There is an occasion in our lives where we crave for that special proof; the proof that restores our faith in the spiritual and helps our thirst for this quest grow by leaps and bounds.
I went through such a phase after my first year engineering exams. For whatever reason, I was ill prepared for it and I didn't fare very well in the exams. I was told that the local Siddhi Vinayak Temple had miraculous powers and if I visited Ganesha for five consecutive Tuesdays, my wishes would be fulfilled. I risked having to stay back a year and I was sweating bullets to say the least.
I mustered up all my courage and visited the Siddhi Vinayak temple. This was the first time I was visiting with a real reason, unaccompanied by my parents. It was a difficult task, as I was not really considered the types to visit temples. I was afraid someone might see me there. I would dart into the temple and finish my prayers rather quickly. Usually, the temple was very crowded, which played to my advantage. I would avoid making eye contact with anyone, hoping that no one I knew had spotted me there. This particular Siddhi Vinayak temple was a small 10 feet x 10 feet room stuck in a non-descript corner close to the railway station. Once inside the temple, I concentrated and prayed with a lot of fervor. I don't recall now what my prayer was like, but I think I must have asked for Ganesha's blessings for my fate which lay perilously in front of me. What would the neighborhood folks say if they found out that an ace champion like me had failed my exams and lost a year? I was a day scholar and wondered how I could walk with a straight spine in the neighborhood in case I was not allowed to go to the next academic year. I would get the shivers just thinking about it. I had studied hard, but due to a variety of reasons (not worth delving into here, part of which was related to how sick I was during my exams) I was ill prepared for the exams. Now the only escape was a miracle which Ganesha could very well perform.
The second Tuesday went by similar to the first. I was (almost) half way there. I dreaded the third Tuesday. It had become like a TO DO, something that needed done and lay like a piece of weight over me starting Sunday. I certainly don't recall looking forward to it. I would frequently go over the # of Tuesdays done and the ones left. I was waiting to get it over with. I wanted to make sure it was exactly five and not more or less.
I think by the 3rd or 4th time, something strange had happened. The idol of ganapati had manifested into something more powerful. It is hard to describe, but it was as if Ganapati was popping out of the stone form and gazing at me. The stone idol had suddenly become very powerful. While doing my adios, it was a ritual for me to step outside the temple, and standing outside I would say my final words before turning my back and walking away. As I stood outside the temple, I would still see the powerful form of the ganapati popping out of the stone form and gazing at me. But I didn't think much of it back then, thought it was the norm. Now when I think back, it was certainly something miraculous.
Finally, I was done with the 5th Tuesday and I was very relieved. I had heard of stories about natural calamities and hindrances that somehow prevent the finishing of the five Tuesdays and I was giving myself a pat on the back for having being successful.
But the tension certainly did not dissolve. I had nightmares of D-Day, of the exam results being put up and how badly I had scored. Seldom was it a good happy dream - in fact such dreams occur even today sadly in some format. The wait was unbearing and very painful, as I waited for the gauntlet to fall upon me. But I had done the best I could (in the exam), followed it up with the appropriate propiation, what more could this mortal do.
Every day morning, I would check the newspaper to see if the Univerisity had declared the results. But, they were terribly delayed. I was bracing for the worst as my agony prolonged, but in some unimaginable sense I couldn't imagine myself having to go through that debacle of failure. I remembered making fun of friends back in 9th grade who had to repeat the year, and I thought maybe it is their sweet revenge, some sort of payback for being so cruel hearted. I realized that bad times can hit anyone. The Raja to Runk and Runk to Raja all seemed to make sense to me now. What you pass around, comes around too. That was the beginning of a level of humility for me, just gelling well (thinking back) with my evolution and the path that life had chosen for me, preparing me for the travails and trials.
