- Religion and Philosophy
Why You Shouldn't See the Moon on Ganesh Chaturthi: The Syamantaka Gem Story
The Story behind the Story
Ganesha Chaturthi (or Vinayak Chaturthi or Vinayak Chaviti), a major festival in India, is celebrated with great pomp, austerity, love, and sincerity. The festival was a rallying point for the Indians against the British rule.
There is a saying that on the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, one should not see the moon or else face false allegations in the coming year. The story behind this belief comes from Indian 'mythology' (sadly, that is what the ancient, powerful, and insightful Indian metaphors have been labelled as) and is very interesting. The story also provides a solution for how one can redeem oneself of that ‘curse.’
The story is read aloud at every Hindu home in India during Ganesha Chaturthi. Its lessons and insights are profound for all. Like all other Hindu myths, this story is metaphorical and communicates many lessons of life.
Whenever I am asked to narrate this story on Ganesha Chaturthi, the following is how I do it! I take a few liberties and make use of poetic/dramatic license in my dialogues for the story, but nevertheless, the spirit is retained.
Lord Krishna Is Downcast...
One day the celestial wandering sage, Narada, arrived at the kingdom of Ugrasena where Lord Krishna was staying. With the intent of having a Darshan of his Lord, Narada entered the sanctum. Whichever room the Lord decides to reside in becomes the sanctum sanctorum, right? When he went in, to his great shock, he found the Lord of the universe in a downcast mood!
Approaching him, Narada asked, "Lord! What is it that is bothering you so much that the eternal smile on your face seems to have faded away? Share it with this humble servant of yours."
Krishna looked up at Narada and a weak smile broke on his face. "What shall I say, Narada? The events of the past few days have been intriguing and perplexing at the same time. I do not seem to understand what is happening."
"Oh my god! Lord, if you speak in this manner in spite of being omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then what should be the fate of ordinary people? Please divulge what happened. I know that this is all part of your drama, but I would like to play my role to perfection."
Krishna's Story, Continued
When Narada implored him thus, Krishna began his elaborate response. "You are familiar with the name Satrajit. He is a nobleman in one of our subsidiary kingdoms. More importantly, he is an ardent devotee of Surya, the Sun God. Pleased with his devotion and worship, Surya appeared before him and presented him with the unmatched Syamantaka gem."
“Ah! That gem that multiplies wealth and provides the owner with several measures of gold daily?” asked Narada.
“Exactly! The brilliance of the jewel is such that on one occasion, when Satrajit came to visit me at Mathura, people mistook him for the Sun God, Surya!”
“They cannot be blamed, my Lord,” said Narada, “when often, the celestials do come down on earth to meet you.”
“Ah yes, Narada! See, today the celestial sage has come to meet me."
“Do not pull my leg, Krishna. It is my privilege to be in your presence today. Please continue your narrative.”
“The jewel was producing about 170 pounds of gold every day. It is learned from Vedic literature that in whatever part of the world this jewel is worshiped, there is no famine. I felt that such a gem should be owned by the monarch so that the whole world could benefit. I made that request to him, but Satrajit refused and installed the jewel in a personal temple to be worshiped by brahmanas (priests) whom he engaged for this purpose.”
Narada could not contain himself. He said, “This is an instance of a less intelligent person worshiping the creation instead of the creator. Satrajit missed a golden opportunity. Instead of offering everything to the divine, he chose to go against the divine for the sake of worldly riches.”
Krishna agreed and said, “He was very proud of the gem. Not only did he wear and flaunt it, he also made his younger brother Prasena display it around his neck. One day, Prasena decided to wear the gem when he went hunting. Unfortunately, a big lion attacked him—killing both him and the horse on which he was riding—and took the jewel away to his cave. This lion thought it was its lucky day. When a bear appeared, the arrogance the gem instilled made the lion attack this bear who was none other than Jambavan, the mighty wrestler bear-king, who easily killed that lion and took the jewel away to his cave."
At this point, Narada interrupted, “You mean our dear Jambavan? The great devotee who helped you in your previous avatar (incarnation) as Lord Rama in the war against the wicked Ravana?”
“The very same, Narada. Since he is a great devotee of the Lord, he did not care much for the gem as such. He only wanted to present it to his baby son as a toy. And that is what he did. In the meanwhile, news that Prasena was missing spread like wildfire and Satrajit began to spread lies that I killed Prasena to steal the Syamantaka gem!”
“Hari Hari! What a sin! Casting aspersions on anyone without proper investigation is a sin. What to say about doing such a thing against the Lord himself!” said a shocked Narada.
