With Special Reference to Gita Mehtas ‘Eternal Ganesha’
Prakalpana literature is an effort to take literature beyond boundaries and sometimes even beyond words. As the word suggests, ‘prakalpana’ means proper use of imagination. Chandan Kumar Bhattacharya, Dilip Gupta and Ashish Dev first initiated this style in Bengal.
The basic idea of the movement is very simple. Along with words, graphics, paintings, photos, artworks, cartoons and even graffiti are used in order to convey the idea. Sometimes Sanskrit shlokas or ancient signs are used to convey the thought and the mood. We all know and feel that beyond a certain point, words sometimes do not suffice. As the common saying goes, “A picture speaks a thousand words.”
The point to be noted is that prakalpana does not trivialize literature. It increases the depth and beauty of literature. Breaking away from our colonial past, these writers have tried to define Indian sensibility in their own way. It is an effort to take our understanding of literature beyond the western terminology of classicism, existentialism, absurdism, post-structuralism, Blank verse or sonnets.
The concept of this literature is to create an artistic fusion of prose, poetry, story, essay, drama, opera, cinema and song etc. Visuals are frequently used in prakalpana literature. The poems of this genre are called concrete poetry or visual poetry. Prakalpana encourages mixing of genres. Prakalpana is often a collaborative effort which tries to establish communication between different art forms.
We may look at a beautiful poem by the founder of the movement Chandan Bhattacharya.
The restless night couldn’t sleep as we are not asleep
So may words stored in store to be restored in heart
As we awake <-> the world awakes
We sleep <-> the world sleeps
In the drowsy fragrance of chhatim flower
arises how unspeakable sweet revengeful desire
We are awake so we beget words
Words beget words
Night grow in words
Pain grow in words
ceases in words
Pain eases in words/pain grows in words
Night grows in words/words grow words
words beget words
We are awake so we beget words
In this poem, the poet has used only two or three symbols. The symbol of heart reinforces the bitter sweet nature of desire that one experiences in rare moments. Similarly the arrow equates the mutual relationship between the individual and the world. If we sleep, naturally the world is asleep for us. If we are awake, the world is very much alive and throbbing for us. The poem grows into the density of words. The last line in italics “We are awake so we beget words” tries to give a final reason to the outpouring of words. The poem is remarkable because it gives words a life of their own. Words depend on life; but then, life also depends on words. There would be no life without words.
The spirit of the movement is experimental. The trend is very catchy and it is gaining ground day by day.
Gita Mehta’s ‘Eternal Ganesha’ is a very fine example of prakalpana literature. The book is a tribute to Ganesha and Indian culture. It is a pleasure to hold this book in hands for its inspiring and beautiful words and also for its visual treats. It has the shape of Ganesha made from every conceivable source like electric bulbs, flower leaves, bananas and beads. It presents a wall painting of Ganesha from Udaipur, Rajasthan. It shows the presence of Ganesha on a post office wall in Amer fort. Wall paintings from different parts of country have been collected. Many photos have been included of the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated in Mumbai and other parts of country. The book has very beautiful pictures of the Dancing Ganesha, the studying Ganesha, the multi-headed and multi-armed Ganesha.
It has a picture of a very rare, precious and costly idol of Ganesha in ivory. Painting of Ganesha on marble, on glass, and Ganesha amulet are all there. A beautiful painting of Ganesha has been shown on a nail. Different Ganesha temples all over the country have been photographed. There is one very relaxed Ganesha in a jungle reading a book. But before, we think that this book is all about the visual treat, we are caught by the strong narrative by Gita Mehta.
She has translated Sanskrit prayers into English. She begins by underlining the omnipresence of Ganesha in Indian psyche. “A stranger to India might find it hard to believe such awesome powers could be attributed to a pot-bellied Hindu god with an elephant’s head, one plump hand filled with sweets, improbably riding on a small mouse. Indians, on the other hand, need no convincing that Ganesha pervades the universe. They see him everywhere. On rickshaws and wedding invitations. On protective medallions and rockets. On cyber cafes and cigarettes. On hippy hand bags and village walls and the clapper boards of Bollywood films, inescapably there.” (Page 9). Then she gives different synonyms like the long eared, the single-tusked, the pendent bellied, the pitcher of prosperity, the removal of obstacles, the granter of boons, the lord of beginnings, the guarantor of success etc.
