksha
The second character that comes to my mind is that of Sita. Here too, she is seen as a devoted wife, who does not question any act of her husband or in-laws. She does not even protest the charges leveled against her of probable infidelity and that too in public and finally leaves the comfort of the palace to raise two children in the forest all by herself, without even a word of complaint. In spite of such virtuosity, the modern man does not forget to comment on her naari-hath (womanly-tantrum), a reference to her insistence on Ram fetching the golden deer for her! Nor does one forget to mention her using her own mind of crossing the Laxman-rekha, which is what supposedly led to the entire battle! Wasn’t the battle between Ram and Ravan pre-destined?
This takes us the third character, that of Sati Ahalya (the entire myth and its symbolism can be found in the link http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html ). Sati Ahalya was cursed by her husband for having sex with Lord Indra, who had come in the disguise of her husband. The accusation was that a woman who did not distinguish between the touch of her husband and another man (irrespective of the guise) is no better than a stone! Modern-day feminists have written tons on this male-chauvinistic act, but that is it.
Besides the above, there are many women who have stood by their husbands, irrespective of their stand, be it Mandodari (Ravan’s wife) or Kaushalya (Dasharatha’s wife) or Urmila (Lakshman’s wife), all from Ramayana, like many other such women.
So what is behind these symbols of devotion and sacrifice? Was it a male conspiracy to send subtle (though some of them were hardly subtle!) messages to the women folk? Was this setting of social expectations from the women in terms of their roles and duties? Or was this again a statement that woman was just an aspect of man’s existence and everything around a woman was related to the man in her life, depending on the stage of her life, which was either a father, brother, husband or a son? A woman was what the man in her life expected her to be.
In spite of such qualities being ingrained in the modern woman, through rituals and katha’s, how much has such devotional aspects being imbibed?
The modern woman is no Savitri. Not that she would allow her husband to die, but if dead she would pick up the threads and move on in life, which is a sign of modern-day practicality. She is no Sita – in that she would not take a banishment lying down and nor would she stand wrong charges of infidelity and definitely not leave the husband and fend for herself. She would do all this, only after extracting a heavy price in the form of a legal suit, a probable out-of-court settlement and a fat alimony of course! Finally she is not an Ahalya too as she would not fall short of expressing herself sexually and would definitely press charges of impersonation and rape on Lord Indra and mental and marital torture on her husband. To take the myth of Ahalya further, she would even press charges of trespassing and ill-treatment on Lord Ram.
So which one is better, the archaic image of a devotional, suffering-in-silence woman or the woman with a mind of her own expressing every aspect of her individual self?
Your call!

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Poem

I have never taken contributions from anybody in my Blog till date.....
But this one I couldn't say no to....

Given below is a poem written by Mallica Patel, my 13 year old daughter; this has been written from the perspective of a man who is talking about his love......Read on........

I love thee do thy?

No, came the answer.
She left me alone standing under the sun
I ran and ran, but for miles my eyes could not savour her
My heart still throbbing with pain
I wanted to feel her presence one last time

But she had gone leaving me broken
My hands reached my coats pocket
Out came a ring, waiting to be worn.
But alas! The bearer had gone and so was my love

A tear trickled through my face which brightened up each time I saw her
My eyes were red, and heart full of sorrow
My ears craved to hear that giggle.
My hands for that Midas touch
My eyes for her lovely smile, which
was never going to come back
I wept for hours in my room, wondering  what went wrong?
Why did I lose her?

The next day, I saw, her  marriage procession from the doorway
She looked like the moon on the earth
Her glimpse was not cheerful  like before

I lay there the whole day,
But never opened my eyes again
I wanted not to see a world without my love

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Homosexuality and Mythology - Concluding Part