“Well, Narada, here is a secret about this world: As far as God is concerned, if you are good, it is enough. But as far as the world is concerned, along with being good, you must appear good as well. Thus, I decided to set out in search of the Syamantaka gem. It was not only to clear the allegations but also to transform the heart of Satrajit. I set out with a band of soldiers. Soon I came upon Prasena’s corpse. The marks nearby led me to the lion’s carcass. Following the prints from there, I reached the cave of Jambavan where I saw his little son playing with the gem. His eldest daughter too was there and thinking me an intruder, she let out a shriek.”
“My Lord! Jambavan is very attached to his daughter. Her shriek must have angered him?"
“Indeed it did. He instantly believed that I was an intruder and came charging towards me.”
“Krishna! Did he not recognize you as his dear Lord Rama? How could he charge on you?”
“Ah! That is the point, Narada. Attachment and anger blind a person. Even though Jambavan had loyally served me during the Rama Avatar, he was blind to my reality. But even that is a part of the Masterplan, Narada.”
“I am now confused,” said Narada, “as to how this could be part of the Masterplan.”
“After the victorious war against Ravana I, in my Rama form, was conferring boons to all the monkeys, bears, and other creatures that had helped me in my war effort. At that time, Jambavan expressed a strange desire. He said that he wanted a wrestling match with me! I told him that my circumstances at that time did not permit me to wrestle a bear, but I promised him that I would certainly fulfill his wish.”
“What planning! So you wrestled Jambavan then?"
“Yes! For 28 days non-stop, without breaking for food, water, or rest, at the end of which Jambavan was completely fatigued. He knew that only his Lord Rama has the capacity to beat him in wrestling and so he fell at my feet to seek pardon. I told him that I was just fulfilling his own desire.”
Narada said, “Many times, we desire so many things from God, but when we look back at those desires, we feel so foolish. It is best to leave everything to the Lord. Surrender to God with the feeling that whatever happens is for the best.”
“He wanted me to accept the hand of his daughter, Jambavati, in marriage, and I blessed him as per his desire again. I returned to the kingdom and when Satrajit came to know of the truth, he was ashamed of what he had done. He gave the gem to me to hand it over to the monarch, Ugrasena. ‘Let it be used for world benefit,’ he said. He also offered his daughter, Satyabhama, in marriage to me as a token of his repentance and respect.”
“So now, the gem is with emperor Ugrasena.”
“Yes, Narada. Whatever one has, one must utilize for world benefit. That is why we are taught to always pray Samastha Lokaha Sukhino Bhavantu.”
“All is well that ends well, my Lord! Why then are you still dejected?”
“Narada, I am feeling a bit low wondering why all this had to happen in the first place.
“Another of your Divine dramas? I shall play along, my Lord. Don’t you know the story of Lord Ganesha and the moon?
“Tell me about it, Narada...”
The Ganesha Connection: Why You Shouldn't Look at the Moon
“As you wish, Krishna. On the 4th day of the Bhadrapad month, Lord Ganesha, who had been well fed by his devotees, was returning to his abode on his vehicle, the mouse. Seeing the sight of the huge Lord on a tiny mouse, the moon in the sky began to laugh aloud. He was vain about his splendor and beauty, and thus he laughed. Little did he know that all his splendor was only a ‘reflection’ of the Sun God. To teach the vain moon a lesson, Lord Ganesha cursed that no light ever fall on him again. Thus, the moon had no light and disappeared from the skies.”
“Be it the moon or any other being, if one forgets that source, one gets plunged into the darkness of ignorance. What happened next, Narada?”
“The moon repented and sought pardon from Lord Ganesha. All the other beings of the world too pleaded on his behalf and the Lord acceded. However, once a curse is pronounced, it cannot be taken back, even by God. It can only be modified. Thus, we are advised to be careful about our speech in everyday life. Lord Ganesha changed the curse and said that the moon would undergo regular waxing and waning to remind him to be humble. He also added that anyone seeing him on the 4th day (Chaturthi) of the Bhadrapada month would face blame and unjust criticism.”
Krishna's Redeeming Boon to All Mankind: How to Avoid the Moon's Curse
“Oh! Now I remember,” exclaimed Krishna, “I happened to see the faint reflection of the moon in a pot of milk on precisely the same day you mention. Do you think that is what caused my problems?”
“Definitely, my Lord. When you take a human form, you must adhere to all the Dharma of mortals. Just imagine: If you had to deal with this difficulty because you saw the reflection of the moon, what will be the plight of mortals who commit this mistake?”
At this, Lord Krishna granted a boon to all mankind. “Narada, I hereby state this: Anyone who hears the story of how I redeemed myself of the curse after seeing the moon on Ganesha Chaturthi day will be freed of the curse themselves.”
And now that you have read this story, you are all “moon-sight” proofed! :)
May the story also serve to remind us never to make fun of anyone for their looks or mental capacities. Instead, let us remember that there is God in everyone and everything. All love and kindness reaches God alone; all censure and criticism too reaches God alone.
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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya