So every year, when it is time for the monsoon to wane, Ganesha's image is brought home, bedecked, fed and worshipped with incense and flowers and lamps for ten days, before it is immersed in the sea. This is done again and again, every year -- the inviting of god and then bidding him goodbye with such concrete efficiency.
Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik
Every year we see the clay idols being set up, every year, following the fourteenth day of the waxing moon, we see the remains of the majestic idols floating in the sea. Ten days of festivities, music and dance and prayer, and then silence. Time to worship the ancestors.
The following fortnight will be devoted to the dead. This is the fortnight for the Pitris, a time to remember and reassure them that their rebirth is imminent. A fundamental concept that governs religions that originated in India is that 'everything ends'. Nothing lasts forever. The inanimate is transformed into different forms. The animate has to die. Death, change, transformation governs nature. It is the only thing that is predictable.
Life is about coping with this change. The inanimate rock and river, the nir-jiva, are not aware of death and so, do not resist change. Animate plants and animals, the sa-jiva, are aware of death and so, resist dying; running and fighting as they struggle to survive. Humans alone are blessed with wondering about death, seeking meaning in life, desperately wanting to know: what is the point of it all? Nature offers no answers.
Religion seems to offer a hypothesis. Even science has raised its hands up in despair. No one really knows. And that is frustrating. So we choose to ignore existentialist angst and devote ourselves to some silly plan, a goal or mission of our own making that we declare to be the purpose of our life.
In the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira when asked by the Yaksha to identify the greatest wonder in the world states, "Every day people die and the rest live as if they are immortal. That is the greatest wonder."
Every year Ganesha is dunked into the sea. Gradually the clay dissolves into water. His image disappears. Was this an elaborate ritual designed by our ancestors to draw attention to the ephemeral nature of life? Nothing lasts forever. The point of life is then not to achieve something, but to sit and wonder, what is the point of it all? That is why India is renowned for its sages, mystics and philosophers.
What mattered more for us was not external material achievements but inner spiritual realisation -- wisdom that no one can pass on like wealth; it must be ignited individually. Wisdom makes us kinder, gentler, humbler, not angry revolutionaries -- for every revolution will also die, eventually, inevitably.
We often forget that Lakshmi and Saraswati accompany Ganesha. When Ganesha arrives, Lakshmi walks in our direction. When Ganesha leaves, Saraswati walks in our direction. With both comes a goddess: wealth in boom time, wisdom in bust time. Lakshmi makes us grow externally, whether we want to or not. Saraswati helps us grow internally, but only if we allow her to. There is clearly a preference for one goddess over the other. And Ganesha smiles, for he has faith in humanity, and infinite patience.
The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.