Pillayar (Ganesh) Chathurthi

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

Pillayar! Lord Ganesh isthus fondly called in Tamil Nadu. The elephant-headed, pot-bellied chubby Ganesh is so close to the devotees’ heart that He is lovingly called Pillai (child) + yar (to indicate respect).  He is close to the heart because he is simple, doesn’t demand a pompous setting; He can be found beneath either a peepal (Bodhi) tree, banyan or neem or a combo of two or three of these along the banks of rivers, ponds or lakes, and at street corners or junctions, with sky as the roof.Just pour some water, place some flowers, light a clay lamp, offer a plantain, He is smiley!

Pillayar had further endeared Himself to the Tamils by helping Karthik, His youngerbrother, marry the lady of His love. Karthik is more popularly hailed here as the Tamil God ‘Murugan’.  Disguising as an elephant, Pillayar helped Murugan marry Valli, the gypsy girl. Therefore, love-struck guys keep pestering Pillayar to help in their love affair also!

Pillayar is praised as the muzhu mudal kadavul, the complete first god;considered as remover of obstacles, He is called Vigneshwar. So, before we start writing, we firstdraw a symbol called ‘Pillayar chuzhi’ that resembles numeric 2 followed by two dots. This was actually a practice of olden days when palmairah leaf was used for writing, to ascertain its fitness to write with the sharp inscriber.

Pillayar’s simplicity follows in ‘creating’ Him also. He can easily be created even by a child with just a handful of ordinary clay, auspicious turmeric powder, ‘sacred’ cow dung or costly sandal paste. Take a handful of this wet material, hold it within your closed palm and then place it down. There! You have created a Pillayar. This practice has given two idioms to the Tamil language –‘Nee pidicha Pillayar, na pidicha kuranga?’ (What you create is Pillayar but what I create is monkey?), ‘Pillayar pidikka kurangai mudintha kathai’ (Started making Pillayar but ended up with a monkey!).The poor monkey is body-shamed in both these idioms!

Pillayar has His own style of getting repaid.  The sidhar (shattering) thengai (coconut) is a symbolic way of thanksgiving to Pillayar to submit/accept our nothingness before Him. It could go to the level of breaking 108 coconuts or to the extreme of 1008 coconuts!

Pillayar temples are countless in Tamil Nadu but the Karpaga Vinayagar Temple in Pillayarpatti, 70kms. from Madurai city, is one of the oldest rock-cut cave temples of the State. Unlike the usual image with four hands, the 6-foot Pillayar has only two hands. If His trunk is curved to the right, He is adored as Valampuri Pillayar, a rarity as in the case of conch.

Pillayar Chathurthi is celebrated at homes by installing a small clay idol that winks at you with Abrus precatorius / rosary pea set as the eyes. After worshipit is immersed the next morning itself in the backyard well. With wells disappearing and replaced bydeeper and deeper bore wells, one has to search for water bodies which too are fast changing as housing plots. Bay of Bengal being 10 kms away, we decided to worship the Pillayar picture instead, that is invariably found in all homes. With environment awareness rising up, Seed Ganesh has appeared in the market.  After puja, just place it in a plant pot and pour water. The seeds inside will start sprouting and make your home green. But it has its own price – starting at Rs.250! Back in the 1970s, Tamil Nadu was not witness to public pandals during Ganesh Chathurthi festival. The alien Marathi-style public pandal worship is indeed a public nuisance besides polluting the atmosphere and water. But in the name of promoting Hinduism this is being unnecessarily thrust upon here by Hindutva forces.

So the first time I witnessed Ganesh pandal was in Cuttack, in the then Orissa (Odisha) in 1980. Odisha artisans make such lovely idols that even a bachelor like me who is not a devoted devotee was tempted to buy a delicately handcrafted small dancing Ganesha idol that added charm to my drab YMCA room. Wish I had carried Him to Chennai.

In Sikkim, my next place of posting, to my surprise, I found Pillayarin Tibetan Buddhism wherein thoughGanpati occupies a small place among the countless pantheons.  In the tantric Buddhism He is known as Tsog gi dag po (‘T’ silent) or Mar po / Mar chen, meaning the Great Red Lord, and is represented in red color, hence Maha Rakta Ganpati.  This form of Ganpati is considered an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, God of Compassion, and one among the Three Great Red Deities. He is a minor deity, believed to be of the lower Tantras, rather a yidam (mental bond or mind link). It actually refers to vivid meditations designed to bring the Buddha’s teaching to one’s mind as quickly as possible.  Mar po is, therefore, more or less similar to the Siddhi (spiritual) and Buddhi (intellectual) powers that we seek from Ganapati!

Despite 50 years having rolled by, I fondly remember my childhood experience in Madurai.The small Arasa maram (peepal/Bodhi tree) Pillayar temple near our home turned hyper active during Pillayar Chathurthi occasions.  Traditional Carnatic music concerts,dance-dramas were organised at the street junction from 9 PM onwards till dawn. Carnatic music doyens of those days like Smt.K.B. Sundarambal, Madurai Somu and others performed there and I was slowly drawn to the divine Carnatic music ocean. I am grateful to the Arasamara Pillayar who still blesses from the same simple site which is known as Arasa maram bus stop.

Pillayar’s favourite prasad (offering) is ‘kozhukkattai’ that resembles Tibetan momo. Made of rice flour and steam cooked, there are two varieties – plain/spicy and with sweet filling. This year, my wife is scheming to order ‘kozhukkattai’ through Zomato or Swiggy, as she will be too busy Whatsapping Pillayar Chathurthi greetings!   

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