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Vinayaka Chaturthi Celebrations at Prasanthi Nilayam

Indian culture believes in the concept of pantheism - God can be identified with all the forces of nature and with all natural things. That is why our ancients worshipped trees. People worship snakes and elephants and our Indian mythology speaks volumes to testify this fact.

Among the Indian gods and goddesses, Vinayaka is given the prime place. Vinayaka has an elephant head and the body of a human. How Vinayaka assumed such a form is explained in the scriptures. Please read on for details …

Who is Vinayaka?
One who has no Nayaka (master) above him is Vinayaka. He is the master of all. Hence, we offer our prayers to him before commencing any activity. He is also called Vighneshwara or Vighnahartaa, the Lord of and destroyer of obstacles. People mostly worship Him asking for Siddhi, success in undertakings, and Buddhi, intelligence. He is also the God of education, knowledge and wisdom, literature, and the fine arts. The elephant-head of Ganesha is a symbol of intelligence, discrimination, and wisdom. The elephant is ever alert and eminently conscious of its surroundings. Its memory is strong and deep. It trends through thick forest imprinting huge foot marks on the track. One such print can subsume the marks left by other animals, both wild and tame. It moves majestically through. It is a path maker, helping others without being aware of it, because it is its nature.

The essential purpose of the Vinayaka Chaturthi festival is to teach a person to avoid the company of bad people and cultivate the company of the good. What does the term Ganapathi signify? ‘Ga’ means Buddhi or intellect, ‘Na’ means Jnana (Wisdom). ‘Ganapathi’ means one who is the Lord of the intellect and of wisdom. He is also the Lord of all Ganas (spiritual entities). Ganas also symbolise the senses. Ganapathi is thus the Lord of the senses.

Story of Ganesha’s origin
Perhaps the most popular story regarding Ganesha's origin is the one derived from the Siva Purana. Mother Parvati once wanted to take an oil bath and created a boy from the wheat flour She had applied on Her own body, asking him to stand as a guard outside while She bathed. In the meantime Lord Siva returned home to find a stranger at His door, preventing Him from entering. In anger, Siva cut off the boy's head, upon which Parvati was stricken with great grief. In order to console Her, Siva sent out His troops (Gana) to fetch the head of anyone found sleeping with his head pointing to the north. They found an elephant sleeping thus and brought back its head. Siva then attached the elephantine head to the body of the boy and revived him. He named the boy Ganapati or commander of His troops, and granted Him a boon that anyone would have to worship Him (Ganesha) before beginning any undertaking.

There is another legend explaining Ganesha’s origin: Once upon a time there was an Asura (demon) named Gajasura. He performed a penance. Easwara, pleased with his penance, offered him as a boon whatever he desired. Easwara is a deity who is easily propitiated. Hence he is known as Bhola-Sankara. When he is pleased with a devotee, He gives the devotee whatever he asks. Sometimes He gets into a ‘difficult’ situation, as in the case of Bhasmasura who was granted by Siva the boon to turn into ashes anyone on whose head he placed his palm. Immediately after getting the boon he wanted to test his power by trying to place his hand on Siva’s head itself!

What was the boon Siva gave to Gajasura? The demon desired that fire should go forth from him continuously so that no one dare approach him. Siva granted him the boon. Gajasura continued to do penance and Siva used to appear before him off and on. Once Siva asked him what he wanted. The demon said: "I want you to dwell in my stomach." Siva granted the boon and lodged himself in the demon’s stomach. Siva’s consort Parvathi, searched for Siva everywhere and could not find Him. As a last resort, she went to her brother, Vishnu, and appealed to Him to trace the whereabouts of her husband. The all - knowing assured her; “Don’t worry, dear sister. Your husband is Bhola - Sankara. He grants readily whatever boon his devotee prays for, without considering the consequences. I suspect that he must have got into some trouble. I shall find out what has happened.”

Vishnu, who is the director of the cosmic play, staged a small drama. He converted Nandi (Siva’s bull) into a dancing-bull and led it before Gajasura, while himself assuming the role of a piper playing music on the pipe. Gajasura was in ecstasy over the dancing performance of the bull: He asked the piper (Vishnu) what he wanted. The piper replied: “Can you give what I ask?” “What do you take me for? I shall readily give you whatever you ask.” The piper said: “If that is so, release from your stomach Siva who is dwelling there.” Gajasura then realised that the piper was none other than Vishnu Himself, who alone could know the secret of Siva’s presence inside his stomach. He fell at the feet of Vishnu, released Siva from his stomach and prayed to Him for a boon. He said: "I have been blessed by many boons from you. My last request is that all should cherish my memory by worshipping my head after I pass away." Siva thereupon brought His son and placed Gajasura’s head on him.

Ever since, the tradition has prevailed in Bharat that, every auspicious function of any kind commences with worship of Ganapathi. It was the result of Siva’s boon to Gajasura.

Vinayaka’s Story
Vinayaka Chaturthi function is not complete without the narration of Vinayaka’s story. It is said that anyone who looks at the moon on the night of the Ganesh Chaturthi will be falsely charged with theft or a similar crime. If someone inadvertently sees the moon on this night, he/she may remedy the situation by listening to (or reciting) the story of the Syamantaka jewel.