In our entire series, we have discussed the references of same-sex relationships in other mythologies. We will now see the treatment of the same in Hindu mythology.
Though there are no direct references of same-sex relationships, but change of sex or taking new forms to facilitate a union is not uncommon. This has heavenly sanction but has also been looked down upon at times. One of the most cited myths here is Shiva’s infatuation with Vishnu’s woman form, Mohini. The subject is under discussion, especially since Shiva is supposed to have known the fact that Mohini was none other than Vishnu himself and the Brahmanda Purana, has a reference to Parvati being ashamed of her husband’s act of pursuing Mohini. The sexual union leads to Mohini (rather Vishnu) getting pregnant and how ‘she’ gives birth to Ayyappa who is also known as Harihar-putra (son of Vishnu and Shiva). There is also a mention of Vishnu abandoning the child Ayappa in shame; this could imply that same-sex relationships were looked down upon, but the act cannot be denied.
One very important reference of same-sex relationship is mentioned in the Bengali version of Ramayana, better known as Krittibash Ramayan. According to this version when a well-known king of the Solar dynasty dies without leaving an heir, then Lord Shiva is supposed to have appeared to the two widows of the king and asks the two to make love, the union of which would bear a son who would then be the heir to the famous Solar dynasty. The widows do as told and one of the queens bear a son, who was boneless (according to some religious texts, in a child, the father’s contribution is bones and mother’s contribution is flesh and blood). Later with the blessing of the sage Ashtavakra (one who was bent from eight sides), the child was normalized and he goes on to name the child Bhagiratha, the one who was born from two bhaga (vulva). This is the same Bhagiratha who later on was responsible for bringing the river Ganga from the heavens after convincing Lord Shiva to bear the force of the river! There are many versions to this myth, but whichever version one refers to the basic crux of the myth remains same – a child by two women.  This can be seen as one of the many rare occurrences of same-sex relationship between two women.
An interesting variation of such relationships can be seen in the form of devotion in a certain sect of Vaishnavism. According to this, there is only one male, and that is god himself and all others are females. Love for god was the ultimate truth and thus many male devotees would profess their love and devotion to god in the form of Radha, the romantic consort of Krishna (or Vishnu). Many a suggestive couplet or bhajans have been written by men, professing their love to god in the form of Radha. Many modern day scholars see this as a form of homo-erotic expression of love, seeking religious sanction.
Examples of same-sex relationships are relatively rare in the Hindu mythology, because there are references of changing sex for the need of the moment and later regaining the original form. This could be to avoid depiction of same-sex relationships to ensure a single thought process to percolate down to the masses. This however, does not mean that such concept did not exist. This could be a subsequent interpretation by the later thinkers – which is a matter of debate. Temple architecture has detailed depiction of same-sex love and so does Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra. Was it looked down upon? Probably yes, but was it because it was same-sex? One can’t be too sure – and the reason could be, that sex according to Hindu texts, was only for procreation which was a duty, and any sex for enjoyment and pleasure was looked down upon. Looking down upon same-sex relationship could just be so, as it didn’t lead to any progeny and was more of giving vent to carnal pleasures. This is a major difference of opinion with the Greek mythology – there is no reference of a progeny in the Greek relationships and many of them existed out of pure physical attraction or pleasure, but the in the case of both the examples of same-sex relationship shown above in Hindu mythology, there is a child-birth.
To conclude, many have seen the series as being supportive of  homosexuality (the numerous comments written to me directly more than hinted at this). My support or opposition to the subject is immaterial and probably has no relevance either. The objective of the series was definitely not to be judgmental or be opinionated. My endeavour on the subject was only to highlight the various references in the mythologies of world, of a much (supposedly) ‘modern’ and at times a taboo subject. Mythology is seen by many as a ‘belief system’ of a culture. We understand any culture by studying their mythology which gives us an insight into their faith, believes and motivations of life. All I have tried to do is unearth references of such relationships, the way they were and the way they were seen, then. As my readers would have realized it, there is no explicit comment on the subject and no aspect of the same-sex relationship has been judged or brought under the scanner with any specific perspective.
With this I conclude the series.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Homosexuality and Mythology - Part 4

Till now we have seen the references of same-sex relationships in different mythologies like the Greek and other mythologies, besides the Biblical overtones of the same. Closer home, many of the Asian communities had references to homosexual relationships.
The Chinese mythology is replete with references to same-sex relationships among many gods and characters. It was also common to find dragons have sex with males in the myths. Chinese folklores too have many stories which openly discuss same-sex relationships and their history too has mention of such relationships, till the concept suffered in the hands of Western moralistic influence to the extent that today such relationships are looked down upon and is actually seen as a Western import!
According to the Japanese mythology, same-sex relationships were introduced by two gods, Shinu and Ama, who were the servants of Amaterasu, the Sun goddess. According to the myth, when one died, the other committed suicide and the two were buried in the same grave. The myth goes on that the Sun did not shine the next day, till the bodies of the lovers were exhumed and buried separately. However, there is no explicit material to prove that the homosexual overtones were the reason of the offence, if at all. Besides this, there are a number of references of same-sex relationships or changing of sex for any reason, like having relationship with certain characters or animals, is mentioned in the Japanese mythology.

This brings us to Hindu Mythology. Next time we will discuss references of same-sex relationships from Hindu Mythology. Keep reading …….

