The Unblind Side of Faith

Of celestial elephants & earthly humans…

Indians are generally hospitable. We love houseguests.  Sometimes, even if the visitor is not a friend or a relative. We had one such guest last week. In fact, this guest has been coming to our home for the past two decades. He has made it his annual ritual. His stay duration has also increased. Originally, his presence didn’t make much difference to our life style. But now he has started interfering in our routine. We don’t complain. We are habituated now. And habituated ones seldom question…

The first time we kept Lord Ganesha during Ganesh Chaturthi was the year baby Misha arrived. He gave his blessings and departed the next day. Then we invited him again next year. Then again. Till, it became a tradition. The excitement would start right from the pickup. The two kids would fight for the choice of the idol. A consensus would be negotiated. The chosen deity would be blindfolded and brought home.

Over the years, the event got grander with colorful flowers, decorative props and flickering lights. His stay crawled up to full ten days. The Aartis got longer. A CD with religious hymns resonated thru the day. He became popular. The visitors flocked at odd hours for Darshan. The evenings became open-house dinners. Friends, socialites, maids, watchmen. He was surrounded by nonstop Prasad (sweets) offers. All devotees binged on the tempting treats. Even our diabetic dog transformed into a sneaking thief. The only two shying away would be the Lord and me.

For ten days, we forsake our religion of being nonreligious. No parties. No drinks. No Meat. Then the day of Visarjan arrives. Our luxury SUV comes out. And we bid adieu to our guest in a royal style. The family is momentarily crestfallen. They find it difficult to let go of the soil version of Shiva’s cuddly big baby. Well, almost everyone.

I am not into all this stuff. Rituals don’t do much for me. I just play along from sidelines. Except, this time around. For this year, my responsibilities increased. I had no choice. Halfway through the ten days, Ritu left for US. So the ceremonial onus fell on me. I rose to the occasion. Physically. Mentally, the frontline further aggravated my disbeliefs. The doubts overwhelmed my flickers of devotion. My thoughts raced even as I circled the final Aarti right before the immersion. The elephant-face deity riding a tiny mouse was posing some hard questions. I may have been habituated. But I needed answers.

Where is human rationality? He sees everything, yet why do we blindfold him during arrival? He is obese, yet why do we keep offering him sweets during his stay? He is loved, yet why do we take out processions to celebrate his departure? From arrival, to stay, to departure—all three stages of his brief journey are laden with a contradiction.

lord ganesha
Lord Ganesha at my home

Our Visarjan got over, but my internal debate did not. There was traffic.  Parade after parade. Sea of colors. Majestic idols, tiny idols.  Big convoys, small convoys. Some devoted, some solemn. Some dancing, some singing. Each procession followed by Lord Ganesha’s idol. Sometimes on a chariot, sometimes on a vegetable trolley. And in this chaos, resided all my mystical answers!

You see, the processions were impressive, but where was the leader? Ganesha. Right at the back of each marching troop! Allowing his team to lead him. No different than how he let his followers blindfold him when he was first taken home. He understood that if today’s followers have to become tomorrow’s leaders, sometimes they need an opportunity to lead the leader. Even if the leader already knows the way. A good leader doesn’t just guide the followers. He occasionally reverses roles to teach both leadership and followership.

Satisfied with the learning, I turned my attention back to the action. The processions were many. The marchers could see Ganpatis of other processions. Many of them were a lot grander than their own. Yet everyone seemed content with own idol, dancing with own team. Satisfied like Ganpati. You can tempt Ganpati with as many sweets as you wish in offerings, but does he partake any of them? Gratification doesn’t come by shunning away. Gratification is achieved when we are exposed to aspirations, yet are at peace with self. A good leader shouldn’t just energize his team towards lofty goals. He should also illustrate the power of contentment even as we pursue our aspirations.

Now doubly pleased, I marveled at the colorful sea. Why were they celebrating? There is nothing celebratory about bidding farewell to a piece of your heart. These processions would be a lot more meaningful while bringing Ganpati home for the first time. I tried to visualize, but the imagination was lackluster. Because the start point of processions was same, but everyone’s destination was different! Clearly, the thrill didn’t reside at the target, but in journeying together towards a common destination. A good leader shouldn’t get obsessed with milestones. Win or lose, if the journey has been united towards a common destination, it is a reason for celebration.

In the end, the loved idol merges with water, one of the five elements of earth. It is a logical end for each idol, each leader. But the human spirit bounces back; the next year’s Chaturthi is again celebrated with equal vigor. Why?  Because this festival was not about Lord Ganesha, but the team. Ganesha understands it, as does a good leader. Both of them know well they are just metaphors.