Briefly, Satrajit, who secured a jewel syamantaka from Surya, did not part with it even when Krishna the Lord of Dwaraka, asked for it saying it would be safe with Him. Prasena, the brother of Satrajit went out hunting wearing the jewel but was killed by a lion. Jambavan of Ramayana fame killed the lion and gave it to his son to play with. When Prasena did not return, Satrajit falsely accused Krishna of killing Prasena for the sake of the jewel. Krishna, in order to remove the stain on His reputation, set out in search of the jewel and found it in Jambavan's cave, with his child. Jambavan attacked Krishna thinking Him to be an intruder who had come to take away the jewel. They fought each other for 28 days, when Jambavan, his whole body terribly weakened from the hammering of Krishna's fists, finally recognised Him as Rama.

As repentance for his having fought Krishna, Jambavan gave Krishna the jewel and also his daughter Jambavati in marriage. Krishna returned to Dwaraka with Jambavati and the jewel, and returned it Satrajit, who in turn repented for his false accusation. He promptly offered to give Krishna the jewel and his daughter Sathyabhama in marriage. Krishna accepted Satyabhama as His wife but did not accept the jewel.

Vinayaka Chaturthi at Prasanthi Nilayam
This festival is celebrated all over India and even in the overseas in a grand manner. Huge idols of Vinayaka made of clay are placed in a Pandal and elaborate Pujas (worship) are performed every day till the idol is taken for immersion. In Prasanthi Nilayam too, Vinayaka Chaturthi was celebrated on 7th September 2005 with all grandeur and exuberance. Devotees in large numbers had gathered in Sai Kulwant Hall to have a Darshan of their Lord on this festival day. Bhagawan came to the Hall for Darshan at 7.55 a.m. and took a full round of the Hall. At about 8.40 a.m., on Bhagawan’s instruction, the students sang Ganesha Stotras and group songs. Bhajans followed soon after that. After Arati, Bhagawan retired to His abode. In the evening, the devotees were doubly blessed since Bhagawan came for a full round of the Hall in the car and then again He went round the Hall blessing the devotees. One should see the mirthful faces of the devotees and students; everyone was craning their necks to behold the beautiful form of the Lord – to treasure this blissful form in their hearts. After Bhajans, Bhagawan retired for the day. Prasadam was distributed to everyone both in the morning and evening.

Clothes and Watches Distribution
8th September 2005 was a red-letter day in the lives of sub-staff rendering service in different departments of the Ashram, Institute and Schools. In a solemn function held in Sai Kulwant Hall, they were blessed with clothes and watches by Bhagawan. If there is cleanliness and order in the precincts of Prasanthi Nilayam and various institutions, it is because of this dedicated band, who works tirelessly day in and day out. It was a pleasant surprise for them, when Bhagawan after giving Darshan to devotees, went straight and moved around, collecting letters and speaking before taking His seat in front of them. What followed was an unforgettable session. Two seniors from the group offered their gratitude on behalf of the entire group, speaking about all that Bhagawan has done for them over the years. The first to address the audience was a senior worker from the accommodation office, who addressed the gathering in Telugu. He became nostalgic recounting the Prasanthi Nilayam of those days and how the Ashram has expanded and undergone rapid change. He was full of gratitude to Bhagawan for protecting him through the thick and thin of his life. One after the other, they came and recounted their experiences extempore. Simplicity and their infinite love for Bhagawan were writ large on their faces. Many of them spoke with moist eyes while expressing their heartfelt gratitude to Bhagawan. One of them even sang Bhagawan’s composition “Rama Kodanda Rama …” melodiously which was well appreciated by Bhagawan. After the speeches, Bhagawan Himself distributed clothes and watches to both ladies and gents with His Divine Hands. At the end, Prasadam was distributed to all of them. After Bhajans and Arati, Bhagawan left for His Divine Abode.

Students receive the blessings of Bhagawan before the idols were taken for immersion
On the afternoon of 9th September 2005, students from the Institute, School, Ashram and Hospitals brought Ganesha idols in specially decorated vehicles to Sai Kulwant Hall. The Ganesha idols were taken for immersion on this day. Each institution was given a slot and the vehicles were neatly arranged in the Hall. As Bhagawan entered Sai Kulwant Hall, every institution had two or three representatives holding fruits and sweets in trays. Bhagawan asked the car to be stopped near each of them and blessed the students and the items in the tray.

Words are inadequate to express the ingenuity and innovativeness of the students. The vehicles were made of different shapes and sizes like swan-shaped, lotus-shaped, representing musical instruments, vehicle in the shape of dove, dolphins making acrobatic dives, in the shape of a Chinese temple (Pagoda), etc. Some of them were as huge as the height of Sai Kulwant Hall. After Bhagawan sat in His chair, he asked the students and staff to circumambulate the Prasanthi Mandir. As each group passed Bhagawan with their small Ganesh idols, Swami showered His benedictions on them. Before leaving Sai Kulwant Hall for immersion, Bhagawan asked the vehicles to be brought in His view and Arati was performed in front of each decorated vehicle by the Mandir priest. The students and staff had another wonderful opportunity to have the Darshan of Bhagawan in close quarters and receiving His blessings. As Veda chanting continued in Sai Kulwant Hall, the students and staff towed away their vehicles, singing Bhajans and chanting Vedas. The neatly decorated vehicles with Ganesha idols were then taken out of Prasanthi Nilayam premises for immersion. Thus, ended the grand celebrations of Vinayaka Chaturthi festival at Prasanthi Nilayam.