By Promod Batra October 1997 Ganesha’s big head inspires us to think big and think profitably; the big ears show openness to new ideas and suggestions; the narrow eyes point to the deep concentration needed to finish a task well; the long nose encourages curiosity and learning Ganesha is known throughout South Asia as the fountainhead of wisdom and courage. When laying the foundation stone of a building, he is invoked. No new business or industry is started without a prayer to him. Prayers to Ganesha precede every Hindu religious ceremony. Travelers on lonely roads pay homage to the elephant god at roadside shrines; trusting Ganapati to remove every danger from their path. As a student of management, I was fascinated enough by Ganesha to research the subject. Clearly, there is much we could learn to become more effective managers. Management is always the major chunk of the problem on the job; in business and at home. Symbols have been one of the most effective ways to communicate ideas since the dawn of civilization. Let’s look into the symbols of Ganesha to get our managerial inspirations. PRESENTING A GOOD FRONT Ganesha‘s excellent image took thousands of years to evolve. In Hindu mythology, Brahma stands for creation, Vishnu for preservation and Shiva for destruction. Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, took his unique place among these principal deities because of his wisdom and courage. Emerging as early as 1200 B,C., about the time of the Mahabharata, Ganesha has been worshipped by devotees across the country. He is believed to embody Om, the sound from which the world was created, and Yak, the first word. Early representations of Ganesha show an elephant-headed warrior with the beard of a rishi, a sword and snake in one hand and a quill in the other, with a trident to one side—the embodiment of both courage and wisdom. Later, in the Deccan region, Ganesha was pictured with a sheaf of corn and sugarcane, with a mouse as his vehicle. Invoking him made it possible for farmers to eradicate their worst problem, namely rodents, insuring a bountiful harvest. Ganesha is thus the guardian and protector of success, in this case, a good harvest. Mythology is replete with stories of the origin and qualities of Ganesha. Many of these tales, which figure in the Puranas, poke good-humored fun at the gods in their all-too-human predicaments. They teach the truths, beliefs and values of religion in the simplest ways possible and leave a lasting image in the minds of adult and child alike. INSPIRATION FOR MANAGERSI have found inspiration in Ganesha‘s wisdom and judgment, his ability to solve problems and remove obstacles, his capability as a communicator, his goal-orientation and his adaptability. These qualities were much needed by our forefathers as they advanced from hunters to agriculturists. More than strength, they needed wisdom and judgment to survive. These qualities are no less at a premium today, especially for managers. A Ganesha manager likes people, all kinds of people with their diverse skills and aptitudes, and he likes to work. He enjoys bettering his records. He is forward-looking, with clear and friendly eyes. He likes to set goals and solve problems, and because he is stimulated by this challenge, he becomes better and better at it. He likes to help others realize their goals. He nurtures his own understanding and discrimination by reflecting on his own and others’ experience. He always operates at 150 per cent of capacity; he knows that’s what keeps him happy and growing. The opposite of the Ganesha manager is Gobarganesha—literally, a cow-dung Ganesha. Full of himself, he has no time for others. He’s always oppressed, always overburdened. He carries his problems around instead of solving them. He’s wary of change. He can’t lead others, and he has no self-defined goals. The fact is, he doesn’t know what he wants to be or do. It never occurs to him that this is something he needs to sort out himself. He makes others feel tired and unhappy. A Gobarganesha avoids action and shuns the spotlight. He shrinks from challenges and wallows in self pre-occupations. He may do what he’s told, but grumbles through the effort. He wastes the latent potential within himself. REMOVER OF OBSTACLES Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, is Vigneshwara, the Remover of Obstacles. And thereby hangs a tale. It is said that Shiva and Parvati didn’t always see eye to eye. A nagging bone of contention was Shiva’s insensitive lack of concern for Parvati’s privacy. Shiva, who traveled a lot, would think nothing of strolling into Parvati’s private chambers when he returned. Irked, Parvati posted Nandi, Shiva’s attendant bull, to guard the door of her palace. The instructions were clear and precise: no one was to