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Homosexuality and Mythology - Part 3

In the earlier part of the series, we have read about some well-known myths from the Greek Mythology. Let us see the treatment of such relationships from other mythologies –
Norse mythology does not have any specific references of homosexuality, as men were never expected to be a passive partner, which was looked down upon. However, one of the main gods by the name of Loki, the trickster, had the ability to change form or gender. According to one such myth, Loki changes into a mare and gives birth to a foal after a sexual encounter with a stallion. Though this might not be seen as a direct reference to homosexuality, but does hint at a lot more than just that!
A number of lesbian relationships exist in Hawaiian mythology. Mayan god Chin was associated with same-sex love, to the extent that the god was an inspiration for many a noble family to buy young men as lovers for their sons, thus lending a sense of legitimacy to such same-sex relationships through parental approval. Similarly, the Aztecs had Xochipilli as the patron god of homosexuals, which gives an indication of the existence of such alternate lifestyles and also had societal approval.
In the famous Sumerian epic, Epic of Gilgamesh, the two main characters, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are supposed to have a homosexual relationship. However, it is pertinent to mention that this view is purely of the modern scholars, since the remnants of the Epic do not indicate any such intimate moments or conversation, except for the fact that they were very close companions. This could have been due to the fact that two characters were quite similar in age and class and shared an open relationship – and modern outlook does not see things in its pure form.
Jonathan & David
The Bible too has oblique references to homosexual relationships between some characters, especially that of David and Jonathan.  Both David and Jonathan had wives, but they are supposed to have shared a ‘close friendship’. Jonathan’s father, King Saul, had serious reservations of Jonathan’s relationship with David, though, he did not object to giving one of his daughters in marriage to David. Some scholars have supposed that this dislike of David by Jonathan’s father could be due to the potential threat to his monarchy and offering a daughter in marriage could be more political, than anything else. At the same time many scholars have seen the relationship between David and Jonathan at a more Platonic level. Modernism has been more regressive than evolving in our thought-process and that is why what was earlier platonic, has now become gay-relationship. No explicit material is available, but some references have made modern scholars to ‘see things’ in a manner which is implicit!

St. Sebastian
This brings us the subject of St. Sebastian which is a very significant character under the present discussion. St. Sebastian is one of the oldest gay icons, in whom the modern artists saw a depiction of the pathos of a gay individual. His strong and muscular bare torso, with arrows pierced and blood dripping has been a near-true depiction of what the gay individual goes through in the modern society. His alternative preferences and his erotic desires are well portrayed by his tragic but homoerotic frame, as depicted by the artists while representing St. Sebastian, thus making him a modern-day gay icon.
Next time we will discuss some references of same-sex relationships from some Asian mythologies. Keep reading …….

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Homosexuality and Mythology - Part 2

Greek mythology is replete with references of relationships of same-sex. There are a number of references that can be given, like the relationships between Achilles and Patroclus,  Apollo and Hyacinthus, or some of the escapades of Zeus himself.
Zeus (as eagle) and Ganymede
Let’s take the case of one such relationship of Zeus. Ganymede was a handsome mortal and the son of Tros, the Lord of the Trojans. Tros loved his son so much that he ensured that he was brought up well under special tutors who taught him wrestling, riding and swimming amongst many of the sports. Once Zeus saw Ganymede from the heavens resting with his friends at Mount Ida and instantly fell in love with him and in the guise of an eagle, swooped down to the earth. He created a storm and turned the day into darkness and tenderly caught hold of Ganymede and flew away with him. Soon they reached the heavens, where Zeus took his original form and took him to bed. Soon all the gods were delighted with the looks of Ganymede and his presence and he was thus appointed the cup-bearer where he would serve wine to all the gods, not before pressing his lips to the cups before handing the cup over to the gods. Back on the earth, Tros was sad and sunk in sorrow, so much so that even Zeus felt sad for him. To make up for the loss of Ganymede, Zeus presented him with a pair of white mares who could walk on water, which filled Tros with the joy as he rode the mares! In the meanwhile, Hera, Zeus’s wife was jealous of this new found love of Zeus and she decided to destroy the Trojans (this is a different myth). Zeus who was enamoured by Ganymede decided to make place for him in the heavens and thus was put among the stars as Aquarius – the water bearer, who till date stands tall and handsome, pouring nectar!
Apollo and Hyacinthus
Another very important myth is that of Apollo and his mortal lover Hyacinthus, the son of the King of Sparta. Apollo was in love with Hyacinthus and the god would come down to the earth to spend time with his mortal lover, listening to music and indulging in boyish pastimes and learning gymnastics from Hyacinthus, an art form supposed to have been developed from the Spartans. During one such visit to earth, both of them applied oil to their glistening bodies and started to try out throwing the discus, where each tried to outdo the other, in throwing it higher and higher. Once Apollo threw the discus very high and the when the same came hurling down to earth, Hyacinthus was hurt in the head, trying to catch it. His head started bleeding. Apollo tried in vain but could not stop the bleeding and soon Hyacinth was dead. Apollo mourned and soon a red flower rose at the spot where Hyacinthus’s blood dropped and the flower was henceforth called the Hyacinth. Painters and scholars have depicted this story of love and death in full pathos, but the fact that this was same-sex relationship has never been denied like many others in the Greek Mythology.
Amongst many of the same-sex relationships there are mentions of a few like the relationships that Aphrodite has with other goddesses and there are references of her being identified as the patron goddess of lesbians. It would be pertinent to mention here that there are more references of gay relationships than that of lesbians. This however, could be explained by the fact that such myths were written/related/orated by men and from the angle of man in general. I wouldn’t ascribe this to anything beyond this.
There are many pictures of paintings and sculptures which have made the above and many other relationships artistically immortal, but due to the moral facade that modern human beings maintain, I am not uploading them. However, those interested and ask for them directly.

