Gaṇapati in association with yogic experience

On the occasion of the Gaṇeśacaturthī, I would like to share my yogic ideas about association of Gaṇapati with yogic experience. We know, there are plenty of Gaṇeśa’s forms, they are all very important in their own way and can bring different blessings to those who perform their sādhanas. Also, there are multiple of connections of different Gaṇeśa’s forms with those or other Śiva’s and sole universal Śakti’s manifestations.

Gaṇeśa mitigates the negative influences of Ketu, as well as removes many obstacles, grants knowledge, success in sādhana and in many endeavours. Now, you can find a lot of information on this subject. However, Gaṇeśa plays a great role for those who follow the yogic path. It is said in Gaṇeśatharva-śīrṣa:

त्वं मूलाधारस्थितोऽसि नित्यम् ।
tvaṃ mūlādhārasthito’si nityam ।

You [Gaṇeśa] (tvaṃ) are the one who is (rasthito’si) permanently (nityam) in the muladhara-cakra (mūlādhāra).

In other words, thanks to the worshiping of Gaṇeśa, the yogi is able to awaken the kuṇḍalinī-śakti in the mūlādhāra-cakra.

त्वं शक्तित्रयात्मकः ।
tvaṃ śaktitrayātmakaḥ ।

You (tvaṃ) are the essence (ātmaka) of three (traya) Divine powers (śakti).

It can also be the energies of the three kuṇḍalinī forms: the lower one in the mūlādhāra-cakra, the upper one in the sahasrāra-cakra and the one in the center between them. Therefore, Gaṇeśa not only awakens energy in the mūlādhāra-cakra, but also leads to complete yogic realisation. In addition, he is the essence of icchā, jñāna and kriyā śakts.

त्वां योगिनो ध्यायन्ति नित्यम् ।
tvāṃ yogino dhyāyanti nityam ।

For yogis (yogino), you (tvāṃ) are the permanent (nityam) object of their contemplation (dhyāyanti).

There are many descriptions of the Gaṇeśa’s qualities, which actually indicate his yogic nature. And what I would like to say in this connection: whatever external worship a person may do, they can have internally different involvement of one’s energy, consciousness and heart. But, only the revelation of one’s own purest nature in one or another action and the highest aspirations basically gives the power to pūjā. I would like to give some examples showing that the Divine is what we really are. Someone can say by ignorance “Yes, but I do not have the elephant head, I’m in a human body. What is the connection with the yoga practice? ” External attributes are simply symbols of different energies, behind which is a finer and spiritual energy that permeates the whole universe with all its diversity. It is ātman, one in all forms, powers, it is within the human form in which sādhaka realises himself through yoga. That is why the Nava Nāthas (the nine founders of the different Nāth directions), on the one hand, are the famous Indian Deities, among whom there is Gaṇapati (aka Gajabeli Gadjakantharnath), but on the other, they all have human forms.

Whichever complex pūjās we perform, we always do this in the presence of our body. While we are in the body, we perform karma (an action). The body is always with us until death, it is the instrument of the soul, its temple, and what is most natural for all human incarnations. The body is also important for the yoga realisation. Few people of us know, but according to many stories Gaṇeśa was not originally with the elephant head, he gained it later. Moreover, sometimes he is the son of Śiva, and sometimes he is the supreme primordial Deity himself. This can all be food for many reflections. Being born in this world, we come from the unmanifested, obtain different energies and then return back to ourselves. We are born in many lives and forms, ultimately affirming in that beyond them all. This original reality is Gaṇeśa. There are not many temples in India with Gaṇeśa in human form. Here, for example, are several known forms of Gaṇeśa from the Śiva temple in Kumbakonam, namely Naramukha Gaṇapati (Gaṇeśa with a human face) or Adi Gaṇapati (primordial Gaṇeśa):

Also, the form of Gaṇeśa with a human face is found in Tiruchirappalli (Tamil Nadu), in Nandrudyan Vināyaka temple. There is another famous Uttarapathisvarasvami Mandir (Vātāpigaṇapatim).

All of these show that Gaṇeśa is not the one who simply takes us away from our human nature, he is rather able to eliminate our weaknesses in human nature and to reveal its pure and strong levels.

Kṛṣṇa as the manifestation of Kālī

Today is Kṛṣṇāṣṭamī of Bhādrapadā month, for the majority this day is known as Kṛṣṇajanmāṣṭami. But, for the śaktaupāsakas this date is also known as Kālī-jayantī. Many people have probably heard that Muṇḍamālā Tantra, Guhyātiguhya Tantra, Toḍala Tantra identify ten Viṣṇu-avatāras with ten Mahāvidyās, and according to these texts Kṛṣṇa is the manifestation of Kālī. However, the very ideas about the unity of Kṛṣṇa and Mahākāla (whose Śakti is Kālī) are also found in earlier sources, in Bhagavadgītā (11.32) Kṛṣṇa says:

कालोऽस्मि लोकक्षयकृत् | kālo’smi lokakṣayakṛt |

I am the time destroying the worlds.

