If you practise in the downstairs Vinyasa studio you’ll have seen the mural of the elephant’s face in the back corner. But this is no ordinary elephant — this is the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha.
Ganesha is a very popular figure in India and has become significant even for non-Hindus, especially for modern western Yogi’s. He is most often considered as the remover of obstacles but we particularly like the help he offers when invoked for auspicious beginnings. In our personal perspective, we like to think of him rather as the creator of opportunities — all obstacles are in fact situations that help us learn something and grow towards our best self. Looking to Ganesha helps us appreciate the opportunities we can discover in meeting the challenges that life (and Yoga practice) throws at us. There will always be ‘obstacles’ that get in the way of us having what we want, or what we think we want. Ganesha reminds us to find a way to move through them or around them with a bit more wisdom and grace.
Why does Ganesha have an elephant’s head? The basic story is that his father, Shiva, had been absent for many years and did not recognise that the strange boy standing in his way was actually his own son. He cut off the head of the infant Ganesha in a fit of anger. Then to appease his wife, Parvati, mother of Ganesha, he brought Ganesha back to life and replaced his head with the head of an elephant, since this was the first dead animal he encountered.
There are many attributes of Ganesha in traditional representations which relate to particular stories about his life: why he has a broken tusk, why he rides on a rat, what objects he holds in his hands. But we’ve kept our mural simple, depicting just the face. If you stop and look closely what do you see in that face? You might notice that it’s asymmetrical — just as we all are; no-one’s perfect. In particular Ganesha’s eyes are different, one is open staring right at you as you look at him, the other is darker and turned inward. Perhaps we too all have different ways of seeing the world and of being seen by the world. Part of our nature is open, outward looking: what you see is what you get. The other side of our nature might be more complicated, the sum of all our experiences through life that make us who we are. Perhaps in Ganesha’s face there is represented the inner gaze, a view towards the wisdom that resides deep within us, the wisdom we seek to reveal through our Yoga practice.
oṃ gaṃ gaṇapataye namaḥ
By Alessandro Gozzi