(Pic courtesy http://www.harekrsna.de/ganesha/ganesha.htm)
Vinyaka. Vigneshwara. Mangalmurti. Such a beloved, benevolent god, our Lord Ganesha. And as is with one so dear, he is a familiar God and there is much that we know about him. Beloved son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, elder brother of Kartikeya and has quite a sweet tooth…er, tusk. (Some say that the modak represents the sweetness of the realized soul.) That the Mahabharata would not have been written if it was not for our Ekadanta. That without his “okay”, not much ever gets done….
And there are some other things that are not so familiar about Him. That he has 2 consorts – Buddhi and Siddhi. That amongst his 32 forms is one in the posture of a yogi (Yoga Ganapati) and another in that of dance (Nritya Ganapati). Two beautiful idols of Nritya Ganapati are in 900-year-old Lakshminarasimha temple in Nuggihalli, Karnataka and in the famous Jagannatha Temple in Puri. That among the fruits found held in his many arms (going upto 16 in Viraganapati!) are the jackfruit, the rose apple and the pomegranate. That he sometimes also rides a lion. And what is also not so well known is the reason why he favours a mouse as his mode of transport. (Or rat, because it is only English that differentiates a rat from a mouse. Our Indian languages are more accommodating – so mushika, chooha, eeli, yeli could be both a rat or a mouse.)
It does make you sit up and wonder a bit, does it not? I mean, would it not be more befitting for He that can fit the entire universe into His stomach, the mighty Lambhodara to have a grander, more personable or at least a slightly larger creature than a mouse? (Or a rat.) Should not the Siddhivinayaka, the Buddhinatha, the Vigheshwara be riding a steed more impressive?
But here’s the thing. In the Indian (and I think the Eastern) perspective of things, creatures are viewed slightly differently to the Western perspective. That all creatures have the capacity for both the gross and the divine. (And that includes us humans!) So, a boar is can be an avatar of Lord Vishnu, a monkey a God, a crocodile the vehicle of Varuna, bees can be marshaled to form Kamadeva’s bowstring and a fish can imbibe divine knowledge to become a great sage. The rhino and the goat can be emblems of the 11th the 17th Jain titrthankaras. And a scorpion, a dog and a frog can inspire yogasanas. And Lord Ganesha can turn Himself into a crow. Which is how the river Kaveri came into existence….
It was an exceptionally hot summer in South India and to ease the parched land, sage Agastya went to Lord Shiva for some holy water. Shiva put Kaveri – who was worshipping him at the time – into Agastya’s kamandala. But Lord Indra wasn’t pleased by this and asked Lord Ganapti to somehow upset the kamandala. Which He did by turning into a crow and sitting on the rim of the kamandala to overturn it. A quarrel erupted between the “crow” and Agastya. So Lord Ganapati revealed himself, blessed Agastya and filled his kamandala with holy water. Which Agastya then distributed among the devotees and that became the river Kaveri…. (Source : Puranic Encyclopedia by Mani Vettam)
But back to the mouse. (Or the rat.) Both rodents are low in the animal pecking order. One a timid, timorous creature of pity, the popular choice for laboratory experiments, the other a pest, an object of disgust and aversion, a self-serving creature that lives in the sewers, carries diseases and deserts your sinking ship. Why would such a creature be the great Ganesha’s SUV? Because those are only some of the aspects of the rodent – the not so nice ones. As the great Ganesha’s choice of vehicle, it symbolizes something very different. And here are some of the interpretations….
That in the eyes of the Creator, the biggest and smallest of creatures are equally important. That the mouse’s ability to move quickly, even in the dark, represents the grace of Lord Ganesha which can go into the smallest, darkest nook and cranny. And the slightly less charitable one - that the mouse, a creature of the dark, signifies that which can leads man from darkness to light. Or that its ever darting self, whiskers always a-twitch in search of a choice morsel, represents our wandering, wayward mind, lured always and only by pleasure. And when Lord Ganesha rides it, it signifies the conquest of that whimsical mind by His grace.
