Sri Ganesh (also spelled Ganesa) is considered the lord of new beginnings. From the homemaker beginning her day, to the business owner commencing his account ledger, to the Bollywood director beginning the first scene of a movie shoot–they all turn to Ganesh. Hindus of all denominations and lineages invoke his name, and his status as the guardian of the threshold of a new opportunity seems to be universally accepted in the Hindu world. It is rare to find anyone who worships Ganesh as Supreme – most Hindus relegate him to the role of a devata (demigod), a divinely empowered being not unlike an archangel – but it is equally rare to find a Hindu who will neglect to first offer him due respects.
For me, born and raised in New York City (c. the early 1980s), Ganeshji (the -ji is a Sanskrit suffix of respect, and brings me back to a childhood where I wouldn’t dare to utter the name of a devata, or of a family elder for that matter, without adding the honorific) always posed a problem.
Depicted frequently in garish Hindu calendar art and colorful murtis
(sacred sculptures), Ganesh was such a graphic reminder of how
different my religion seemed to be from the faiths of my “American”
friends and classmates. I remember dinner at my best friend Peter’s
house; we’d sit at a formal dining table, cloth napkins folded in our
laps and bland food on our plates, while a formal picture of
Jesus-with-outstretched-arms smiled down at us benignly. The painting’s
somber colors and realistic brush strokes made it look like Jesus
himself must have sat for the portrait; in comparison, the bright
posters showing off Lord Ganesh’s elephant head and round belly seemed
The more I tried to avoid Ganeshji, the more he kept popping up. Of
course, he was there in our home’s foyer (in accordance with Hindu
tradition, my family had a picture of Ganesh displayed prominently at
the entrance). He was also there, as a small plastic murti, on
the dashboard of our Camry (in accordance with unofficial Hindu
tradition, our family car was a Toyota Camry). But it didn’t end there.
He also showed up in the pages of my World History textbook. He landed
up as a bronze sculpture on the desk of my eccentric elementary school
principal (years later I learned the technical term for what he was: indophile). And once The Simpsons hit the airwaves, Ganeshji was there at Apu’s Kwik-e-Mart, unapologetically front and center.
Ganeshji, it seemed, would not let me get away from him. And, in a way
that I understand now but couldn’t see back then, he would not let me
get away from myself either.
Om Sweet Om is, in many ways, the story of how I traveled from, with, and perhaps to Lord Ganesh. I realize that it is not the Hindu-American story, but it is a Hindu-American story. It is the story of my own ongoing journey home.
Namaste, and welcome to the blog.