enter her chambers while she was in the bath. Nandi proved inept and inefficient. He was fired and Parvati fashioned her own attendant. A goddess in her own right, she ‘created’ a son out of the saffron paste she removed from her own body. When Shiva returned from his travel, Ganesha placed himself squarely at the entrance of Parvati’s chambers. There was no getting past him. Mythology has an enraged Shiva using his army, his associates and their armies, but to no avail. Finally Ganesha was beheaded by unfair means. To keep Parvati’s maternal fury at bay, Shiva was compelled to use his powers to revive Ganesha, who was given the head of an elephant. Shiva blessed him and decreed him to be worthy of worship forever. He also gave him the name Vigneshwara, one who can remove obstacles. With an elephant head, a potbelly, and a mouse for a vehicle, Ganesha had many obstacles to overcome from the outset. Did he run away and hide? No. Did he try to bluff? Never. He met obstacles head-on. He converted perceived disadvantages into advantages. SYMBOL OF WISDOM The elephant head is the over-seeing, all-seeing, eternal witness, the unmanifest supreme. Below the head is the belly, the symbol of the manifest, the mortal. Ganesha is the lord of all, manifest and unmanifest. The memory of an elephant is, of course, proverbial. Ganesha‘s twisted trunk represents the zigzag path to wisdom. It reminds us that there is no direct path, that we must turn right and left in the search for truth. The elephant ears are like winnows that separate the wheat from the chaff. All experience must be subjected to scrutiny to determine what is essential and what is nonessential. This is a critical aspect of judgment. The discerning and the wise do what they must and let the rest be. Ganesha‘s endearing potbelly is equated with space; it is vast enough to hold all wisdom and all life. Gentle and harmless, he uses his great strength only when provoked. Good managers can draw a lesson from this. GOAL-ORIENTED The elephant seems to swerve as it walks, but keeps to the path. He makes it to his goal with unhurried grace. Ganesha rose from the ranks to hold high office. He was in the right place at the right time. Ganesha‘s vehicle, the lowly mouse, stands for the dark, fertile forces of the earth into which it burrows, avoiding light. As a recurrent threat to the harvest, it had to be tamed. But the rat also represents swiftness of movement. He burrows with his sharp teeth, chews through anything, and squeezes out of the smallest hole. In this way, he proves an excellent transport for Ganesha, who has to be everywhere and anywhere at short notice to remove obstacles. THE WRITER AND COMMUNICATOR It is believed that Ganesha penned the Mahabharata. The sage Vyasa, under instructions from Brahma, dictated the Mahabharata to Ganesha. Vyasa was to dictate without pause and Ganesha was to understand every word and thought and its implications before writing it down. In the process, Ganesha honed his intellect and became wiser. There is a lesson here for managers: as speakers or listeners, we must understand and cogitate deeply on the implications of spoken and written words. The Mahabharata, or for that matter any important document, should not be read in a hurry. To benefit optimally from the Mahabharata, one should proceed in slow and deliberate steps, ensuring complete comprehension and sustained reflection at every stage. The ability to write is one of the basic traits of a good manager. Good writing and good communication is possible only when thinking is clear and understanding deep. QUICK-THINKING PROBLEM SOLVER Once Shiva and Parvati acquired a pot containing the nectar of supreme knowledge. Both their sons, Kartikeya and Ganesha contended for it. The hapless parents set up a competition. The rules read that the first one to go around the world seven times would be declared winner. Kartikeya, a man of action, instantly started circumambulating the world on his peacock. With a mouse for a mount, Ganesha needed to do some quick thinking. Using the mental library in his big head, he analyzed the situation, did the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and realized that he was constrained by his bulk and slow mount. For inspiration, he went through the Veda floppies in his mind to arrive at an essential truth: one’s parents are bigger than anything else in the world. So, Ganesha went around his parents seven times and claimed the pot of nectar. Due to his unique form, Ganesha could absorb symbols over the centuries. Choosing adaptability as a way of life, he acted, observed, reflected and updated his image. When he found a better way, he adopted it. A god who changes with the times is a good one to emulate.
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