Next time we will discuss some references of same-sex relationships from other mythologies. Keep reading …….

Monday, September 12, 2011

Homosexuality and Mythology - Part 1

The theme of homosexuality in mythology is quite common. Many mythologies depict this as a sexual act in terms of same-sex relationships or myths which deal with the subject as it is. No mythologies deal with the subject as a taboo or unnatural, though the modern interpretation does say so. Mythologies of the world treat the subject as just another manifestation of erotic expression and don’t see it as a heterosexual or homosexual act.  Many scholars feel that it is the modern (or rather the Anglo-Saxon education and an influence of Victorian upbringing) outlook that views homosexuality in a ‘different’ manner. Mythology has dealt with the aspects of homosexuality (both gay and lesbian relationship), transgender and transvestites, etc. as just another aspect of a sexual expression – no value judgment was ever made. It is much later that people started interpreting them in their ways and influencing their thought-process on such myths.
Different mythologies have treated the subject in different ways. Some have dealt with the subject of homosexuality, transgenderism and homoeroticism without distinguishing them. Some have references to relationships of same-sex and bisexuality (and even bestiality!) while some have characters with both reproductive organs, and some see it as androgynous. The whole idea is that in some myths the subject might not have been discussed with such clarity of concepts that modern and evolved (?) man has made it out to be. The terms that we use now are modern expressions and it is we who now try to compartmentalize the terms and use it accordingly. Some have subtle references, while some have clear message – without being judgmental (at the cost of repetition).  
Majority of the creation myths have similar themes where the world and its first inhabitants have been created by genderless or hermaphrodite beings, a union between same or opposite genders. (I would avoid giving examples here as this would be a deviation from the theme under discussion).
Let us see how different mythologies have treated the subject and some of the common myths around the said theme.
Many mythologies see the aspects of homosexuality or gender-changes in human beings as acts (or rather errors) of gods. According to the Greek mythology, Prometheus (the god who made man out of clay and later was punished for giving man the gift of fire) was responsible for such gender variance. According to Aesop (of Aesop Fables fame) – Prometheus was making man and woman out of clay and was separately shaping the private parts to attach them later on to the appropriate bodies. Just as he was about to do so, he was invited for dinner. He came late from dinner and under the influence of divine wine, he is supposed to have stuck the female parts on men and vice versa! This is how Aesop explains why some men are effeminate while some females are more-manly and how ‘unnatural’ desires arise leading to ‘perverted-pleasures’!
Tomorrow we will discuss some references of same-sex relationships from Greek Mythology. Keep reading …….

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rechristening of West Bengal

