I worshipped an elephant today

My Ganesh shrine


This morning I performed my first Hindu prayer, or Puja, as part of Bhakti Yoga, or Path of Devotion. After I showered, I plopped down in front of my shrine (set up on a side table repurposed for this month), and began the simplified (and probably incorrect), prayer ritual.

First, I recited the following phrase, “So that the ceremonies we are about to undertake proceed to completion without any obstacles, we contemplate on Mahaganapti [Ganesh].”

I then proceeded to symbolically offer Ganesh a seat, wash his hands and feet, offered him water and clothing, offered perfumed incense, offered food (banana chips in this case) and offered “gold” (represented by a quarter).

The ritual has many formal steps, but the general idea is to replicate the process of welcoming a guest into your home. You would offer a guest a comfortable place to sit and rest, a place to shower, beverages, etc. The guest, in this case, is Ganesh.

I chose to worship Ganesh for a few reasons.

First, he is one of the most famous gods in Hinduism. I figured I would follow the wisdom of the crowds in this case.

Second, he is generally worshiped as both the remover of obstacles, and the lord of learning and letters. I could use a little help in ensuring I get the most out of my yoga practice this month. In addition, I also started studying for the GRE, so Ganesh’s learning powers could come in handy.

Third, there is a Hindu festival dedicated to celebrating Ganesh this month and I thought it would be cool if I had a “head start” in learning about him.

A few observations from my first Puja:

  1. It’s fun to worship a deity with a personality. Prayers during my other experiments were very solemn, contemplative affairs. Praying to Ganesh is much “easier” in a sense that he is easy to visualize, primarily because I have a small statue of him. He has an elephant head, a round belly, and is, apparently, fond of sweets.
  1. It’s nice to ask for stuff. Petitionary prayer is the type of prayer most of us are familiar with. We ask God to help us or someone we love in some way g. Dear God help me win the lottery. I’ve gotten away from that type of prayer during my experiments; I only prayed for help in cultivating virtuous qualities in myself. With Ganesh, I asked for help with GRE studying.
  1. The smell of incense is incredibly pleasant and calming. Odors were not a part of the prayers and spiritual exercises in my other months, but maybe they should have been. I think there is something particularly powerful about smells that can help you get in the “prayer zone.”

Now, I suspect many people would think it’s stupid to worship a figure of a pot-bellied god with an elephant head, but I found the ritual quite pleasant and enjoyable. I don’t “believe” that Ganesh exists, but the ritual alone was psychologically beneficial.

Now, let’s see if Ganesh will help me with my GRE math problems….