Saturday, the second, was the eight-year anniversary of my spousal relationship with, Wayne. We left Indiana the night prior, June 1st, and drove that into Nashville, Tennessee. We were on our way to Florida where we’ve planned a week-long resort stay. It was my idea that we should make mini trips on eaither side of our maha trip- mostly because I abhor places like Florida or California, the specifics of our Florida trip weren’t my idea and I suppose I needed “me” stuff on either side as a means of bracing for the misery that is Florida, and also for recovery afterward. 🙂
The first of these was to visit the Sri Ganesha Temple in Nashville, Tennessee. We arrived in Tennessee very early Saturday morning, our anniversary. That same morning, after checking in and sleeping some, we awoke, exchanged rings, and did some mapping of Nashville. We had already planned to visit The Sri Ganesha Temple for a scheduled Shani Maha Pradosham that evening.
Let me just say now that Wayne is a saint. He’s not Hindu…or anything really; maybe Agnostic? Likely Atheist. But he’s very patient and at times willing to put up with, literally, hours of what’s essentially religious nonsense to him. We arrived at Sri Ganesha and toured the place on our own.
The temple grounds are pretty simple, but pretty great. Within the temple there is one main/maha garbhagrha (btw, I suspect I’m about to misuse that word, but whatever), where Sri Maha Ganapati is housed. I don’t know exactly what His dimensions measure, but He’s got to be at least 7ft tall. Four arms holding noose/goad, axe, broken tusk, and modaka/coconut. He’s entirely black, save his eyes. He is absolutely fantastic. No joke. To say I’ve been changed simply by gazing at Him would be to speak an understatement.
There are two smaller garbhagrhas to either side of Sri Ganapati. On His right, His father Siva is housed in the lingam form. It’s rather impressive, and aside from the Nataraja form, the lingam is my favorite expression of Siva. On Sri Ganesha’s left is housed Venkateshwara, a form of Vishnu. On the external walls of each of these three garbhas are mid-height nooks which are also garbhas in their own sense. Each of them house not only the other 31 of Ganesha’s 32 forms, but also a handful of other deities like Nrsingha, Sathyavan (?), Lakshmi, etc… In front of where Ganesha, Siva, and Venkateshwara are housed, along the outside walls of the main temple area, are six other pujasthanas. In these are housed Durga, Shubramanyan, Parvati, Radha/Krsna, Laskhman & company, and Jagganath & company.
We visited each one. I explained just a little about each to Wayne as we made our stops. We noticed, not unlike in Indiana, that I (we) were just about the only non-indian(s) there. On that day, there was another white man there. He sat quietly near the back of the main area, rudraksha mala in hand, absorbed in jaapa. According to his chosen tilak marking, I could tell he is a Saivite. With our initial walk about done, we settled near where the Navagrahas were stationed and waited for the Maha Pradosham to begin. This puja was lovely and lasted just over an hour. Afterward, I offered obeisances to Ganapati once more, purchased a few gift murtis (miniature replicas of the Mahamurti) for friends, and we left.
The next morning, we returned quite early. This time we were just the second ones, after the pundits/pujaris, to arrive. Before entering, we toured the outside grounds a bit. We then entered. Jagannath Puja was just finishing and things were set for Saraswati Puja, which was scheduled that morning as a benefit to recent graduates.
The best part of that morning for me, and something which has truly tattoed my mind and soul, was the Ganesha Abhishek. It took place after the Jagannath Puja and prior to the Saraswati puja. After entering the temple, I made pradakshina. I then sat before the Mahamurti for darshan. Jai Sri Ganesh!
They were in the process of waking Him. The door to His garbhagrha was opened, but a curtain still kept Him veiled. Then it was pulled back. He was utterly bare. No malas/garlands. No pushpam/flowers. Nothing. He was literally absent. His image was there, and it was still magnificent, but it was obviously just gross matter. After the unveiling, which was rather unceremonious, some rites took place: chanting, incence… the whole bit. Then the abhishekam began. The panchamrtam were poured over His image in their usual order. At specific times in the puja a pause was made. During this pause, tilak/vibhuti was applied to His forehead, flowers were placed on Him, and incense was waived circularly while the pujari chanted. Then the abhishek would continue. The whole thing was amazing and felt very good.
At this point, Wayne whispered a question to me… Something like, “Is this done every day?” He just couldn’t fathom something like this being someone’s pride and joy; their “job.” I nodded, smiling – I’d be in Bliss if I could do that. Of course, this is coming from someone who intended to become a monk immediately following high school, and only didn’t because at the time I thought all monks were necessarily Catholic! At this point in my life, I’m happy being a grhasta/householder, but should the stars align it’s definitely not off the table,
After the panchamrtam, the cutrain was pulled closed again. During this time, actually just prior to the curtain being pulled closed (for anyone unfamiliar with the process), the gross material changes. I mean this pretty much literally. It’s at this stage that the difference between an image/idol and a murti is made. I really can’t explain it further.
So the curtain is pulled and Maha Ganapati is out of sight for a while. During this time I found an excellent, auspicious, opportunity for jaapa. I got about three rounds in before the closing of the abhishek was conducted. The curtain was, again, withdrawn. Now, He’s dressed and has malas/garlands. It was like seeing Him for the first time-although it obviously wasn’t the first time.
I literally almost cried. That annoying lump in your throat was as far as I let it get, outwardly. This previously gross matter was transformed. I’m picturing a young girl. She takes her favorite Barbie doll and dresses her. Nothing. It’s a doll. Now, picture the same girl with the same Barbie doll. She dresses her, and then the doll’s eyes blink. She’s awake now; brought to life by a combination of the process (puja) and the devotion (bhakti). The Velvetine Rabitt. Pinocchio. Pixar’s The Toy Story. It’s all the same: inanimate becoming animate. As a Hindu this is foundational. God is simultaneously in everything as the indwelling, timeless Essence of all that lives, and yet is also beyond all that can be found in the worlds of causation. And so, in our tradition, we’re able to “wake” matter up -to call a condensed and concentrated portion of The Divine to be near us.
That morning Ganesha was near. Ganesha was veritably palpable-well, indeed He was physical! He stood, adorned and adored, right in front of me. Immense and immensely dark. I could have used 10,000 words to ascribe attributes to Him and still fallen remarkably short of anything adequate.
A previous post here on Ardhanarishwar dealt with G/god having attributes and being attributeless. Neti, Neti. It’s true. I expereinced this first-hand while receiving Sri Ganesha’s darshan and observing His abhishek. Om Ganapati!
Om Tat Sat Om