If you look at the paddhatis where the Kālī-pūjā is described, then in many of them you can find borrowing from Puruṣa Suktam, for example, in the nyāsa practice or in other elements of the pūjā. This is not accidental, because the image of puruṣa symbolises Mahākāla and His ŚaktiKālī. Mahākāla Dakṣiṇāmūrti is the Śaktimān of Dakṣiṇā Kālī. Mahākāla is the Great Time, who absorbs the very time, He is the symbol of transformation that also indicates the inner yogic process. Many interesting images pointing, for example, to the original dark nature of Mahākāla and Mahākālī, are found in other sources. For example, in Rigveda (10.129. 03):

तम आसीत्तमसा गूढमग्रेऽप्रकेतं सलिलं सर्वमा इदं ।
तुच्छ्येनाभ्वपिहितं यदासीत्तपसस्तन्महिना जायतैकं ॥३॥

tama āsīttamasā gūḍhamagre’praketaṃ salilaṃ sarvamā idaṃ ।
tucchyenābhvapihitaṃ yadāsīttapasastanmahinā jāyataikaṃ ॥3॥

Initially, there was a darkness immersed in a dark abyss, all this were endless waters. That incomprehensible and unified manifested himself through the power of his heat.

A similar description is also found in Dharmaśāstra, for example in Manusmṛti (1.5):

आसीदिदं तमोभूतमप्रज्ञातमलक्षणम् ।
अप्रतर्क्यमविज्ञेयं प्रसुप्तमिव सर्वतः ॥ ५ ॥

āsīdidaṃ tamobhūtamaprajñātamalakṣaṇam |
apratarkyamavijñeyaṃ prasuptamiva sarvataḥ || 5 ||

This world was darkness, immersed in a deep sleep, incomprehensible to the mind, inseparable, unknowable.

However, the darkness associated with Mahākāla, Kālī, Kṛṣṇa and other Gods and Goddesses has no negative context. It rather as the highest reality from which the creation, maintenance and destruction of the entire universe occurs. It is also known that ṛṣi of the Puruṣa Suktam hymns is Nārāyaṇa, who is identified with this puruṣa in other sources, in Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa for example. We can find many earlier sources pointing to the identity of Mahākāla, Nārāyaṇa (Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa) and also Kālī – the Śakti of Mahākāla. For many nātha-yogis, Mahākāla is none other than Śiva Adināth, because Mahākāla and his Śakti are very revered in the Nātha Sampradaya. The goddess Kālī grants liberation from time and worldly impermanence to those who have established themselves in devotion and the yoga path.

Śarabha from the yogic and tantric perspective

The name of Śarabha is first mentioned in the Rig Veda, in the hymn to Indra and Vāyu, he is mentioned as a relative of ṛṣi (शरभाय ऋषि बन्धवे śarabhāya ṛṣi bandhave):

विश्वेत्ता ते सवनेषु प्रवाच्या या चकर्थ मघवन्निन्द्र सुन्वते ।
पारावतं यत्पुरुसम्भृतं वस्वपावृणोः शरभाय ऋषिबन्धवे ॥६॥

viśvettā te savaneṣu pravācyā yā cakartha maghavannindra sunvate ।
pārāvataṃ yatpurusambhṛtaṃ vasvapāvṛṇoḥ śarabhāya ṛṣibandhave ॥ 6 ॥

Oh, Meghavan (the name of Indra, who was crowned on Mount Mekhvan)! All your actions, which grant the well-being to Pārāvana and gathered in large numbers for Śarabha, who is a relative of ṛṣi, are worthy of praise at performing sacrifices.

Besides the mention, also, in the Atharva Veda, an interesting reference of Śarabha is found in Śatapatha-brahmana, where he is mentioned as kimpuruṣa (a half-human, a half-animal):

स यं पुरुषमालभन्त । स किम्पुरुषोऽभवद्यावश्वं च गां च तौ गौरश्च गवयश्चाभवतां यमविमालभन्त स उष्ट्रोऽभवद्यमजमालभन्त स शरभोऽभवत्तस्मादेतेषां पशूनां नाशितव्यमपक्रान्तमेधा हैते पशवः – १.२.३.[९]

sa yaṃ puruṣamālabhanta। sa kimpuruṣo’bhavadyāvaśvaṃ ca gāṃ ca tau gauraśca gavayaścābhavatāṃ yamavimālabhanta sa uṣṭro’bhavadyamajamālabhanta sa śarabho’bhavattasmādeteṣāṃ paśūnāṃ nāśitavyamapakrāntamedhā haite paśavaḥ – 1.2.3.[9]

