Ganesh Chaturthi – Form vs Function A Bhagavad Gita perspective

Every device and utility we use in our day-to-day life has a form and a function. Function is the core. Form complements the function. Appropriate form does not imply appropriate function. A mobile handset with a trendy appearance does not imply a cutting edge technology within. It could be a fake or flawed handset.  A nice looking lady with elegant and polite manners does not imply an amicable and affectionate personality. She could be a well-trained hostess or receptionist. It is relatively easy to maintain the form. It is difficult to maintain the function. Form deals with externals and superficial aspects. Function deals with internals and often subtle aspects.

Especially in case of spiritual practices and ceremonies, keeping function intact is difficult. The knowledge about the functions of spiritual ceremonies and practices is not well disseminated. Even if someone knows about the function, one needs to have refined consciousness and refined intentions to understand and apply the knowledge to keep the original function intact. Ganesh Chaturthi is one such spiritual ceremony where the function got greatly lost though the form remained intact. Ganesh Chaturthi was originally a festival centered on Lord Ganesha. It is centered on offering worship, reciting prayers and hearing pastimes of Lord Ganesha.  The festival is meant for offering service to Lord Ganesha and remembering his greatness and munificence. These festivities inspired and increased devotion to Lord Ganesha.

But as time passed, the Ganesh Puja during the British rule, began to be held in big public gatherings to promote political activism. From means of devotion to Ganesha, it had become a means of fostering national unity. In this modern era, filmy songs and dances replaced the devotional bhajans and traditional performances. The majestic Ganesh idols and gorgeous pandals have become more of a means to showcase political clout (BG 16.17) or to amass money through donations. The worship and rituals were greatly sidelined. A major impetus to attend these celebrations is fun, recreation and show of religiosity. This kind of spirituality does not yield tangible spiritual benefit (BG 17.13). In this way, the function of Ganesh Chaturthi got greatly lost though the external form remained. This is not just the predicament of Ganesh Chaturthi festival but of many spiritual festivities and activities across different faiths. This is a common problem in all spiritual traditions (BG 4.2).

How can we revive and restore these rich and vital spiritual festivities? This problem needs to be solved at the root. The root cause of this problem is lack of spiritual education and spiritual focus. Because of lack of spiritual education, the value and spirit behind spiritual rituals and practices got lost. Because of lack of spiritual focus, deviations and dilutions gradually occurred. We can revive spiritual education and awareness through regular and deep study of spiritual texts with application of reason and relevance (BG 4.38). Spiritual focus can be restored by regular and sincere spiritual practice.