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MANGALYA: Universal well being



The idea of material progress in India centres around the feeling of mangala. The nearest parallel to the concept of mangala is the notion of universal good. It encompasses the feeling of general welfare, well-being and prosperity put together. Whether the goal that we have before us is that of individual progress or progress of the community, what we primarily aim at is our mangala, that is, our welfare, well-being and prosperity.Whenever we express our good wishes for someone we always pray for his or her mangala, that is, his or her welfare and well-being. Likewise, when we want to praise the effort or action of some group, village, or community we say that it is devoted to the goal of mangala, i.e., prosperity. Similarly, when we see any society, or nation making quick material progress, what we are impressed with is the extent and the level of mangala in that society, that is, the level to which it has flourished.

What exactly is mangala that we refer to so often in the context of material progress? The literal meaning of the word is to move forward. When we move forward towards material progress we also build up our strength. But in an effort to build up their strength people generally don’t wait to see if anyone is being harmed by whatever they are doing. The means to our material progress can be such that they may harm other beings, or the bounty bestowed upon us by nature. In our day-to-day life we often see that interests of one person often clash with the interests of others. Because of this clash the welfare of the community on the whole suffers.

In India we have always been careful not to harm anyone in our effort to achieve material progress. This concern for others material progress while striving for one’s own material progress is the basis of the feeling of mangala. When our objective is narrow, we move towards amangala, that is, in a direction opposite to that of mangala, rather than towards mangala. We have held the belief that the efforts towards material progress which do not take into consideration others’ welfare, ultimately take us towards destruction.

It is our spiritual thinking which is at the back of these beliefs. We have always held that none of our acts should be motivated by any selfish interest. We derive inspiration and strength for all our efforts from God, and therefore, the fruits of our efforts should also be relinquished to God. It is only after such a relinquishment that we can enjoy the fruits of our efforts in proportion to our needs. If there is no greed then one can never be so narrow in one’s thinking as to harm others’ interests in order to achieve one’s own goals.

When ego or pride permeates our act, it gives rise to the feeling of selfishness and our goals become narrow, giving rise to obstacles. According to Hindu religion, whatever a person gets in his or her life is in accordance with the fruits of our karma or action. Whenever we try to achieve more than what we deserve in accordance with the fruits of our action, we are confronted with obstacles in our efforts. These obstacles become the cause of our destruction rather than our progress.

Thus, to desire mangala means to desire material progress without any obstacles. Hence, when we pray for someone’s mangala, that is welfare and prosperity, we are actually expressing a wish that there should be no obstacle in that person’s way. Obstacles can be removed only if we do an act with a pure feeling. The purity of feeling means that while trying to identify with others we should not nurse any feeling of jealousy, or ill will, or harm towards them. If an act is done with such a feeling, narrow-mindedness can nevercreep into it and as a result we will never be confronted with obstacles.

If we analyze the intention behind the feeling of mangala, we realize as to why in our culture and tradition we have always kept in mind the interest not just of human beings but of all living beings, including plants or trees, while framing public policies for material progress. Only that culture can prosper which is beneficial to all, in which people’s interests do not clash unnecessarily, in which even the life of birds and animals is being made comfortable, and along with this the resources provided by nature are being used in such a way that as we use them we also increase them in the same proportion.

In order to preserve this feeling of mangala in the society we have been making elaborate arrangements. Every member of a society is bound to the other members by the duty that he or she has towards him or her. A person’s personality is determined by the duties that he owes towards others. Even in a family, all the members are bound to each other by their respective duties. A farmer is bound to the other people in the village by his duties, and the other people of the village, in turn, are bound to him by the duties they owe to him. For a king it is essential to carry out his duties towards his subjects; and subjects too have to fulfill their duties to the king. By making duties the basis of relationships we have ensured that each person keeps in mind the interest of others, and does not ignore the other.

Similarly, when a farmer or an artisan cuts wood in the forest for his use, it becomes his duty to ensure that no harm is caused to the forest because of his cutting wood. People in the village are conscious that they have to plant as many new trees as they cut for their use so that nature is not over-burdened due to their felling of trees and the ecological balance is not disturbed. People know from their experience that if they will transgress nature’s interests their path will be blocked by obstacles and they would start moving towards destruction.

Likewise, people are also advised to take care of air, soil and water. In our tradition even a settlement was regarded as a cause of pollution. That is why it has been prescribed that wherever there is a habitation big or small trees which are helpful in keeping air pure should be planted. In many sloka-s (verses) and sayings it has been said that a person who plants a neem tree (melia azadirachta) in the settlement or village in which he lives, does a noble act. Similarly, it has also been advised that kilns which spread smoke ought to be situated away from the town or village.