In the first chapter, she describes how Ganesha permeates India. The tradition of offering rice to Ganesha goes back to 3000 B.C. Ganesha was then worshipped as the lord of farming and the lord of water. Since Ganesha is also the pitcher of prosperity, he is a favorite of the traders’ community as well. She describes different mythological stories that surround Ganesha. The best part of Lord Ganesha is that he is extremely adaptable and his figure can be made by a single triangle also. The Ganesha festival is a very important time in the calendar of a Maharashtrian. Bal Gangadhar Tilak used this occasion for nationalist purposes. Every year, the Indian film industry churns out songs, sung at the emersion of the Ganesha into water.
Out of various myths that describe the origin of Ganesha, one has been particularly mentioned in the second chapter. While Parvati was bathing and Ganesha was keeping the guard, Lord Shiva returned from his wild voyages and had to face Ganesha. The tussle resulted in the surgery that we see every day. Ganesha has an elephant head. But he defeated all the ganas of Shiva and therefore he was named as the head of all ganas, Ganesh or Ganpati.
The next chapter beautifully traces man-elephant relationship over the centuries. Gita Mehta has written this book after thorough research. The role of the elephant has always been important in all civilizations.
Anthropologists have suggested that human beings find it easier to worship things which are familiar to them. She describes elephants in the Roman era. She quotes ‘Natural History’ by Pliny, “Of all animals, the elephant in intelligence approaches the nearest to man… and to a degree that is rare among men even, possesses notions of honesty, prudence and equity. It has a religious respect also for the starts and a veneration for the sun and the moon". (P.51)
Since the elephant is so close to Nature and to man, the original forest dwellers of India, the tribals have always worshipped Ganesha. The tribals believe that first man Matanga and the first woman Matangi came to earth riding on elephants only. Even Charles Darwin has acknowledged the emotional similarity between man and elephant in his book The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals, “In the Zoological Gardens, the keeper of the Indian elephants positively asserts that he had several times seen tears rolling down the face of the old female when distressed ...” (P.51)
Darwin also points out that the Indian Elephant uses the same muscles in shedding tears as the men. The African elephant is different in this regard.
The next chapter of the book rises to philosophical heights. It describes the symbol of Om that the sacred trunk of Ganesha depicts, “According to the original Ganesha worshippers, the Ganpati cult, our cosmos was born with the sound of OM resounding through a primeval darkness. As energy escaped from darkness to become light, Ganesha appeared silhouetted against the light of the first dawn, blowing a conch shell. He came as Nritya Ganpati, the dancing Ganesha, dancing the universe into existence with the abandon of energy escaping from dormancy. Sounding the conch shell until OM vibrated through the galaxies, Ganesha summoned the Trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva- to their triple tasks: Creation, Preservation, Destruction." (P.55)
The cycle of creation, preservation and destruction is inevitable. Indian gods actually depict original forces of Nature. Creation is an endless cycle. Energy escapes into the black hole only to be born again to create new existence. This process goes on endlessly. Each time the universe begins with the sound of Ganesha’s conch ‘OM’. Therefore Ganesha is the first word; He is the first cause. The chapter ends with the beautiful hymn by Shankarcharya.
Whom the wise recognize
As the single syllable
Of Supreme Sound
Stainless and peerless
Formless and unconditioned
Dwelling in the core of
I bow in wonder. (P. 61)
The inspiring, divine and beautiful lines by Shankaracharya give us the true nature of the supreme reality called ‘God.’ God is formless. God is beyond conditions. God is the beginning, the middle and the end. To this force we should all bow down. Indian sages, seers and philosophers have visualized this supreme force in the form of Ganesha and various other manifestations.
In the next chapter, Gita Mehta has discussed the body of Lord Ganesha. Ganesha loves ladoos; he is overweight and he rides on a mouse. Mehta says that this teaches us to accept aberrations and deviations from the standard norm because life does not come in a fixed case. Many worshippers meditate on a six armed Ganesha who represents six separate schools of Indian philosophy. Others focus on his four arms believing that the four arms depict life on land, aquatic life, amphibious life and avian life. But the best interpretation of the four arms comes with those who believe that they represent four stages of language learning.
