ON GANAPATI ATHARVASEERSHA UPANISHAT G
DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN
It is necessary to understand the meaning of the Mantras before going through the discussions. The English translation of the 14 Mnatras of this Upanishat are given below. Mantras one to ten are intended for meditation (upaasana) as well as for homa (fire sacrifice) and Abishelka (bathing of the deity) for Ganapati. Mantras eleven to fourteen deal with Phalsruti or the benefit one can derive by the above rituals and worship as stipulated in the mantras.
Om! May we hear the auspicious things with our ears! Oh Gods! May we behold the auspicious with our eyes! Oh worshipful Gods! May we live with strong limbs and firm bodies singing your praises throughout our lives! May Indra who is traditionally celebrated bless us! May the all-knowing Sun bless us! May Vaayu the Wind God, who protects us from harm bless us! May Brihaspati, the divine Guru, bless us! Om Peace! Peace! Peace! Peace (from cosmic disturbances, environmental disturbances and inner disturbances)
Oh Ganapati! My obeisance to you! You are the first visible form of Supreme Principle. With that vision you are the creator of this entire Universe. You alone can watch this Universe. You are nothing but the Vyahrtiti (accessory) of Brahman. You are that perennial Self (Aatman).
MANR TRA 2
Let us talk about noble things! Let us speak the Truth! (This is like the Vedic mantra Visvaani deva savitar…)
Please protect me! Please protect the one who chants your name! Please protect the one who listens always to you! Please protect me and the disciples who are undergoing study under me! Please protect me from all obstacles! Please protect me from all directions—North, South. East and West! Please protect me from above! Please protect me from down below! Please protect me, protect me from anything and everything!
[This is similar to the most common prayer in Vedic culture which begins with "Sahanaavavatu" in all Gurukulas before commencement of Vedic studies]
Oh Lord! You are the cause of all my discourses. You are the Eternal Bliss and all pervasive Supreme principle! You are Truth, Consciousness and Bliss(Sacchidaananda). You are second to none. You are verily Brahman. You are the Intelligence and the Knowledge (Paravidya).
This Universe is born out of you. This Universe abides in you. This Universe merges into you. You are at the same time different from it. You are the five elements that constitutes this Universe—Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. You are the four constituents of speech and expression (body, speech, mind and intellect)
You are beyond three Gunas (Satva, Rajas and Tamas). You are beyond three stages in life (birth, old age and death). You are beyond three bodies (Gross, subtle and Casual). You are beyond three times (past, present and future). You are beyond three states (awakening, dream and deep sleep). You are always Moolaadhaara chakra of Kundalini power. You are the embodiment of three powers (Icchaa Sakti, Kriyaa sakti and Jnaana Sakti or three primordial energies—Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati). You are meditated upon by those who practice Yoga (Yogi) day in and day out. You are the Trinity-Brahma, Vishnu and Siva (the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer). You are Indra, the King of gods, Fire God, Vaayu (Wind God), Sun God, Moon God, you are verily Brahman, you are the Lord of Three Worlds, Bhoo, Bhuvar Suvar (Earth, Mid-region and Heaven).
First start with the letter GA and then the other alphabet. Then pronounce the nasal sound (bindi). The crescent nasal echoing completes the Beejakshara for you. GAM echoes OM. This is the form of your mantra. G is the first form; A is the second form; nasal (.) is the third form. These sounds are united in a sandhi (conjunction). In this manner Ganeshavidya or knowledge of Ganapati is revealed to the seer Ganaka. The meter employed is mixed Gayatri called Nichrid-gayatri. The presiding deity is Ganapati symbolizing OM GAM. To that Lord Ganesha I pay my obeisance. [This Rishi draws parallel to OM the symbol of Supreme Principle to Gam specific to Ganapati and implies that Ganapati is only a vyahriti of Brahman like the various epithets used for Brahman]
I meditate upon Ekadanta, for that I concentrate on Vakratunda (one with curved trunk). May that lord called Danti (Ganesha is called Danti=Elephant) invigorate us and inspire us!