We have always taken special care to prevent pollution of water. To keep water clean and unadulterated, rules and regulations have been laid down to prevent people from indulging in all such acts which can pollute water. Along with this elaborate procedures have been laid down to conserve water. Digging of wells and ponds has been regarded as a very noble deed. All over India we have had a very widespread tradition of constructing ponds. Even today there would be around five lakh (half a million) small and big ponds all over India. The objective of making these ponds was to replenish the underground water reserves by storing the rain water. The idea is that the amount of water that we draw from wells will be restored in the underground reserves as the water in the ponds is absorbed into the ground.

Even in the rules framed for farming, we have had wide provisions to ensure that the land is not overburdened in a manner affecting its fertility. We have been trying to increase the fertility of land through organic means on the one hand, and on the other by leaving the land untilled for some time before cultivating it again. If in the village somebody continued to cultivate his farm season after season, and did not leave it untilled after a specific period, then the village panchayat (council) used to raise objection. It was believed that a person did not have a right to do anything that he wanted to on his farm.

Similarly, to ensure that all the creatures living in the surroundings have an easy life, we have been making elaborate arrangements. Providing food for creatures like insects, birds, and animals has been regarded as an extremely virtuous act. Just as it is customary to provide food to the hungry and poor on a mass scale, making similar provisions for other living creatures is also regarded as a virtuous deed. Planting trees in one’s surroundings, and protecting forests with the purpose of providing shelter to birds, and animals has been regarded as one’s duty. Animals, and other creatures which faced a danger from man, were termed holy or pure by associating them with some religious ritual so that people could live in harmony with them.

It is this urge to assimilate others’ interests in our own material progress which takes us towards the goal of mangala. Today, the concept of progress which is gaining ground does not have in it, or rather is totally devoid of this feeling of assimilating others’ interests in our own. Like mangala, progress also means march forward, but it means moving forward only in one direction. Whenever anybody wants to make progress he thinks only of his personal material progress. It has been accepted that our job is to think only of our personal progress. If in the process someone’s interests are adversely affected, then it is expected that the affected person will take care of his own interests.

Likewise, the material progress of society on the whole has been narrowed down. In order to provide material comforts for people, things are being produced on a mass scale. At the time of production we don’t care to find out if our material resources are being wasted. Everywhere more and more material resources are being spent to make the present comfortable. What we are not much bothered about is what will happen in the future when we would have spent all the natural resources.

In today’s development man is becoming so self-centred that he is not caring for other living creatures. Somehow, we have come to believe that only man’s life is important and all other forms of life in this world are insignificant. If in the process of making man’s life happy other creatures are being destroyed, then one cannot afford to care about it. It is due to this reason that in a society considered developed from the point of view of material progress, there is widespread violence, and common birds and animals are being wiped out from the face of the earth.

According to Indian belief, this kind of development essentially creates obstruction. Gradually, this obstruction becomes destructive. Nature always finds a way to protect itself. But man by bringing about such destruction is paving way for self-destruction. Thus, according to the concepts and convictions regarding material progress which have been prevalent in India, the present day notion of development and progress cannot be upheld. These modern concepts of progress lead to amangal, that is, they hinder welfare, well-being and prosperity of the society as a whole and thus should be abandoned. That we should always take our society towards mangala is something for which we derive inspiration form Lord Ganesa. Lord Ganesa is the god of mangala and that is why he is always remembered before undertaking any kind of work. Any work, be it at individual level or at the level of community, is started only after Lord Ganesa has been invoked and worshipped. While worshipping Lord Ganesa we try to purify our mind. It is this purity of mind that lends nobility to our goals and arouses in us feeling desiring the welfare of all.

It has to be kept in mind that the tradition of worshipping Lord Ganesa is not a mereritual. It is possible that some greedy people with tamasika (carnal) bent of mind may be worshipping Lord Ganesa in this spirit. But they can never be rewarded for their worship. The purpose of Lord Ganesa’s worship is to link our goal with totality that is, linking our own welfare with the welfare of all. Invocation of Lord Ganesa is nothing but this feeling of concern for all.

In our tradition the worship of Lord Ganesa has been so widely promoted that we cannot even think of starting any work without invoking Lord Ganesa. Whether we are planting a tree, or digging a well, or laying a pond, we have to first install Lord Ganesa’s idol there. Installation of Lord Ganesa’s idol only implies that the fruits of the work that we are doing will be enjoyed by others as well, or that we will share the fruits of our efforts with others.

When somebody builds a house for himself, an idol of Lord Ganesa is installed at the door. The apparent reason for the installation of the idol is that the evil forces around the place will not dare to enter the house because of Lord Ganesa’s presence. With Lord Ganesa’s blessings, all obstacles in our path will be removed, and our family will not have to face any troubles. Also, no one will ever be able to harm us. This apparent intention behind the installation of Lord Ganesa’s idol is right in its own way. But along with this we should also take into consideration the deeper meaning, namely that with Lord Ganesa’s blessings our intentions will always remain pure and exalted, and we will continue to discharge the duties of our family life so that no harm befalls us from our surroundings.

