Today we observe Sri Ganesh Chaturthi. The wonderful Bengali song, “Giri Ganesha aamaar shubhokaari” ends with this line “Suresha kumaar Ganesha aamaar | taader naa dekhile jhore noyona baari ” is being sung in the beginning of Durga Puja. “Ganesha be my auspicious. Ganesha is mine, Kartik, the son of Shiva is mine; If I dont see them, tears flow from my eyes.”
The day started with a special puja to Sri Ganesh in our temple. Devotees, by turn perform japa of the above-quoted mantra from 6 am to 6 pm on a relay manner. After the Puja, my mind started munching albeit nostalgically the childhood days when we would bring the image of Ganesh from the market the earlier evening. Oh! What an enthusiasm in holding Him, as Ganesh, in that small idol, appearing so cute and everyone in the family vie for each other in having Him in their hands.
We, as children would eagerly await the completion of puja so that we are served with tasty modakam, in Tamil, Kozhuk kattai stuffed with purnam. There used to be two varieties one sweet and the other savoury (ellu and usili ). After leaving Madras in 1970, I have not had the taste of it as I went on moving in North and Eastern India. And now in South Africa, Tamil devotees have not even heard of this term, not to speak of its preparation!
In Ranchi where I was stayput for long 12 years (a yuga, in local parlance), Ganesh Chaturthi was uneventful. However, I used to relish the news of the Puja getting extremely popular all over India in the last two decades and I remember how a Maharashtrian family once invited me for lunch on the Puja day and to our hearts’ content, besides the sumptuous meals, we discussed the importance of Ganesh Puja and how the veteran freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak began.
This happened in Ranchi. On one Ganesh chaturthi day during the noon break, I went strolling towards our school called ‘Vivekananda Vidyalaya’. The school was in recess and I found groups of pupils sitting together and enjoying their tiffin. I came near to one group of girls, studying in class IV. Among them one girl, a poor Munda Tribal, was not eating anything though the tiffin box was lying in front of her. Naturally my curiosity was aroused and I enquired her why she had not been eating while all others students were taking their tiffins.
She kept mum as these tribal girls do not speak out immediately. One trait I noticed with them was that to get an answer one had to repeat the question while with the non-tribals, you just ask once and you get ten answers! The tribals by nature are very timid.
I enquired whether somebody – one of the bullies – has eaten away her food. She nodded her head briskly to indicate that no such thing has happened. Then, what was the matter, why she was not eating, I persisted.
She stood up shyly and said that she herself had given to one of her friends. Why, I demanded to know, stating that how in the early morning, her mother had prepared so lovingly a tiffin for her and by giving away that to someone, would it not have hurt her mother’s feelings?
How foolish I was!
Sri Ganesha, in all His grace, wanted to give me the wisdom.
The child now spoke with determination: “Maharaj, my friend had not eaten anything in the morning before coming to school. Her mother is sick and her dad went out for work. But, I did have something to eat. So, I gave her my noon lunch so that at least my friend does no go empty stomach.”
It was hard for me to control my tears. That small girl has such a vast heart! How many of us can think of ‘others’, denying the comfort to ourselves? Did she not go out of her little ‘being’ and spread out to reach for her friend? If this is not Vedanta in practice, then what?
May Sri Ganesha give us all the ‘feeling’ for others!
Ethics always says, “Not I, but thou.” Its motto is, “Not self, but non-self.” The vain ideas of individualism, to which man clings when he is trying to find that Infinite Power or that Infinite Pleasure through the senses, have to be given up–say the laws of ethics. You have to put yourself last, and others before you. The senses say, “Myself first.” Ethics says, “I must hold myself last.” Thus, all codes of ethics are based upon this renunciation; destruction, not construction, of the individual on the material plane.