(Adapted from The Sublime Art of Pūjā course)
Many of us worship Gaṇapati every day, so why is Caturthī such a special time for Gaṇapati Pūjā?
First, we need to consider the auspiciousness of groupings of 4 in our tradition; the 4 states of consciousness, the 4 levels of expression, the 4 states of the self, etc. As Caturthī is the 4th day after the New or Full Moon, it is particularly favorable. Then, we know Gaṇapati resides in the mūlādhāra cakra, which has 4 petals. We also know he is associated with the seed sound ‘om’ and the bindu of om is particularly accessible on the 4th day of the new moon or full moon. That is why on Caturthī we honor Gaṇapati by doing pūjā.
Recall how Gaṇapati is the child of Śiva-Śakti as Prakāśa and Vimarśa. His name comes from ‘Gaṇa’ which means everything that has come into creation, all the tattvas, from the smallest to the grossest, and ‘Pati’ which means the Lord. From that, we can understand Gaṇapati as the ruler of everything we can possibly imagine.
In terms of esoteric significance, when we say Gaṇapati is the Ruler of the Gaṇas we are saying He is the ‘gatekeeper’ to the Pure Path. As gatekeeper, He resides in the mūlādhāra cakra and guards his Mother, Kuṇḍalinī Śakti. Even Śiva cannot enter, because She has asked Her son to let no one in and Gaṇapati will do whatever it takes to ensure Her protection.
So Kuṇḍalinī Śakti lies at the base of the spine and Śiva resides at the crown of the head. Kuṇḍalinī awakening is when, as issues are resolved, unblocked energy rises up from the mūlādhāra cakra and reaches the sahasrāra cakra where there is the union of Śiva and Śakti. However, kuṇḍalinī does not go in only one direction. There is also an awakening of the kuṇḍalinī from the sahasrāra cakra downward. Those who are unprepared for kuṇḍalinī awakenings can become very ungrounded and have all sorts of psychological issues, which is why we need Gaṇapati’s protection. We can see it as the struggle between Śiva, who is trying to gain access, and Gaṇapati who is trying to keep Him out because Kuṇḍalinī Śakti is not yet ready.
In terms of symbolism, Gaṇapati’s implements represent certain kinds of practices and groundwork that need to be done for kuṇḍalinī awakening to happen in a very harmonious way. Firstly, we need to cultivate discernment and non-attachment. If you look at Gaṇapati, in His upper hands He is holding a pāśa and an ankuśa. Pāśa is the noose that can reign in our desires and ankuśa is a goad that drives us toward the Pure Path, beckoning us to reign in all our desires and channel the energy towards this single great desire for liberation or svatantra.
What else do we need to awaken Kuṇḍalinī in a harmonious way? We need single-pointedness. So, if you look at Gaṇapati, He has only one tusk and that tusk represents single-pointedness. Here we remember the story of Gaṇapati who having eaten too many sweets during a celebration, falls off His little mouse on His way home and His stomach breaks open and all the sweets tumble out of His tummy. The moon is watching all this and laughs at him. Gaṇapati gets really angry and breaks off His tusk and throws it at the moon which makes it stop. In this story, the moon represents the mind, which is our biggest obstacle on the path. It’s constantly trying to interject itself and mock our process because it wants to remain in its familiar grooves. Like Gaṇapati, we need to still the mind.
Gaṇapati also is depicted with a very small mouth and enormous ears. When we invoke Gaṇapati, we learn to become very quiet. This quiet is both outward in terms of not engaging in useless conversations and cultivating a deep inner silence that quiets the continuous story of me. We can then begin to get to the root of the fundamental nature of everything by deep listening. Through continued discernment, we grow our ability to see things as they really are and to digest past traumas. Little by little as our capacity grows, our bellies figuratively become as enormous as Gaṇapati’s.
This ability brings us to the modaka, the sweets of rice flour, jaggery, and coconut that Gaṇapati holds in his hands and loves to eat. These symbolize the sweetness of the Path and how delicious life is when we re-align ourselves with the View, and with Reality. Gaṇapati reminds us that this sweetness is always available to us.
And no honoring of Gaṇapati is complete without reflection on muṣaka, his mouse companion. Mice are able to squeeze into all kinds of slippery, tight, and uncomfortable places, just as we need to be able to do within ourselves. They are cunning, clever, and they dig through crap to find nourishment. We too need to be able to find nourishment in everything!!!
Through this sādhanā of Gaṇapati, little by little we become like him. So on this auspicious day, we turn to him, thanking him for being our constant guide and clearing the obstacles we don’t need while showing us what obstacles we need to move through to embody him in every way.
Happy Gaṇapati Caturthī!