He is the person whom they offered as a sacrifice, he became kimpuruṣa; the horse and the bull, which they sacrificed, became a female and a male buffalo, and the sheep that was killed became a camel, the killed goat became Śarabha. These animals cannot be eaten, because they are devoid of sacrificial essence. 1.2.3.[9]

Later, Śarabha, also known as Śalabha, is also found in the following Purāṇas (Śriīmadbhāgavata, Matsya, Skanda, Harivamśa, Śiva and Padma Purāṇas), as well as in the Mahābhārata (Vana Parva, Śanti Parva, Adi Parva, Udyoga Parva, Droṇa Parva), in the Rāmāyaṇa (in Yuddhakanda) and also in various forms in the most diverse Tantras. Often he is described as a Deity having four paws, which symbolise the eight forms of Śiva, his thighs symbolise the vyādhi (illnesses) and mṛityu (death) that he controls. His stomach is Vadavagni Bhairava, Bālātripurasundari is in his heart, in the two wings there are the Goddesses –Śulini Durgā and Pratyaṅgirā, in the throat there is Mahakala Bhairava, in his eyes – the sun, the moon and fire, in his claws there are vajras of Indra. He also has the face of a lion.

Basically, Śarabha is known to many upāsakas as a form of Bhairava, who prevented the contamination with the blood, that Narasiṃha had drunk, killing the demon Hiraṇyakaśipu. The story is that Hiraṇyakaśipu performed austerities in order to gain the strength not to be killed either on earth or in the air, in the room or on the street, by animals or by men. Then Viṣṇu appeared in the guise of a half-lion, half-man. It happened on the steps of a palace (neither in the house nor on the street), he raised Hiraṇyakaśipu and killed him on his own knee (neither on earth nor in the air). However, after drinking the blood of HiraṇyakaśipuNarasiṃha began to fall under his demonic influence. For that purpose Śiva took the form of Śarabheśvara, raised Narasiṃha above the earth and “dropped” him so that he spewed all the blood of Hiraṇyakaśipu out of himself. Sometimes Śarabheśvara is called Aśu Garuḍa because he has the ability to fly. In that sense, Śarabha symbolises the strength of a large number of living beings. A modern example might be given: when new types of weapons are being developed, with more sophisticated program control and functional capabilities. In fact, Śarabha is a kind of Deity with Narasiṃha‘s “improved” abilities, more advanced to combat demons, with more flexible methods of warfare.

His name Śalabha, which translates as “grasshopper”, means that the insect is capable of making jumps that resemble a flight, although in general it is on the ground. In honour of him, there is a well-known śalabhāsana in yoga, which is quite powerful; Śalabha or Śarabha is a symbol of strength, he is full of Śakti (energy). Narayanasvami gives a yogic interpretation of the image of Śarabha in his text Tantrika Mahākāvya, for example, that his eight paws mean aṣṭāṅga-yoga, four of them look upwards (antaraṅga-yoga) and four – down (bahiraṅgayoga). However, it seems to me, Śarabha can rather be associated with different kinds of living beings and their forces, as many yoga texts say, there are as many yogic āsanas as living beings. Mastering of āsanas could mean even more than the ability to take different positions of the body, but also probably the awareness of the various vibrational characteristics that fill the entire universe, to realise the main ability – to become a siddha-puruṣa and get out of the influence of saṃsāra and māyāŚarabha is a Deity who removes a magical enchantment, takes the practitioner out of bewitchment by an illusory force. Therefore, he is able to grant spiritual liberation. However, the Deity includes a conglomerate of very different energies, so he is capable of giving a strong transformation, thus sādhaka should have strong self-control and be mature. Tremendous devotion to a real Guru (realised Siddha), who has realised this Deity and its mantras in himself and can transmit it in its full state to his own śiśya is a necessary part. Otherwise, mantras of ŚarabhaPratyaṅgirā, and others can greatly damage the experimenter with such mantras and sādhanas. In connection with that, I won’t make any technical information on the practice of such Deities publicly available.

Returning to the theme of yoga, a very interesting description of śarabhāsana is found in the Agama-rahasya-tantra, where many āsanas are described by the same names as in the texts of haṭha-yoga (as understood by many now). However, these āsanas are often described as mats made of different materials, on which one must sit and chant a mantra a certain number of times, which leads to different siddhis. For example, mayūrāsana, siṁhāsana, kukkuṭāsana, etc. are different materials from animal skin. But speaking of śarabhāsana, confusion may arise, because there is no such “animal” in the real nature. Respectively, the conclusion is: āsanas also mean the image itself, which carries this or that kind of force.