I am a big fan of our Hindu traditions and our calender, simply because there is no month devoid of festivities! The basic background of celebrating so many times a year is that these festivals give us reasons to meet our relatives, interact with
them and share our joys and sorrows. Thus, we are forever in touch with our friends and family, and thus these festivals create a sense of bonding that unites us.
This month (August) witnesses 2 biggies - The Krishna Janmashtami (celebrated earlier on the 14th of August), and the Ganesh or Vinayak Chaturthi, which falls tomorrow.
Lord Ganesha, also known as Ekdanta (one with a single tooth), Vinayaka, Vignaharta (remover of obstacles), etc., is the only mainstream God to have a non-human face. Legend has it that Goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva, created a boy out of the cosmetic paste applied before her bath. The boy was beautiful and strong, and she instructed him to guard her home while she was bathing. Presently, Lord Shiva came and wanted to talk to his wife. The boy, unaware of who Lord Shiva was, refused to allow him inside. Even though Lord Shiva explained his relation, the young boy stood his ground, unwilling to waver from his mother's orders. Agitated, Lord Shiva ordered his army to attack him, but so brave was he that each of his Ganas bit the dust.
Unable to bear further humiliation, Lord Shiva resorted to a trick, where he confronted the boy from the front, while Lord Vishnu sliced off his head from behind with his Sudarshan Chakra. When Goddess Parvati came out, she was enraged to find her son dead. And when the mother Goddess, the source of all energy itself is angry, the world falls in a pall of gloom. The Devas realised that they had committed a huge crime, and tried to pacify her. But she would just not listen to them.
Finally, the Devas decided that the only way to create harmony was to bring back the child to life. But as the head had been mutilated, they could not use the same one. Thus, they went east, brought the head of the first baby elephant they encountered, affixed it on the boy's body, and brought him back to life. As an icing on the cake, the Devas agreed that from that day onwards, Lord Ganesha would always be the first God to be worshipped, and all Pujas would begin with him being venerated first.
Coming to the scienctific part, this legend indicates the first ever surgery/transplant taking place in history, with the head of the elephant being made a substitute for the slain boy's head. This would have involved a unique surgery, and we already know that our ancient Indians had a great knowledge of surgery from the books of Sushruta (More about his surgical brilliance in the future).
Another scientific connection related to Lord Ganesha is a legend associated with one of his early birth anniversaries and the waxing/waning of the moon. Baby Vinayaka, dressed up in all his finery was welcoming the various Devas for a grand celebration on his birthday. But he had not even touched a morsel of food since morning, and was feeling extremely hungry. On getting the first opportunity, he started eating all the dishes excitedly. This amused Chandradev (Moon), who openly ridiculed Lord Ganesha by laughing, thus making fun of his way of eating and his pot belly. All the Devas were shocked, as they knew that however childish Ganesha was, he was extremely knowledgeable, powerful and brilliant. Thus, the moon had incurred Ganesha’s wrath by insulting him like this.
Lord Vinayaka grew angry, and wanted to punish the moon for being proud and vain of his handsomeness. But Lord Shiva intervened and requested his son to be mild in his judgement. Ganesha then decreed that the moon would be confined to the night only, and would also lose some of its beauty. He added that the moon would not be visible in its full glory all the time, and would be waxing and waning in cycles. The moon, humbled by his offence, agreed to abide by these conditions. And Lord Ganesha went back to his merry eating.
Thus, we notice that the concept of the moon’s blemished surface (as seen from earth due to craters) have been mentioned in the texts of yore through this legend. Moreover, the phenomenon of the waxing and waning cycle of the moon has also been mentioned using this legend relating Lord Ganesha and the Moon.
Ganapati Bappa Moriya! Wishing all of you a Happy and Prosperous Vinayak Chathurthi.