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Ganapati Bappa Morya!

SUNDAY, AUGUST 23, 2009. Today is Ganesh Chaturthi, an auspicious day because Ganesh is the Hindu deity of success. According to the prevailing belief in India, Ganesh Chaturthi is the perfect day to start any endeavor, such as launching this Web site. Lord Ganesh is being adored today all over India. Especially, in Western India and in Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra, homes are resounding with the chant of "Ganapati Bappa Morya!"

Sixty–three years ago, I was chanting "Ganapati Bappa Morya!" with my friends of a Maharashtrian. family at their home during the Ganesh Puja. This family had recently moved into our neighborhood in Jabalpur — a small town then in the state of Central Province — now called Madhya Pradesh, or MP. I was eight years old and a fourth grader.

As an eight year old Bengali boy, all I knew then about Ganesh was that he and Kartik were sons of Durga. I knew this because we Bengalis used to celebrate Durga Puja in our community club. And Ganesh's image would be on the alter in the group of images of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik, and of course the lion on whose back Durga would be riding.

I didn't know then the meaning of "Ganapati Bappa Morya". But chanting it with my new friends during the arati each evening and on the day when Ganesh's image would be immersed in a well in the neighborhood park was fun for me. I presumed that the chant meant something like "Jai Ganesh."

During the six decades that followed, things changed drastically for myself and my Marathi friends. Four of us migrated in the late 1960s and early 70s and settled down in the US. Our children grew up here; one of them is now in Europe.

Indeed, the so-called "brain-drain" of Indian professionals to the West starting in the 1960s has touched a large number of families all over India. Even Ganapati Bappa has not been spared! A few years ago we bought a small image of Ganesh, and not surprisingly it was made in China! Ganesh temples are in all major cities of the US today. Presumably, there are many in other parts of the world as well.

Reverence for Ganesh seems to have increased noticeably in India since I left 38 years ago. Perhaps Hindus of India have become more conscious now about prosperity and success, so they adore Ganesh more, the deity of success. During my trips to India, I see Ganesh statues or pictures everywhere — in homes, in shops, on carts of street-side peddlers, on dash-boards of taxicabs and three–wheeler autos, and on the desks of office workers. The Internet is flooded with Web sites and blogs on Ganesh.

Without question, the Internet is greatly impacting our lifestyle. Our socio–economic and religious outlook, especially that of our educated and affluent middle class young people is undergoing a major transformation. There is a widespread notion prevailing in India, and in the West as well, that the media and the Internet are making the current generation less religious and more materialistic. To quote Swami Ranganathananda: (emphasis mine):

The 'wheel of modern progress' revolves faster and faster decade after decade and man everywhere is feeling dazed and unable to find his bearings . . . Never in human history has man experienced so much darkness within him[self] in the midst of all-round enlightenment outside of him[self], so much inner poverty in the context of measureless enrichment without, and so much loneliness in the midst of an environing crowd. The modern crisis is thus essentially a spiritual crisis . . . (page 43)

Indeed some modern problems are caused by the spiritual crisis. Nonetheless, I find today's generation to be more informed, more reflective, not to mention more independent than my generation was sixty years ago. It's not surprising, therefore, that many young people will question the credibility of the stories from the Puranas as to how Ganesh got his elephant–head, or how Vishnu created the Universe from a lotus growing from his navel. Even in today's space age many so–called pundits will preach such stories as facts. On the other hand many educated contemporary people will not only ignore but ridicule them as fairy tales. Huston Smith commented:

"Dogmatic scientific materialists are as exceptional as dogmatic religious fanatics, but because they [both] stir things up and the media loves a good fight, their number and importance gets exaggerated." (Why Religion Matters, Harper Collins, 2001, p. 273)

Needless to say, orthodox pundits or modern elites, scientific materialists or religious fanatics can equally harm people's minds. As a result, they alienate young people who are "educated and nurtured in modern thought."

What we need today, therefore, is to focus and elaborate on the underlying principles and philosophy in our religions that would be more palatable to the educated young women and men of the 21st century. Such discussions will allow them to reflect on the subtleties and profundities not only of Hinduism but of all religions.

And that's what this site is all about.

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