Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ele-phantising - Ganesha and other Elephants

Elephants have been padding their way into my heart for several years. Recently a small collection, more by chance than intent, has begun to find a place in our house.

In India a few years ago I was enchanted to see wild elephants  at dawn on a nature reserve and the painted, decorated elephants that take part in ceremonies at temples and at the Palace in Mysore. As a memento I bought one, the small blue, joyful one, second from left in the group. Until I opened my yoga space he remained my only one. Then Ganesha joined us.

Though I have been teaching yoga for many years, the Yoga Space in Moncton was a new place for my students and me.

During a workshop in Fredericton I found my Ganesha in Cultures, the fair trade shop. He sits at the feet of Buddha among the candles during our classes.

The beloved elephant-faced-Deity Ganesha is one of the most popular gods in Hindu mythology. Known as the ‘remover of obstacles’ he is worshipped at the beginning of a new venture or  journey. Endowed with a gentle and affectionate nature he is also a god of wisdom. Images of Ganesha are found in almost every household in India and on the outskirts of villages as a guardian deity.

The sacred texts give a variety of stories about Ganesha's birth. The most regarded says Ganesha was created by Goddess Parvati to guard her when she was annoyed by the refusal of her husband Shiva to respect her privacy while she was bathing. She rubbed sandalwood paste off her body and out of it created a young boy who she called her son and instructed him to watch while she bathed.

All the qualities of the elephant are contained in Ganesha. The elephant is the largest and strongest of animals of the forest, yet he is gentle and, amazingly, a vegetarian, so that he does not kill to eat. He is very affectionate and loyal to his keeper and responds to love and kindness. Ganesha, though a powerful deity, is similarly loving and forgiving and moved by the affection of his devotees.

After Ganesha the other elephants came trumpeting along. The happy one on the far left of the top photo with his mandolin reminded me of the music room at a museum in Mysore. He was found at the Salvation Army. The large carved wooded one at the back of the photo was found at a local flea market. There is a very small drawer for treasures in his side. Later the blue and white elephant stepped off a shelf at Value Village and another visit to Sally Ann found the fellow on the right waiting for me.

Elephants cry, play, have incredible memories and even laugh. They are sensitive too. If a baby complains, the entire family will rumble and go to touch and caress it. They will grieve the loss of a stillborn baby, a family member and often another elephants. When a friend has been away, elephants have greeting ceremonies in welcome.

One of the most informative and moving animal books I’ve read is ‘When Elephants Weep’ by Jeffery Moussaieff Masson. (Another fascinating must-read by Masson is ‘The Emperor’s Embrace’ – about non-human fatherhood and parenting).

Practical items from India include my blue Ganesha yoga tunic, a black tunic with pink elephants and a bolster bag in my favourite colours of blue and purple with bands of batiked elephants.

Closer to home Frenchy’s revealed the lovely embroidered, sequinned small bag and the cotton bag from Thailand with a small brass elephant pendant. Then just yesterday, not specially looking, or needing, anything I saw this amazing scarf. At Frenchy’s prices it would have been foolish to leave it hanging.

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