But, I’d like to think that the other reason for the mouse (or rat) being Lord Ganesha’s vahana lies in an Aesop’s fable that I never tired hearing from my father when I was a child….
He was the king of the jungle. A glorious, golden, fiercely magnificent beast, who could silence the entire jungle with one mighty roar. And to tell you the truth, the lion fancied himself quite a bit as king material. It was for not for nothing that I’m the Kingy, he’d think as he spied his gorgeous reflection in a jungle stream while practicing his daily roar scales. Who else had eyes that glowed like molten gold, melting the darkness of the night? Who else had such a fabulous tail that swished to and fro in such stately grace? Who else had a mane as splendorous, flowing out all around his face like tongues of yellow fire? Who else could pin down a deer with just one cruel paw or polish off 35 kg of zebra meat in one sitting? And who else had a such a roar, rolling like thunder through the very soul of the jungle…..
And so Kingy the lion ruled the jungle, mostly by the rule of roar.
One afternoon, too hot even to blink, Kingy lay bored, thinking how he was going to go through the dratted heat when suddenly a tiny mouse (or rat, maybe?) had the temerity to scamper past the royal line of vision. In cooler times, he would have ignored it. But now, he desperately needed to be amused and out shot a massive, bored paw and mouse was on its way to become a royal snack. When suddenly….
“Oh, please, please, Your Royal Highness….” Not only had the mouse dared to scamper across the royal line of vision, it also had the cheek to squeak, even as it teetered on the jaws of Death – literally. Naturally such daring surely deserved a fair hearing - which it got.
“Oh, please, Your Roaring Mightiness, please let me go.”
“And why in My Name would I do that?”
“Because, Your Golden Gorgeousness, I may be of use to you some day ….”
Kingy laughed so hard, he almost fell out of his mane. A mouse helping a cat? (After all, for all his grandeur, Kingy was a cat.) And a cat letting go of a mouse?!! But the sheer nerve of one so mousy both amused and impressed him. And so he let the mouse go….
A few weeks later, it was Kingy’s turn - to be caught. Too engrossed in practicing his 10-minute roar for the annual Royal Roarimpics (Kingy had won 2 golds in a row and looking for a hat trick), he did not see the hunter’s snare. And so, there he lay, caught in the hunter’s net, fretting and fuming - and if the truth be told - quaking from some very un-leonine fear. When suddenly, he heard a faint scampering. “Good evening, Your Tawny-ness.” Now where had he heard that squeak before? He looked to see. It was the mouse!
“I suppose you have come to gloat over me with some twaddle like Look, How the Mighty Have fallen. Well, gloat away. Every mouse has his day….”
“Every dog, Lord Thundereshwara. But I come not to gloat, but to help you.” (The mouse had the habit of borrowing freely from Shakespeare, a particular favourite.)
“Listen, I’m not really in the mood for your mousy…er, lousy jokes….”
“But I’m not joking, Your Highness. Watch.”
And as Kingy watched in amazement, the mouse got to work, snipping away at the ropes of the hunter’s net with his sharp little teeth. Before long, he had snipped enough of the ropes for Kingy to get out of the net.
“I don’t know what to say…”, muttered Kingy. Being grateful wasn’t something that came easily to kings.
“Nothing to say, Your Highness. You gave me back my life that day. I said I’d help you. So I did. We mice never forget. Now hurry up and get out.”
“ I thought it was elephants who never forget…” Kingy quickly scrambled out of the net and loped off. Mice, too, your Highness, and you are most welcome, thought the mouse as he watched the mighty King of the jungle disappear into it….
So, here’s what I think is the message from Lord Ganesha this year - in honour of his trusty mushika vahana. If you are a mouse (or think you are), don’t underestimate yourself. And if you are a lion (or think you are), don’t underestimate the mouse.
Mushikavaahana modaka hastha,
Chaamara karna vilambitha sutra,
Vaamana rupa maheshwara putra,
Vighna vinaayaka paada namasthe