Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. Loving Ganes’a: Hinduism’s Endearing Elephant-Faced God. Kapaa, Hawaii: Himalayan Academy, 1996. Paperback, 794 pages. Illustrated.
The big-bellied, elephant-headed god Ganesha is perhaps the one deity of the populous Hindu pantheon that has most often perplexed or intrigued Westerners. For many Hindus themselves, however, Ganesha is among the most beloved of gods. The reason is not far too seek. He is invoked as the great remover of inner and outer obstacles and is celebrated as a patron of the arts and sciences, and as the guardian of the age-old spiritual teachings embodying eternal truths. Ganesha’s power springs from the fact that he contains the entire universe within himself (in his massive belly).
Recently Ganesha caught the attention of the world press, including the New York Times, after he appeared to have temporarily suspended the obstacle of Nature’s laws. On September 21, 1995—the same day that the author completed the final editing on the present volume—a pious Hindu obeyed a dream and offered a small cup of milk to Ganesha at the local temple in New Delhi. To his and the priest’s astonishment, the stone statue of Ganesha sipped the offered milk. In the following days, numerous other similar cases were reported from Hindu homes and temples around the world, some witnessed by larger groups of people. Devotees at the Ganesha temple in Edmonton, Canada, reported that in a period of a little over two days the elephant-headed god’s statue imbibed nearly eight gallons of milk. In Kenya, 15,000 people made milk offerings in a similar period at one temple alone, apparently with equally astonishing results.
The author mentions how Ganesha has appeared to him and some of his disciples in visions many times and that Ganesha is a real being who, moreover, is truly benevolent.” Worship of Him strengthens your memory, builds character and brings knowledge from the within. It also protects you from the lower forces.” Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami makes this recommendation with the authority of someone who has been a renouncer and yogi for half a century (he took samnyâsa at the age of twenty-two). He is widely acknowledged as one of the foremost spiritual leaders of Hinduism and as one of the principal architects of the contemporary Hindu renaissance.
Together with a team of disciples from his monastery in Kauai, Hawaii, he has produced a magnificent volume matching in vision and comprehensiveness, as well as beauty of design and user-friendly language, his earlier 1043-page work Dancing with S ‘iva. As in the case of the earlier work, Loving Ganes’a is packed with information not only about the elephant-headed god but Hinduism in general, notably the Shaiva tradition to which the author belongs. As such, this insider’s compendium can serve as a convenient introduction to Hindu religion and culture as a whole.
Shri Subramuniyaswami writes about the nature of Ganesha, his sacred symbols, his thirty-two iconographic forms (all illustrated), his various mantras, prayers, invocations, and songs dedicated to the god, as well as his ceremonial worship and sacred festivals. One of the more interesting chapters is on the five powers ( shakti) of Ganesha, which can come alive in those worshiping this deity. The first power is the devotee’s love for his or her immediate family. The second power is his or her love for more distant relatives, friends, and neighbors. The third power is love extending to all beings in the world. The fourth power of Ganesha manifests in the devotee’s love for cultural refinement and creativity. The fifth power is an overwhelming love for Ganesha, expressing itself in many ways—from states of self-sufficient bliss to charitable work for others.
There are also extensive chapters dealing with Ayurveda, vegetarianism, and conversion to Hinduism. Because the book is meant to stimulate the actual practice of Hindu spirituality, it also includes items that will appeal to the whole family, such as Ganesha puzzles and an A to Z of Hinduism.
Yoga students in particular will find the early chapters fascinating, which discuss Ganesha’s astonishingly rich symbolism. Mythology regards him as the first son of Shiva, the deity of yogis par excellence. Thus, not surprisingly, Ganesha holds special importance for yogis as well. In one of his forms, he is even called Yoga Ganapati, “Lord of the Yoga host.” In this iconographic form he is depicted holding a rosary, suggesting that he is engaged in mantric recitation. Ganesha is particularly associated with the mûlâdhâra-cakra, the lowest psychoenergetic center of the body, situated at the perineum. This is the seat of the mysterious serpent power ( kundalinî-shakti), which can be awakened and controlled through the grace of Ganesha, who is a master strategician. One of his symbols, found in that basal center, is the swastika (Sanskrit: svastika, from su “well” asti “it is”).
Not every Western reader will agree that Hinduism is “the greatest religion on Earth,” even though it is true that Hinduism is the oldest continuous religious/spiritual tradition on this planet and is more diversified (embracing) than any other religion. In any case, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami reassuringly states in the opening pages, “The Hindu truly believes that there is a single Eternal Path, but he does not believe that any one religion is the only valid religion or the only religion that will lead the soul to salvation. Rather, the Eternal Path is seen reflected in all religions.”
This profusely and beautifully illustrated work is the loving creation of a Yoga master whose mind and heart are steeped in the truths he writes about with great enthusiasm, faith, and a genuine desire to bring peace of mind and understanding to his readers. Loving Ganes’amirrors the Eternal Path through the finely cut prism of Hinduism and as such it will appeal to both Hindus and non-Hindus alike. It certainly should be on the bookshelf of every Indophile and Yoga enthusiast.
Originally reviewed © 1998. All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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