[This is called Ganesha Gayatri. In Vedas and Upanishads word Purusha is used for Ekadanta who is the Saguna form of Brahman in this Gayatri Mantra. Probably the Rishi of this Upanishad wanted us to know that Ganapati is none other than Brahman. Ekadanta can also be split in Sanskrit (ekadam +tam=the only One) meaning Nirguna Brahman. The word Ekam for Brahman is used for the first time in Nyasadeeya Sooktam of Rigveda samhita.
MY obeisance to The Lord: with one tusk; four arms—upper right carrying noose, upper left carrying goad, lower left carrying tusk and lower right in Varada (boon giving) posture blessing us. He is blood red in color, with long belly (pot belly), with winnows like ears (that of an elephant), dressed in red clothes, smeared with red sandalwood paste all over the body and worshiped with red flowers. He is compassionate to his devotees, he is the cause of this Universe and he is everlasting. He is the Cosmic Power, the Supreme Principle and Creator of all things in nature and at the same time different from all Beings. So praises the Yogi daily and that yogi is the greatest amongst all yogis.
Obeisance to you, Lord of all Ganas (Siva's retinue), Commander of all Ganas, Lord of all Beings! To you my Lord with pot belly and one tusk, to you who are the terminator of all obstacles that come my way, the son of Lord Siva, the very embodiment of benevolence my humble offer of obeisance!
Thus he who studies this Atharvasheersha Upanishad becomes absorbed in Brahman. He is not troubled by any obstacle. He enjoys all happiness from all quarters. He is saved from even five capital crimes. Whoever recites this in evening times gets wiped off of all sins committed during the day. One who recites in the dawn gets wiped off of all sins committed during the night. Reciting morning and night he will not be touched by sin at all. Reciting everywhere one is trouble free and receives all good things in life. He achieves success in all walks of pursuits in life of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha (righteousness, wealth, love and liberation). This Atharvasheersha should not be imparted to those who are not worthy of it. Whosever tries to teach such people accumulates more sins. Repeating this prayer thousand times one can achieve whatever he desires.
He who does Abhishekam (bathing) to Ganapati becomes master of speeches. Who meditates on him on Chaturthi Tithi (4th day of the month) will become a scholar. Thus speaks sage Atharva. Knowing that he is not different from Brahman one will not be afraid of anything.
Whoever offers oblation of durva grass to Ganapati during homa (fire sacrifice) he will become rich like Kubera. Whoever offers perched rice during homa he becomes famous and intelligent. Whosoever offers as oblation 1000 Modakas (sweetmeat you see in Ganesha's hand) to fire as oblation during homa he will get all his desires fulfilled! Whosoever offers ghee and fagots as oblation during fire sacrifice will attain everything, certainly he will get everything.
Whoever employs eight learned priests for the homa he will become resplendent like Sun. During Solar eclipse standing in a river or standing before the deity if one meditates on Ganesha the Mantra will become very powerful and he will attain all the benefits. Devastating obstacles are annihilated. Big mistakes are pardoned. Insurmountable sins are eradicated. He is bestowed all knowledge; he attains all knowledge. This is the sacred knowledge or Paravidya. Here ends the sacred discourse. Here ends the Upanishat. (This is the usual way of ending all Upanishads or Vedic studies).
Here is the famous vedic prayer: "Ganaanaam tvaa ganapatigam havaamahe | kavim kaveenaam upamasravastamam | jyeshtharaajam brahmanaam brahmanaspata aa nah || Ganapati referred in this famous Vedic Rigveda mantra and the Ganpati we worship to-day are strangers to each other. But yet the Rishi of this Upanishat has successfully morphosed the word "GANA" to make it a sacred symbol of Ganpati we worship and along with "GAM" like OM.
Ganpati Brahmnaspati is the Rigvcedic deity also called Brihaspati or Vaachaspati who manifests through a vast mass of light. Another set of deities are the free-lancers Marud-ganas who put obstacles in the path of men as they are araajana (ruler-less) after whom Ganesha we worship today gets the name Vinayaka (leaderless).
The sacred letter "GA" in this Upanishat adopted by the Rishi has a deeper connotation. GA indicates Gati towards which the entire creation is moving. JA stands for Janma, birth or origin. Together they form a common Sanskrit word GAJA meaning elephant. This has inspired the Puranas to bring forth the story of Gajaanana or Gajamukha to worship Ganesha as Man-Elephant.