West Bengal just got rechristened to a brand new vernacular name – Pashcimbanga (to be pronounced as ‘Poshchim-bongo’ with all the ‘o’s to be pronounced in different ways!). Just because the Bard of Avon once said “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet", one doesn’t have to take it so seriously! Ask any non-Bong and he would tell you which one is a rose and which one isn’t! This is just first one of the many stages of “poriborton” – or change, that Mamata-di had promised prior to the polls.
This change of name will ‘elevate’ the alphabetical position of the state to seven steps higher – from W to P!! Bravo……never read a reason for a name change more na├»ve than that. With that logic wouldn’t just a simple Bengal have elevated it to many more steps higher? But then since when did we start crediting our politicians with a sense of logic? Apologies for the error of judgment!
If this is the first step to poriborton, then this is a disaster and the fact that we have not learnt from such errors in the past. Mother Teresa Sarani is still known as Park Street in Calcutta…..oops Kolkata and the famous Netaji Subhash International Airport is still fondly remembered as Dum Dum Airport! Is that kinda dumb? So what, many more things are dumb that our elected politicians do. How many residents of Kolkata can tell me the new names of Camac Street, Canning Street, Amherst Street, Princep Street, and I can go on? By changing the names, have we erased the colonial past? During the 200 years of Imperial rule, the Brits have done many a good and can we respect some for those things? The Railway network, the underground sewage system, the Howrah Bridge, the numerous buildings which have stood the test of time (Victoria Memorial, the Writers Building and so on), the Mint, etc. What is the big deal in renaming all the streets, lanes and bye lanes if people are not going to call them by the new names? What an insult to the memories of all the local personalities!
I would think that it would be more important to focus on tangible change rather than such useless cosmetic changes, which will bring no relief to the Calcuttan (or is it Kolkatan?) The change that all of us are looking for is in the form of development and the image that the now-erstwhile West Bengal carries. I am told that some railway stations are now being painted in shades of green as part of the change-process to the present ruling-party colour from the previous red!
With due apologies to the Bard of Bengal, I can’t help but remember a very famous song written by him – here is the slightly changed version of the same – Aami chini-go chini tomare, ogo didi-moni, tomra neta hole akajer, tomra neta hole akajer, ogo didi-moni, ogo didi-moni !!
Recreated image of Writer's Building
Finally my sincere request to the powers-that-be – Please do not paint the Writer’s  Building, green. Leave it red, it was built that way!!

Monday, September 5, 2011


Last week was Ganapati Puja which marked the beginning of the ten day festival in Maharshtra. Last year during the ten-day Ganapati festival I had covered different facets of Lord Ganapati in details and all the articles are available in the Archives, or you can go through them through the following link – http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html
Like every year, the festival ends with various days of Visarjan, or immersion of the idols. After all the fanfare and the festivities, the idols are taken out in a procession and immersed in the sea. This is a ritual that is followed all over the country with all the idols that have been venerated, worshipped, and people go for such immersions with much joy and celebrations. In some parts of Bengal however, many women are seen shedding tears during the immersion of the Goddess Durga after the ten day festival of Durga Puja in Bengal. But this is because Goddess Durga arrives in Bengal as a daughter and the leaving of the daughter is always sad.
This leads to the basic question, why are idols immersed in water (river or sea)?
The arrival of any deity on such festivals is like the arrival of a new being. The entire process of the ceremony from the prana-prathishta to bhog to visarjan is akin to the human circle of life – birth, maturity and death. In Hinduism, death is not the end of the being, but is the beginning of another journey. Also, since gods don’t die, they just depart, immersion processions of idols become a cause for celebrations.  Also for mortals, after death, the ashes are immersed in the water, depicting the return to the basic elements. A visarjan is going back to where one came from. If we leave the modern ingredients (like plaster of paris, plastics, synthetics, etc.), the traditionally idols were made of clay. After visarjan, the clay idols are returned back to where they came from, thus maintaining an ecological balance. (Our forefathers, did not need lessons on ecology, and understood it just too well!)
To take the discussion of Ganapati’s visarjan further, as per the Puranas, Goddess Gauri (aka Parvati) made Ganapati out of clay, infused life in the clay model to make a son out of the same. During visarjan, the clay is just returned back to the mother earth, the universal symbol of Motherhood.
During the Vedic times, idols were made of clay and the immersion took place within one’s own wells and water-bodies. Since Ganapati is a harvest deity, immersing the idols in one’s own water-bodies ensured that the deity remained in one’s own land to ensure prosperity. But modern times do not provide for such rituals to sustain and thus people immerse in rivers and seas.
Many would here ask, then what happens to the idols which are made of metal and installed in the temples. The entire process of installations and the objective of such idols is different from that of the clay idols that are for temporary worship. Also, the deities need regular rituals if they are to be retained which is not possible at households and mandals. Temples can ensure the regularity of rituals and are thus made of materials with a greater permanency like metals, stones, marbles, etc.
Finally, on a lighter note, guests are welcome only when they stay for a limited period of time…..and so it is with gods and goddesses also! As a child, once I asked my mother – what is the big deal of offering prasad, i.e. offerings, to gods when they don’t eat? The answer I got was – if gods started eating all that people offered them, then people would stop offering to gods too! I guess the same is with the arrival and sending off of gods too!