“All obstacles, whatever they may be, will be rooted out by worshipping Ganesh,” promises an ancient Hindu scripture. Every year when Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated people from all sections of the society in India chant ‘Ganpati Bappa Moriya’ with full reverence. Praying to the deity with great belief for knowledge, peace, prosperity and harmonious co-existence. Ganesha is the remover of all obstacles for humans in all conditions!
The Ganesha, also called Ganapati, elephant-headed god of beginnings. Indeed all-Hindu rituals offer their first reverence to Ganesha unequivocally across the world. His name means both “Lord of the People” (gana means the common people) and “Lord of the Ganas” (Ganesha is the chief of the ganas, the goblin hosts of Shiva).
The symbolism of Ganesha, elephants is revered and sought blessings everywhere. It is perceived to be the living incarnation of Ganesha. Thus, elephants are tolerated from being killed, even when they bring destruction to people and property. Tolerance towards elephants comes from their inner belief and strength towards the pot-bellied deity.
That perception and belief has changed in recent years. Today is Ganesha Chturthi and is a day to reflect how we have reduced that symbolism to pray to a deity for a day, but can’t co-exist through the rest of the time. The compelling award-winning documentary, Elephants in the Coffee, reflects on how the society that tolerated to its wild ways and at times destroying livelihood/property etc. has now changed its principle.
Society outside the boundaries of the national park has no tolerance to the elephants and is adapting ways to kill elephants. Throughout the elephant habitat zones, agricultural conflicts with elephants are forcing rural residents to electrocute the animals with high-tension wires or shoot them with guns, poison-tipped arrows. In some places, rice wine, an elephant favorite laced with insecticides is a means adapted by humans. Poachers and human-induced accidents add to the toll. If not able to kill through forceful measures, elephants are captured, tortured and made submissive in temporary camps. Much of their life, captive elephants have no role in the human society, other than being cared by two humans, a mahout and a Kavadi.
Elephants do not have such principles to kill and cause problem to humans. Their original land and corridors are taken away and their natural habitats are shrinking. They come in contact by virtue of crossing over to their perceived land. It is time we give a thought towards peaceful co-existence than confrontational approach. Nearly a fifth of the world's human population lives within the range of the Asian elephant; how long can we ever coexist?
If not, what is the future of conservation of elephants? Would we allow our consciousness to the glorious celebration through a soulless deity and seek blessings and marvel at its supreme power? Elephants today carry a heavy load on their head and shoulders just to stay outside the intolerant means adapted by us.
We should not limit our co-existence only to give space in our homes and offer worship to an invisible god, the still deity but learn new ways in which we can share and care towards the living god, the elephants. We cannot let go of the age-old traditions and acceptance for our greed of expansion.
As we celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, it is time we seek its divine blessings for co-existence and be more tolerant to each other. A world without elephants, is a sad and unimaginable.
Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College