I am not a religious person, at least not in the conventional way. I am not an atheist either. I believe we simply don’t have the answers to the mysteries of our universe. But I worship nature and my love of all things natural was inspired by my birth religion—Hinduism. My favorite God is the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, the one who removes all obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth, all of which we aspire to have more of. Today is Ganesha Chaturthi, a festival celebrating his birthday and the beginning of a year of festivals honoring other Gods and Goddesses.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved elephants, tigers, lions, snakes, peacocks, and horses. They are also animals that the Hindu deities are depicted with in pictures and statues in temples. Here’s an excerpt from Hinduism.about.com regarding what they represent:
“Goddess Saraswati‘s vehicle, the graceful and beautiful peacock denotes that she is the controller of the pursuit of performing arts. Vishnu sits on the primal serpent, which represents the desire of consciousness in humankind. Shiva rides the Nandi bull, which stands for the brute and blind power. His consort Parvati, Durga or Kali rides on a lion, which symbolizes mercilessness, anger and pride – vices she can help her devotees check. Ganesha‘s carrier, a mouse represents the timidity and nervousness that overwhelm us at the onset of any new venture – feelings that can be overcome by the blessings of Ganesha.”
As a child, I was attracted to the animals in the colorful photos of deities during pooja (ceremony) for all festival. As I grew older, I learned that in Hinduism, God or the Supreme Being, is present in every single form on the planet, from a small pebble to a blade of grass to the mighty elephant. According to Hindu philosophy based on the Vedas, Upanishads and Vedanta, there is no separation between the Divine and mother nature, and the need for ecological balance is stressed.
Dr. David Frawley, an American Hindu teacher said, “No religion, perhaps, lays as much emphasis on environmental ethics as does Hinduism. It believes that the Earth is our mother and emphasizes ecological responsibility like the Native Americans. It champions protection of animals, which it considers also have souls, and promotes vegetarianism. It has a strong tradition of non-violence or ahimsa. It believes that God is present in all nature, in all creatures, and in every human being regardless of their faith or lack of it.’
Because of the belief of the Divine in all of nature, Hindu temples are built high up in the mountains and in other natural settings. When I visited South India a few years ago, my relatives and I drove to a few temples, all set in beautiful locales. We drove alongside rivers on winding roads up mountains to temples that were built hundreds of years ago. It was a wonderful, spiritual experience. At one of the temples, I met a calf who was hanging out with fellow visitors and looking for food out front. More than the visit inside the temple, I felt touched by the few moments I spent with this calf. I felt connected to this pure, innocent, and sentient being that’s a representation of God. It’s the same feeling I now get when I spend time with my dog or sit outside in my yard looking at adorable bees kissing flowers.
On this auspicious day, I hope to spend more time with nature than I normally do. I wish a happy Ganesha Chaturthi for everyone who celebrates it.