It looks as though that the extreme popularity of worship of Ganesha belongs to Kaliyuga like that of another popular deity Balaaji or Venkateswara. Ramayana, Bhagavadgeetaa and Vishnusahasranama celebrate the name of Kumara or Skanda, the sibling of Ganesha. Bengali Scriptures have also made Sarasvati and Lakshmi the siblings of Lord Ganesha. Ramayana devotes one chapter on Kumar Sambhava (birth of Lord Subrhmanya) in Balakanda but no mention of Ganesha is made anywhere. Both Bhagavdgeeta and Vishnusahasranama celebrate him as Skanda. Skanda gets the name as he slipped out of the womb of Ganga. In fact he is the son of Siva and Ganga and Dvaimatura being the son of Ganga as well as Krittika Devis who nurtured him together. Skanda is mentioned as Devasenaapati or commnder of the army. Skanda together with his father Skndadhara (Siva) are celebrated as Vishnu in Vishnusahasranama. In these scriptures also Ganesha's name is not mentioned.
Spiritual meaning of the word Gajaanana symbolizes the God from whom the worlds have come out, towards whom they are progressing, to be ultimately dissolved. This theme has been skillfully conveyed in this Upanishat to make it a sacred text to be used in all forms of worship Including Homas including of offering Modakas (Ganesha's favorite food in Puranas) as oblation in Homas along with the usual materials like puffed rice, ghee, fagots etc.
The author of this Upanishat conveys the message that Lord Ganesha is none other than Brahman the Supreme Principle. It is not uncommon to consider all Vyahritis (accessories) in Dharavidya (knowledge of Brahman) as Brahman himself as he is the origin of everything and he is in everything as he has entered into all of it as Antaryamin (inner Self). Thus you will find fagots and ghee used in sacrifice are meditated upon as Brahman. Therefore it is but logical to meditate upon any deity as Brahman and Ganesha comes foremost in the teachings of this Rishi. He also makes this Upanishat Ganapatividya instead of Daharavidya due to his extreme devotion to Ganesha which is more common in Bhaktimarga. It is strange that this Rishi has not thought about Kartikeya similarly who is celebrated in Ramayana, Bhagvadgeeta and Vishnusahasranama. Kartikeya is the Guruguha who has even taught his father Siva. He is the very embodiment of Jnaana. Ganesha's is rarely mentioned in these ancient religious texts. It is also strange that Kartikeya is least known to the followers of Bhaktimarga in the Northern parts of India. He is most celebrated in Thiruppugazh and others found in Tamil Scriptures. It is also rather surprising this author has not mentioned Parvati at all and refers to Ganesha as Sivasuta. He is Parvatisuta in first life as created and then Sivasuta as restored to life later. Scriptures say Siva without Sakti is sava.
The usual theme of all Upanishads is to expound Brahman, dwell on Upaasana and then throw light on means of Liberation. This Upanishat instead elaborates more on Phalasruti as is generally found in slokas like Vishnusahasranama and Devistuti after emphasizing Ganesha is the ONE (Ekadam+tam=Ekadantam) and is Brahman alone. The Mantras contained in the meditation part are regular Mantras found in Vedas used in Brahmopaasana. This Upanishat is comparable to Narayanopanishat in its meditational content as well as Phalsruti content but there the focus is on Sriman Narayana who is Brahman in Vishishtadvaita thinking. Mahaanaaraayanopanishad is quite different from Naaraayanopanishd which though has repeated many sooktas and Mantras from Vedas as in the above Upanishat has not deviated from the general style of Upanishads. Nevertheless this Upanishat brings forth forcefully Ganapatya Sampradaya worship which is one amongst the six Sampradayas (Traditions) regularized by Sankaracharya.
Considerable help has been taken in preparing this discourse from the following publications which is gratefully acknowledged:
- Swaami Devarupananda, Mamntrapushpam, Ramakrishna Math, Khar, Mumbai, India.
- S wami Harshananda, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.
- Hans Heinrich Hock, An Early Upanishadic Reader< Motilal Banarasidass, New Delhi, India.