Devotees prepare to immerse an idol of elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha in the Arabian Sea, marking the end of the 10-day long Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Mumbai, India. Image: AP PhotoThe 10 day long Ganpati festival came to an end yesterday, 23rd Sep 2018. As the devout celebrated the Lord’s return to his celestial home, it is time to pause and reflect on what the Lord and his presence teaches us. Let us consider Ganpati’s physical manifestation – a human body and an elephant face. Most of us have grown up hearing the story about how Lord Shiva cut off Ganesha’s head in a fit of anger (story attributed to the Shiva Purana). On realising that Ganesha was Parvati’s child, he was filled with remorse and brought the dead child back to life by replacing his head with an elephant’s head. Seeing the boy’s valour and courage, all the ganas (Shiva’s attendants) recognized him as their leader and hence he became known as Lord Ganpati.
Ganpati is the lord of benevolence, the ‘vignaharata’- remover of obstacles. Also known as ‘Vedant’- the one with the all-encompassing wisdom; known as ‘Durja’- the invincible; known as ‘Heramb’- the calm, he is worshipped at the start of all the auspicious occasions. But not all his names are so complementary in meaning. He is also called ‘Ékdanta’- the one toothed, ‘Lambodara’- the huge bellied, ‘Kapila’- the yellowish hued one and ‘Gajanana’- elephant faced. Therein, lies one of the most important lessons that Hinduism teaches all of us.
Hinduism teaches us acceptance. Acceptance here is not defined as disdainful indifference or mere tolerance. Neither is acceptance about pitying someone nor is it about sympathising with those whom we consider less fortunate. Acceptance is simply acknowledging that someone can be different from the majority and still be a meaningful, dignified part of the mainstream narrative. Imagine a person with a yellowish skin tone, a protruding stomach, broken teeth and crooked nose. He/she would be the eternal subject of taunts and jibes. A quick look at any of the comedy shows on television will corroborate the same – people with ungainly bodies, people who stammer or lisp are ready fodder for all comics. A similar scenario is seen across schools. No school wants a child with a physical or mental disability (despite it being mandatory) because these children are seen as ‘different’ and need ‘different’ handling. In the unlikely scenario that such a child does join a mainstream school, he/she is ridiculed by other children and more often than not, even by the educators. Why? Simply because the child is different and does not conform to the norm. Another glaring example of our inability to accept people is seen in the male-female ratio in India. As per Niti Aayog, the sex ratio at birth in India in 2013-15 was 900 females to 1000 males. This is a clear indication of discrimination happening in the womb, when a conscious decision is taken to abort a girl child. Who knows that had the girl been allowed to take birth, she could have been the next Hima Das, Vinesh Phogat, Aditi Pant or Janki Ammal. But she never even got a chance to prove herself because she wasn’t allowed to be born. Her gender (and lack of acceptance of the same) subsumed every other talent that she may have been blessed with. The approximately 150 year old, British era Section 377 is another example of the majority denying acceptance to a silent minority. By making gay sex a punishable offence, a certain section of the society was pushed to the sidelines...forced to either live a life of lie or a life of shame. In this context, the recent judgement by the Honourable Supreme Court of India decriminalizing Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was a historic decision. In this landmark judgement, the SC stated that no community, however small it may be can be denied its sexual rights. This is acceptance in its true spirit. Acceptance acknowledges that people can be different, yet can happily co-exist with a shared larger purpose and individual identities. By accepting people as they are – irrespective of physical or mental attributes, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation – we acknowledge them as ‘people’ first. We give them dignity. We give them respect. Labels like ‘handicapped’ or ‘gay’ become irrelevant because they are people, just the way we are. We learn to look beyond the immediate obvious and not form quick judgements. Wasn’t this exactly what our Gods did when they came face to face with a child who had a human body but an elephant face? They took the trouble to look beyond the broken tusk, the crooked nose, four arms, wide ears and the pot belly. They recognized the intellect, the valour and the benevolence that resided behind this elephant face. Not only were the accepting of another who looked different from them, but they had the patience and the maturity to look beyond the physical oddities, appreciate the virtues within and give the odd-looking God the place of pride within them. If our Gods were not judgemental, then why are we? More importantly, when even our Gods didn’t judge another, what makes us think that we have the right to pronounce judgements on people whom we feel are ‘different’? It is time to introspect and think – do we have the ability to look beyond superficial differences, avoid labels and actually accept others the way they are…with openness, dignity and love.