When Lokmanya Tilak turned Ganesh Chaturthi into a public event in 1893, his sole objective was to unite people towards the common cause of country’s freedom. Today, Lord Ganesha is on everyone’s lips. We hardly remember Lokmanya. He faded away into oblivion after his work was done. His work lives, his memory barely. Oddly, that is what makes him one of the greatest leaders that ever blessed our motherland.



Leader, Legacy, Original, Style

17 Comments

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  1. Great Learnings from a GREAT EVENT!
    Kudos!!!

  2. What a lovely connect between the bappa and the learnings!!! …. Lovely deco too.

  3. The parallel you have drawn between religion and leadership, both being vastly ambiguous and rather subjective realms, reminds me of the words of Devdutt Pattanaik – “Belief is subjective truth, my truth and your truth, the lens through which we make sense of the world.” I believe most of our answers lie in those narrow twilight zones of Myth vs Math, of Feeling vs Fact. An amalgamation of belief and logic, drawing tangible lessons from intangible experiences and then connecting the dots is my perception of what modern management is all about.

    Look forward to reading more such intellectually stimulating articles from you! 🙂

  4. Lord Ganesha , as a leader! Perfectly decoded. I will remember this as a finest example of What You See is What You GET!

  5. Beautiful writeup Sir. Very thought-provoking.

  6. I guess, there would be a scientific reason to Visharjan into the rivers, simple enough to let water flow to remote villages which run dry through most of the seasons instead of flooding the metros like Mumbai.

    With Ganesha, being Vighnaharta and the son of Goddess Parvati and Shiva, the destroyer of universe at the end of a kulp of Brahma, there are definitely some moral values to look for in our mythological treasures like Shiv Purana.

  7. A very well mapped analogy Arun, which has triggered to:

    Probably we can go a little earlier in time, when the leader was in the making.

    Birth: The need of the ‘very own soul’ is what led to this creation. Similar to need of a resource for the team in our day to day projects/customer handling tasks.
    Goal and the Performance:
    The focus, dedication and commitment to the assigned task of guarding, is a wonderful example of our super stars who have unconditionally given it to their projects/customers/organization.
    Not to forget the attitude shown towards lord Shiva, based on the confidence on himself to cater to the assigned task.
    The smartness in terms of mapping his universe around his parents when asked to complete a revolution around the universe in the shorted possible time.
    He had all the qualities which were needed in the making of a true leader.
    Reward or penalty:
    The attitude and his dedication also got him to a stage, where in he was beheaded.
    Later the same thing turned as a boom to him, which led him to all the respect and the glory in terms of we worshipping him every year.
    Now should we call that a penalty turning into a reward. A blessing in disguise?

    You lead by setting your own examples.
    Been there done that!! That marks you as a leader, who is widely accepted or respected.

    A transition of a true leader, from being there at the forefront, then along with and at the end behind the team !
    Leadership is a journey from starting alone to being a part of your team and then letting go the team with the assurance that you are always there for backing them at any time when they truly need you.

  8. Yes, Lord Ganesha comes/visits every year to ensure our progress and prosperity!

    Many thanks to Lokmanya Tilak for this pious effort that truly unites Indians/families!

  9. Superb !!! Keeping in mind your thought, next time our approach towards celebrating the Ganesh festival will be different……

  10. “A TRUE LEADER IS ONE WHO CREATES OTHER GOOD LEADERS & NOT FOLLOWERS”

    In this act of creating good leaders the leader has to give his/her followers a chance to lead to determine who is the best in the group, what else requires to be taught, how much the followers have learnt, to teach the real time challenges one has to face after becoming a leader etc. As you have rightly pointed out when you say “He occasionally reverses roles to teach both leadership and followership”

    I am sure the rituals that we follow today all have historic logic behind it and some or the other reasons why we started them in the first place.

    People do follow these rituals: some people make it a point to understand the history behind it before following the rituals, some do not know the reason but they follow them as a tradition, some follow them blindly, some do it for fun, some do it as they are forced to do it and some do it please God. As rightly said by Bagha “Jaisi Jiski Soch”. (Bagha – is a character in a very popular TV Serial “Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah”).

    But the fact is, very few people can manage to think so deeply about the rituals being followed by us year after year and take it to the next level by comparing it with something like leadership. Very greatly compared by you and great learnings derived from this yearly event taking place almost in every house.

