is so complex. I still do not understand it ", said Eesha, a young girl to uncle
Ashok. She was sitting at her computer. Seeing her uncle Ashok from the temple, she
immediately asked him about something that was puzzling her.
"What happened ?", asked Ashok.
"I go to the temple with my parents and we worship all
these idols. But I do not know why ?", She asked.
"We will talk about it. But I see that you have a new
Are you are going to give me a demo now ?", asked Ashok.
"Sure, I have already powered it on. This is the
monitor, this is the key board, and this is a mouse", said Eesha.
" It doesn't look like a mouse, except for the thin
tail like chord it has", noted uncle Ashok.
"Yes, that is why it is called a mouse. You can control
and operate the computer with it. You see all these small pictures, these are all
different programs. These pictures are called 'icons' and you 'click' on them to start
that program", Eesha informed.
"How interesting! Just like in your computer, the Hindu
'icons' or idols in the temple or in homes are also symbolic of higher values. These icons
also relate Hindu history. Just as the symbol of a pair of scissors on your computer is
symbolic for for 'cut' operation and the icon of 'glue bottle' is symbol 'paste operation,
or a paint brush or a spray can are symbols for paint or spary operations, so are Hindu
icons representative of values a person should aspire for and symbolic of the Hindu
history. Let us take example of Ganesh, the 'God of beginings' with an elephant's head
riding on a mouse", Ashok said.
"Yes, I wanted to to ask you about Lord Ganesh. How can
he ride a mouse ?", asked Eesha.
"A mouse is tiny, and can go every where without anyone
noticing it. It can be everywhere, but yet very small. Just like our mind. We don't
know where mind is located, and it seems to run everywhere", Ashok replied.
"So a mouse represents our mind!", Eesha concluded
"Correct!, and when Ganesha, the Lord of beginings
rides on this mind or controls it, then you can advance spiritually. Just as you use the
mouse to control and utilize the power of the computer, you must control and use the mind
to realize your power", Ashok explained.
"But why the elephant head for Ganesha ?", she
"Ganesha represents many things. His wide elephant ears
show he is 'Bahushruta'- widely knowledgible, and the ear's winnowing basket like shape
represents ability to separate essence from the fluff. Elephants of course are known for
great memory and intellect, hence the large head.
Even now one cannot find a robot which is capable of lifting something very heavy
(weighing a ton), and at the same time being capable of precisely lifting a tiny pin. But
an elephant's trunk can lift and uproot huge trees, and also sift and pick up a blade of
grass. So a trunk represents a sense of discrimination (Vivek) between gross (JaDa) and
subtle (sookshma). His small eyes represent ability to keep an 'eye' on tiniest
matter", said Ashok.
He continued, "Also the story of Ganesha's birth goes
as follows :
'Ganesha was created by his mother Parvati out of her 'sweat'. When Shiva, the supreme
Lord came, Ganesha refused to acknowledge Shiva. So Shiva removed Ganesha's human
head and upon Parvati's urging replaced it with an elephant's head. Let us look at the
meaning of this story:
When we work hard and accomplish something, we say "I have built this with my own
sweat". So accomplishments result from sweat and hard work, but usually that
increases our ego. We say "I did this". We even forget God. So in order to
progress on spiritual path, this 'ego ahamkar must be chopped off and replaced with an
elephant's head with the qualities of knowledge, memory, sense of discrimination,
"That explains about symbolism, but what about the
history?" asked Eesha.
"The Greek historians around Alexander of Macedonia's
(also called as Alexander the Great) time describe during his invasion of frontier
kingdoms of India in 327 BCE, his attack on Mousikanos. Later the King of Mousikanos
revolted against Alexander and was punished. Mousikanos is Greek description of a Sanskrit
word 'Mooshak' or mouse in English.
Thus Mooshak were a people. Similarly a coin dating 165 BCE of a King of neighboring
Bactria, called Dimitrius by Greek historians, shows a unique headgear, that of an
elephant's head. Around that time most Greeks in the region had adopted Hinduism or
Buddhism. Hence a possibility of his being a Ganesha follower exists. It is also possible
that Ganesha's unique form was used by the rishis to absorb into the Hindu fold the then
Greeks with similar headgear", Ashok replied.
"Very interesting, but why do we have all these
different symbols or icons? " Eesha asked.
"Eesha, in school you are being a student, on the play
ground you are a player, you are a sister to your brother, a daughter to your parents, and
so on. Do you act as a student with your parents ?
So are there many Eeshas. No. Similarly different icons in
Hinduism represent a different aspect OF THE SAME God.
His (or Her) creative aspect is called as Brahma, the
preserving aspect is called VishNu and the destructive aspect is called Shiva and so on.
You have the SAME computer which has a spreadsheet program, a word processor program and
communication or print program, and you use the same computer but use or invoke a
different 'aspect' or click on a different icon as you need. Similarly Hinduism represents
different aspect of the SAME God that you 'click' on to develop particular ability",
"Do you know when the computers initially came they did
not have the icons. Then the 'knowledgeable' programmers used 'long strings' of commands.
But it became difficult for common man to use. Hence the graphic representation or icons
came in. Similarly, in the begining Hindu rishis wrote hymns called Vedas, which do not
have icons. But later on icons were used so common people could learn and 'click' on this
knowledge", he added.
"Like me ?" Eesha asked.
"Yes, like you and me", Ashok replied.
"Ironically, even most Hindus get cought up in the
rituals and do not go beyond them. If you offered garlands and flowers to computer without
clicking on the icons, will you get a get any benefit ? Of course not ! Unfortunately,
most people mistakenly consider those who do ritualistic worship as 'devotees'. Just as by
using a computer you improve your efficiency and skills, 'clicking' on the true devotion
will improve your life."
"So Eesha, you now know that Hindu icons are symbols
and represent different aspects of the SAME God. They also represent various attributes
that we must develop. By clicking on the 'true' Bhakti or devotion and not just
ritualistic devotion, you can develop and utilize the great power within." Ashok
"Of course there are are those who reject symbols
completely and erroneously brag that they are being modern." He added.
"That would be like rejecting the computer
itself", Eesha added.
"So now let us get on with the computer
demonstration" they both said.
Please note that usually there are multiple (3 to 7) meanings and
interpretations for most Hindu literature and all these meanings are
VALID AT THE SAME TIME.
References for Ganesha's history -
1.Invasion of India by Alexander the Great as depicted by Arrian,
Plutarch, Justin etc, by J.W.McCrindle
2.The wonder that was India by A.L.Basham (for the Bactrian Coin )
For more information on Hindu symbolism please read
1. Symbolism in Hinduism - R.S.Nathan (Editor), Chinmay Mission
(Also available thru Vedanta Press, CA)
2. Ganapati-The song of the Self by Prof John Grimes- SUNY Albany Press
3. For Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati readers
Sanskruti Poojan by Pandurang Shastry Athawale