One fine morning, I picked up the phone and it was my buddy at the other end who was calling from the university. He said the results were out. I disbelieved him, but somehow I had forgotten to check the newspaper that morning. He somehow knew my exam #, and he said that I was on the pass list. I couldn't believe my ears. The joy I felt was in my heart was without bounds. I don't think the feeling was of jubilation but of pure blessing, that Ganesha had found me worthy, accepted my plea and blessed me. The feeling was purely internal, just simple satisfaction of the soul. My mom came running and she was overjoyed to say the least, there were tears in our eyes and she declared that I had to go back to the temple and break a few coconuts. THe miracle had happened and Ganesha had well and truly blessed me. I was worthy after all! I was still in disbelief as I opened up the newspaper to confirm that the exam results were truly out.
A week or so later, I found myself at the temple with my mom and the coconuts. But by then the bhaktiness had gone away and replaced with a bit of acceptance and the haughtiness that comes from it - that I deserved it (just a tad). I was just going through the motions and Ganapati had lost that spiritual form that I had noticed. I somehow lost it, and could never see Ganesha in that form. When I found out a few weeks later what I had scored, the miracle was reinforced. I had just escape by the skin of my ***, with grace marks helping me get over the hump. Ganesha continued to reward me over the next few years, as simple miracles continued to occur.
But this was the very first dosage of vulnerability that my character dealt with, and helped develop an understanding of spirituality.... ultimately translating that to bigger and better form. This was the precursor to understanding about all things spiritual and I think it truly begun with Ganapati - as it should be. Ganapati was the initiator and I am still enhancing the spiritual self, as this blog attests to. The transformation of my self continues, as I try to conquer the ego and the desires of the day to day, as I try to understand the magic in God and spirituality, the mantras, in Ramana Maharishi and the sages, the pious spots of India etc etc.
On this day of Ganesh Chaturthi, it is fitting for me to share it with the world. On this day, I also humbly pray to Ganesh to wipe my slate clean, free of all the karmic desires and accumulations, so that I can discover the real me unencumbered by the shackles of ego, karmic sins and unfulfilled desires. I pray to Ganesha to help me find that advaitic path of true redemption, the awareness that is truly the final step.
Preity Zinta, following Salman Khan’s lead, seeks blessings of the Lalbaugcha Raja
The Lalbaugcha Raja, voted the most visited Ganpati mandal by The Times of India’s Utsav Moorti Sanman, had yet another distinguished visitor from Bollywood. Actress Preity Zinta, not exactly a Ganesh bakht, but somebody with a definite spiritual side and a strong faith in Lord Shiva and the Vaishnodevi.
Sunday night, when the skies opened up over Mumbai, Preity joined lakhs of indefatigable Lord Ganesh devotees whose enthusiasm to pay homage to the Lalbaugcha Raja refused to be dampened by the rains. The actress admitted that she had been waiting to do this for years. But only after she saw how co-star and Bollywood hunk Salman Khan attended the aarti at this Ganesh mandal recently, was she encouraged to seek the popular Ganpati’s blessings in a darshan.
She flew down from Jodhpur just to make this visit, requesting The Times of India to take her to Lalbaug past midnight, so as not to disturb the faithful who had been standing in queues for hours to get this Ganpati’s darshan. “My hair-dresser stood for 11 hours,” admitted Preity, who was aware of the miraculous powers of the idol at this mandal.
Did she ask Lord Ganesh for anything special? Like an early marriage? “No,” giggled the vivacious actress. “God has given me enough, I don’t need to ask him for any special favours. And for my marriage, I didn’t have to come all the way here. God is in my heart. More importantly, I believe every time you pray, you shouldn’t ask for a favour. It’s not right. One should pray with an open mind, just like that.
She confesses to not being of a very religious bent of mind. “But I believe in good deeds, in karma, I don’t believe in going to temples. For me, religion is very personal. It’s all about having faith. And increasingly I am starting to believe that faith is what we call God,” she said. “We have heard and read that all religions are equal. Now I am increasingly believing in this.
All religions teach a non-conflicting and peaceful co-existence. Only when interpretation goes out of religion, there’s problems. And lack of interpretation stems from sheer ignorance of others’ religions. As human beings, our prime responsibility is to be with each other, and to love and respect each other. And I do that.”