    A good leader doesn’t just guide the followers. He occasionally reverses roles to teach both leadership and followership.
    A good leader shouldn’t just energize his team towards lofty goals. He should also illustrate the power of contentment even as we pursue our aspirations.
    A good leader shouldn’t get obsessed with milestones. Win or lose, if the journey has been united towards a common destination, it is a reason for celebration.

    Thank you for the lovely Blog Arun, looking forward for the next one.

  11. This is one of the best analogies I’ve read so far.

    Loved the way you compared Ganesh ji with Leadership and also the way in which you found your mystical answers to your hard questions just by observing things around!

    A great Leader is the one who not only is focused on the goal he has to achieve (Tunnel vision without knowing the issues/concerns of employees) but is also focused on the surroundings (employee well-being, grooming employees to become future leaders) and keeps a tab on everything that’s happening around much like omnidirectional Radar.

    Learned a lot about Leadership. Especially the one, “A good leader shouldn’t get obsessed with milestones. Win or lose, if the journey has been united towards a common destination, it is a reason for celebration.”

    Lot of Religious festivals, events which are celebrated all over the world could be nothing but a chance to unite as a team to get together, work together, socialize and celebrate.

    Loved the Beautiful Idol and its wonderful decoration.

  12. Dear Arun,

    I know you do not remember much of the comments that we followers make but you are humble and kind enough to try your best which I started to believe from the time I met you for dinner at your home a long time back. Also I do still follow your blogs but just that since I am ex-Cybagian now so the follow up process is different with no access to Cybage MIS home page but still I feel good to catch up on your write ups and this time I would like to ask your views as a follow up question.

    A leader can be correct and yet be blindfolded and allows the followers to lead them because the leader believes in making a leader from these followers. How do we justify the fact that with being blindfolded while being ushered in a new environment the leader can see everything? Is it a sense of knowing and not reacting or something which showcases that justice, progress and development prevails in proper framework.

  13. Awesome!

  14. Thanks for the wonderful explanation on how the leader should be, and Ganesh, one of the important characters of our spiritual wealth also called Vigneshwara, Ganesha, Ganapathi literally means, ‘a born and supreme leader’. He is without a parallel in prowess, intellectual eminence, philosophical prudence and attainment of perfection.

    Vinayaka’s physical structure portrays a number of qualities of leadership In fact, the very name Vinayaka means that He is the Supreme leader i.e., there is no leader above Him.

    His elephantine head reflects many leadership qualities. Elephant is known for dynamism, power, freedom, knowledge and even loyalty. Big head of elephant indicates that a leader has to think big. The leader has to strive hard for fulfillment of the chosen goals. The elephant is a path layer, pathfinder and path leader. The elephant’s power and strength are such that it can carry and remove big stones, trees and removes any type of obstacles. The elephant is said to be thick skinned and it is not worried to face any problems. At the same time, elephant is endowed with lot of sensitivity to understand any problem. The trunk indicates that a leader has to go to his followers and shall not expect his followers to come to him. The teeth of elephant represent the combination of pleasure and pain that a leader can experience. The one broken tooth of Vinayaka reflects creativity, It is said that Vinayaka used his tooth as a pen to take the dictation of Maharshi Valmiki. It is also said that Vinayaka used his tooth as a weapon to kill Mushikasura, this indicates that even teeth can be used as weapons in crisis management.

    Vinayaka has a big belly. This indicates that the leader should have necessary and adequate digestive system which helps him digest properly the voluminous food of information that he has got by listening more (Big ears) and keep the suitable and desirable and leave the unsuitable and undesirable material.

    Vinayaka wears serpents as sacred threads and ornaments around his shoulders, hands and even belly. Serpents represent creativity. These serpents may also indicate that when you lead a group, there can be some dangerous people like serpents who are to be controlled. A leader has to be watchful of such dangerous serpent like followers, control them and make them as ornaments.

    Vinayaka portrays innumerable qualities of leadership. Vinayaka is casteless, creedless, nationless and frontierless. He is the God of common man. When we pray to Lord Vinayaka, it is not just that we pray to him to remove the obstacles but to bless us with all his qualities of leadership so that all of us become good leaders.

    Thank You,
    Ajay

  15. Lord Ganesh is nothing but Intelligence,Intellectual and Wisdom.Nothing wrong in having blind faith on Lord Ganesh.

  16. Beautiful writeup Sir. Very thought-provoking

  17. I have recently started reading your blogs and I am already into it. You imagination and the way to draw conclusions is really great.

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