Language learning has been equated with knowledge itself. It underlines the utmost importance of the spoken word, written word and comprehension of words. It teaches us how careful and efficient we should be in dealing with words. The Indian mind loves debate and discussion. Time and again questions have been raised on three hundred and twenty million forms of God envisaged in the Indian philosophy. Our gods and goddesses portray the infinite attributes of the supreme truth. This is the beauty of the simplicity of the Hindu thought. If the supreme power is full of anger, we have Kali to worship. If the supreme power is full of erotic love, we have Shree Radha and Krishna to worship. If the supreme power is controlled and is following an ideal code of conduct, we have Sita and Rama to worship. This is how it goes. The form is a superimposition. The reality is one and one alone. Those who are not familiar with the Indian system, find if strange and mind boggling. But the Vedas themselves say:
“The One, the one Alone,
In him all deities become One alone.” (P.71)
Even those religions which prohibit idol worshipping have failed to keep idolatry away. Statues of the Mecca Temple or the crucified Christ or the Virgin Mary are the symbols with which good hearted souls try to meditate. Indian sages had understood it centuries and centuries back, that the mind requires a form to meditate. Gita Mehta has given and has repeated this ancient logic once more in this book.
The symbol of Lord Ganesha effectively binds different forms of life with the head of the elephant, the body of the man, a snake binding his belly and a mouse as his vehicle. This is unity in diversity. This also suggests the method of peaceful coexistence not only among men but also among all forms of life.
After this, we come to the next chapter, which focuses on the mouse of Ganesha. Why has Lord Ganesha chosen a mouse? There are multiple interpretations. Just as our subconscious desires roam in the dark recesses of our mind and gnaw the tranquility of our mind, a mouse symbolizes these instincts the best. Ganesha’s mastery over the mouse suggests how we should control our desires. Another myth holds that the capacity of a mouse to dig deep into the earth, won him this position as Ganesha has this relentless quest for knowledge and this digging into ideas. Interestingly, the computer’s most important handle is called a mouse. Computer Ganesha and techno Ganesha have been launched by many Forums.
Then we come to a chapter devoted to the serpent. The serpent is said to symbolize the coiled psychic energy which can be realized only by rigorous mental discipline. In Hindu mythology it is called the “Kundalini”. This knowledge is dormant and can be revived only through hard practice. Then we come to the miracle of Ganesha. She refers to various everyday miracles that are attributed to Ganesha. The most important chapter of this beautiful and inspiring book is Ganeshas revelation. Ganesha is accompanied by Riddhi and Siddhi. Riddhi stands for prudence and Siddhi stands for discretion. This can be summarized as the final lesson by Lord Ganesha. We must be prudent and we must use our discretion in dealing with this life. If understood in its totality, Ganesha epitomizes, the complete Indian thought. Gita Mehta warns the present and upcoming generations, not to take Lord Ganesha lightly,
“The moon once there dared to ridicule Ganesha when his mouse reared up and throw him to the ground. Delighted by Ganesha’s discomfiture the moon roared with laughter where upon furious Ganesha broke off his tusk and flung it at the laughing moon, casting it into darkness. Only after the moon had groveled in apology did Ganesha relent and allow it to shine again, and then too, only partially.
“The dark nights of the moon are supposed to remind both moon and mankind that Ganesha is a serious god, not to be treated lightly. What reparation will Ganesha demand of modern India for the “fancy looking models” and “theme Ganeshas” which render him increasingly ridiculous? What retribution for the fortunes disappearing under water, watched helplessly by the poor? Indians seem to have forgotten that Ganesha is the Lord of Connections, the god of cause and effect, or else they would not be oblivious to the possibility that extra vagrant idols are unlikely to guarantee the future.
“Perhaps Indians should concentrate their mind on Ganesha’s name instead of concentrating their wealth on Ganesha’s image." (P.119-120)
All the references are from Gita Mehta’s ‘Eternal Ganesha’, Published by The Vendome Press, 2008. All the images are also from the same book.
This lecture was delivered on 12, July, 2013 by the author at a refresher course for Asst. Professors at Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla University, Raipur, Chhatisgarh, India.