Indians love elephants.
Everywhere you look, shops, police office, banks, our hotel – you see statues like this:
It is a representation of Ganesha. Of all the gods collectively in Hinduism – this one is definitely the favorite.
This elephant god is worshipped in a big way for ten days once every year. Ganesha is not really what I would call attractive. He has the head of an elephant on which is perched this tiara. Add to that four podgy hands joined to a sizeable belly with each hand holding a symbolic object. My graduate degree was in Religious Studies with Dr. Irving Hexham and I am looking forward to getting back to my library to read up on what all those symbols mean.
Apparently Ganesha is god of new beginnings and commonly worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. People are encouraged to worship him early in the morning, offer him some sweets and ask him to remove all obstacles in your way.
“A Hindu would not think of starting anything without first paying homage to the elephant god,” said my host. “Starting a new job, opening a business, before a big trip – anything that is new.”
He continued, “There is a festival each year and for ten days the people have statues made and at the end of the time there is a big processional through the streets and people carry them into the sea.”
When the large processional statue is immersed in the sea it is to symbolize a farewell to the god as he is going off to his “abode” in Kailash. As he goes he is taking away the misfortunes (sin) of his worshippers.
Come back again next year
Now, what I found interesting is that the festival ends with all the worshippers splashing water and calling out essentially, “Come back again next year.”
So for 51 weeks of the year they are basically godless. (Hmmm that seems convenient.)
When I think about my experience as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and that of those worshipping Ganesha the contrasts are interesting. In my opinion I think the average Hindu must feel a little hopeless. They are dependent on their own works to escape from “samsara” that endless cycle of rebirths, where I as a Christian experience a life of hope and assurance of my salvation. Now. Today.
I also know one God who cares deeply for me. With the vast plurality of gods and goddesses, Hinduism offers a very impersonal ‘Brahman‘ (the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena). Add to this that Hinduism views ALL living things as manifestations of Brahman therefore humans have no individual self and no self-worth. Christianity worships God who not only created mankind, but also gave us free will. He cares deeply for us, and places a huge amount of worth on you and I as His creation.
There is simply too much to be added to this discussion, and I need to get back home to the Trinity Knot Library and talk to Dr. Hexham to refresh my knowledge, but let me close with this. Salvation for the Hindu is the release from the wheel of life, the cycle of rebirths, through which they must work to better themselves, and realize our oneness with Brahman which is Nirvana. It is work and must be carried out by each individual through successive lives. Since “sin” is committed only against oneself, the penalties are accrued only against the self. The penalty is the repeated cycle of rebirths
Salvation for the Christian is a free gift to us from God. We only have to accept it. We cannot earn it. No amount of work will change it. Jesus bought our salvation by taking all our sin upon Himself on the cross, dying as a sacrifice for us, and then rising from the dead three days later. It was a one time act. Salvation means spending eternity with our Almighty God and we can start living like that today.
If I was starting something new, I’m not going to be taking the idea to an elephant god that is only present ten days a year.
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus (Matthew 28.20)