Ganesh Chaturthi began yesterday, and as one should properly expect, this has been accompanied by a considerable escalation in expressions of piety towards the deity in question. Frequently, these have included a particular and rather prominent verse of Sanskrit, drawn from the RigVeda, and attributed as a prayer to Him:
गणानां तवा गणपतिं हवामहे कविं कवीनामुपमश्रवस्तमम |
जयेष्ठराजं बरह्मणां बरह्मणस पत आ नः षर्ण्वन्नूतिभिः सीद सादनम ||
Now, here is the thing. I do not question that this particular sloka has come to refer to Ganesha in contemporary usage; but it is worth noting that in its *original* RigVedic context, it was quite directly part of the praise of Brihaspati – another deity, and One that I would instead identify with Ganesha’s Father, Shiva. [For more detail upon this, consult my GHOST DIVISION work – which has an entire section upon the subject]
So how has the interpretation of this verse developed in such a way over the course of the intervening millennia?
The ‘blending’ likely emanates from the key words of the first line – the famed “Om Gananam Tva Ganapatim” beginning to both hymnal and mantra. “GanaPati”, you see, would mean “Lord of the Host”, or “Lord of the Retinue”, of the tribe – “Gana” having a similar root to our English terms such as “Genus”, and referring to a body of persons united by something (whether heredity, or a cause, the service to a lord, or other axial of group bonding and loyalty); while “Pati” derives from the same root as “Father”, as “Patriarch”, and means exactly that – a Lord, a Father. [compare the Odinic theonym of Her(ja)Fodr; and, for that matter, if we are speaking of Brihaspati – Galdrafodr]
“GanaPati” is also another name for Ganesha – GanaEsha, again referring to a Lord of the Host, and to my mind, usefully understood in some contexts as Lord Shiva’s Son acting as a princely commander of His Custodian Guard, a seneschal of the Watch – acting both in complement and coterminity with His Own Brother, Lord Skanda, as Marshal of the (usually attacking) Armies of the Heavens.
Particularly when we consider the rest of the meanings of the lines in question, with praise His mighty qualities of supreme wisdom, fame, and beneficence in aiding and availing the Pious, it is not hard to see how this has come to be thought of as a Ganesha reference. The Words, so to speak, apply almost equally well to the Son as they do to the Father.
However, there is one further point I yet wish to make upon the matter. Going through the rest of the Hymnal in question [RV II 23], even though I maintain that it is quite clear as a song of praise about and to Brihaspati, it is inescapable to feel that the strong symbolic resonances with the portfolio and personality of Ganesha are very much there all the way through.
For just as Ganesha is regarded as the Remover of Obstacles and the Pusher Aside of Problems, so too do we see exactly these noble characteristics eulogized in the course of this Brihaspati Hymn. Often by running them over in His Car/Chariot, or otherwise directly engaging them in fiery combat.
Just as Ganesha is regarded as the Sentinel, the Guardian Who Stands Watchful over both the Devotee and the Site of Devotion [hence why you will almost invariably encounter a Ganesha murti *somewhere* at the entrance to a Mandir or other such shrine], so too do we see see these qualities and sacred, solemn duties spoken of in the course of the Brihaspati Hymn.
Just as Ganesha is regarded as a bringer of Joy and Prosperity, so too do we find these qualities ascribed to Brihaspati in the course of this Hymn – admittedly, potentially via the crushing of one’s enemies and the redistribution of their ill-garnered gains as booty. A ‘Bronze Age Solution’ that shall thankfully never truly go out of style.
And just as Ganesha is rightfully spoken of as a Presider over Piety – a Guide also to the Devotee and a Guardian of the Path of Righteousness , an Imparter of Wisdom, and Instructor in the chartered course of proper conduct – so, too, do we see this in the very name, and of course in the very Hymnal Text, of Lord Shiva As Brihaspati !
So therefore, what I am seeking to say is quite simple.
The RigVedic Hymnal in question was originally, initially one dedicated to Brihaspati; and it slightly bemuses me each time I see an enthusiastic devotee ascribing a role in RigVedic Verse to Ganesha. Not out of any ill-will towards the deity in question, you understand! Of course not! But simply out of due respect to the facts – and the filial piety whereby the Glory of the God Who Is HIS Father is upheld by the proper recognition thereof.
And, as we know from one other tale, probably my favourite of the mythological accountings of Ganesha – specifically the one in which Ganesha wins a race with His Brother, Skanda, around the world by simply circumambulating Their Parents (as to Him, They *are* His World) – this is a value most highly prized and prioritzed by Him. Indeed, it is a key illustration of the fundamental Hindu principle that the support and positive regard for one’s parents is the highest act of piety, of faith.
But whatever its origins, the Verse in question has found admirable more ‘modern’ application with Ganesha; and this is further corroborated via the ongoing character and characteristics referenced in the subsequent slokas of the RigVedic Hymnal in question.
An admirable demonstration in practice of both the way in which Hinduism elegantly combines ‘continuity’ and ‘development’ ; as well as that ancient principle of a worthy Son attaining and bearing His (Al)Mighty Father’s Mantle.
So, in closing [as well as in Opening – a phrasing is, after all, a gateway, a portal!] , I say again once more:
ॐ गणानां त्वा गणपतिं हवामहे
कविं कवीनामुपमश्रवस्तमम् ।
ज्येष्ठराजं ब्रह्मणां ब्रह्मणस्पत
आ नः शृण्वन्नूतिभिः सीद सादनम् ॥
ॐ Sri Ganeshaya Namah