Similarly, when a trader begins his day, he first of all worships Lord Ganesa. Invoking Lord Ganesa means invoking dharma. There is no equivalent to dharma in English. In literary and philosophical texts dharma is used in a variety of senses. It means law in the sense of both ‘is’ and ‘ought’. Roughly it means duty, right action, merit. The foremost meaning of dharma is justice. When we are equitable in everything we do, we are actually complying with our dharma or duty. For a businessman justice means that he should not cheat anyone in business. The profit that he earns should be fair. Thus, invocation of Lord Ganesa helps us to take the view that we will assimilate others’ interests in our own.

Lord Ganesa is foremost among all gods. He is the first god to be worshipped before the commencement of any ritual or ceremony. The worship of any other god will not yield fruits till Lord Ganesa has been pleased. We, however, can worship any specific god for any specific favour. Similarly, we may regard any particular god as supreme and may be completely devoted to him as all the divine forces are manifestations of the same god, and in this sense all gods are supreme in their own right. As we maintain this attitude, our devotion can never be narrow-minded, and our preference for one god will not be instigated by malevolence.

This insight dawns upon us when we worship Lord Ganesa. It is essential to worship Lord Ganesa before worshipping any other god because it helps us to rise above our narrow individual ends and realize the whole which leads us to the goal of universal good. Worship of Lord Ganesa checks our tendency of implanting our narrow ends on the worship of one or the other of the gods and of regarding him as the bestower of those ends. This tendency has the implied danger of our worshipping him for begetting those particular boons and thereby defeating the true purpose of worship. The true aim of worshipping divine forces is that one should transcend what is fragmentary and realize unity of the cosmos. When we worship Lord Ganesa, we realize that we have to move forward with the feeling of mangala and offer prayers to all gods, seeking welfare of all.

Puranic reference to Lord Ganesa is that of a god who removes all obstacles in one’s path. He always rides the mouse. Puranas give two interpretations of Lord Ganesa’s vehicle, the mouse. At one place, the vehicles of all gods have been defined in terms of dharma, that is, duty they are expected to perform. But at another place, Lord Ganesa’s vehicle, the mouse has been referred to as a symbol of obstacles. This interpretation presents Lord Ganesa in the form of saviour and protector, who keeps all obstacles under his control. Thus, Lord Ganesa’s worship liberates man from all obstacles.

Before we reflect on this interpretation, we should also remember that Lord Ganesa is the god of knowledge. As the god of knowledge he leads us to righteousness and morality, and arouses in us auspicious feelings, helps us rise above narrow-mindedness and inspires us to seek the welfare of all. His blessings automatically remove all the obstacles in our way because it is our narrow mindedness which gives rise to obstacles.

Lord Ganesa is the means of divine revelation of our civilization. According to Puranas, Lord Ganesa has two wives. Their names are Rddhi and Siddhi. If we go by the meaning of these two names the concept of mangala will become clearer to us. Rddhi means material prosperity. But this prosperity is complete only if it is infused with the spirit of welfare, or good of all, and this is what siddhi means. The two together make Lord Ganesa’s worship fruitful.

In various pictures of Lord Ganesa he is shown to have four hands. In two of his hands he is shown to be holding pasa, (noose) and ankusa (goad). The other two hands are held in the posture of vara and abhaya. From this it becomes clear that Lord Ganesa keeps our narrow-mindedness under control with the help of pasa and ankusa. Due to this control, we are blessed with vara (fulfillment) and abhaya (fearlessness). To be able to root out sensuality, anger, pride and greed from our mind, He actually leads us towards vara (success) and abhaya. When we are not troubled with any kind of narrow-mindedness, our fear is automatically destroyed and we are blessed with success in whatever we do.

People all over the world have always had good as well as bad intentions. We have to make a conscious and cautious effort to abandon our narrow outlook. Far greater and far more elaborate are the arrangements that are to be made for a society to rise above pettiness and narrow-mindedness, as it moves forward on the road to progress. In India we have always been making such arrangements with great caution and that is why we were able to build a materially prosperous society.

In India we have always taken adequate precautions to ensure that our material progress is not in one direction only. People who try to move forward only in one direction reach a dead end. A society has to move forward in different directions while striking a balance among them. We have to strike a balance between our spiritual progress and material progress. A balance has to be struck in the progress of different people. Along with this we have to balance the progress of man with the progress of other beings and of the entire nature. Only then material progress can said to be in accordance with the objective of mangala.