It’s that time of year when the elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha, is celebrated in Maharashtra with great devotion and fanfare. Devotees bring an idol of Ganesha home, worship the idol, and then immerse it in the sea of any other water body.
The sarvajanik or community Ganapatis are a huge draw in some neighbourhoods, and a source of grand festivities. During this roughly two-week period, as Ganesha takes centrestage, all around you hear the chant “Ganapati Bappa Morya!” It’s something we take for granted even though these three simple words are loaded with history.
To find out why Ganapati or Ganesha is called ‘Morya’, travel to the industrial town of Pimpri-Chinchwad near Pune city. It’s home to the shrine of ‘Morya Gosavi’, a 13th century CE saint of the ‘Ganpatya’ sampradaya, a sect of Hinduism.
For centuries, pilgrims visiting this shrine have been chanting “Ganapati Bappa Morya!” as a mark of respect for the sampraday’s deity and the saint. Over time, the chant was incorporated into popular culture.
The Ganapatya Sect
The Ganapatya sect is one of five major sampradaya or sects of Hinduism. The others are Vaishnavism (Vishnu worshippers), Shaivism (Shiv worshippers), Shaktism (Shakti or Devi worshippers) and the Saura sect (Sun worshippers).
While Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism are very popular, the Ganapatya sect, whose followers believe that Lord Ganesha is the ‘Supreme God’, is not as well known.
Although the earliest reference to Ganapati can be found in the verses of the Rigveda and Aitareya Brahmana, the sect as a form of worship originated in the 5th-6th century CE and reached the height of its popularity in the 10th century CE.
The 13th century CE text, Sankaradigvijaya (biography of Adi Sankaracharya), has references to the worship of Ganesha in six forms. These are Mahaganapati, Haridra Ganapati, Uchchhishta Ganapati, Navneet Ganapati, Swarna Ganapati and Santana Ganapati, each worshipped in different ways.
Mahaganapati, as the name suggests, is the ‘Supreme’ aspect of Ganesha, depicted in red with ten arms, with Shakti by his side.Haridra literally means ‘turmeric’. This form of Ganapati is yellow, wearing yellow garments. Devotees of this form of Ganapati wear an emblem of Ganesha’s head and a broken tusk on their arms.
The Uchchhishta Ganpati is the tantric aspect of Ganesha. Devotees of this form wear a red mark on their foreheads. This Ganapati is depicted either in red, blue or black, with four or six arms and with Shakti by his side.
Navneet literally means ‘butter’, a form of Ganpati that represents his soft nature. Swarna Ganapati and Santana Ganapati are the peaceful aspects of Ganapati. Although the six sub-sects have very different kinds of worship, the common belief is that Ganesha is the Supreme God. He is Eternal and the Creator of the universe.
While Ganesha is one of the most beloved deities in Maharashtra, it was Morya Gosavi who popularized the worship of the elephant-headed god in the region. Born in Morgaon, 50 km from Pune, Morya Gosavi was named after Lord Moreshwar (Ganapati) of Morgaon, a Ganapati temple that is one of the most sacred Ashtavinayak temples (group of eight revered Ganapati temples around Pune).
Like most saints in India, accounts of Morya Gosavi’s life revolve around several legends. It is difficult to fix a date for him and scholars place him between the 13th and 17th centuries CE. Spiritually inclined from a very young age, Morya Gosavi is said to have witnessed several divine revelations and several legends revolve around the miracles he performed during his lifetime.
One story mentions how Morya Gosavi restored the sight of a blind girl when he went to take his daily bowl of milk from the headman. The girl’s sight was restored as soon as she touched the threshold where he had been standing.
The saint is also said to have given great importance to anna-dana (serving food). The stories of his miracles and deeds attracted many people, who came to pay respects to the saint.
Morya Gosavi settled in Chinchwad near Pune, after a divine revelation of Ganesha. According to one version of the legend, he had grown old and was finding it difficult to travel to Morgaon. Lord Ganesha appeared to him and told him to build a temple at Chinchwad.
It is said that once, while bathing in a river in Chinchwad, the saint came across an idol of Ganesha, for which he built a shrine known as ‘Mangalmurti Wada’. Later, he built another shrine adjoining Mangalmurti Wada, consecrating the Kothareshwara idol.
According to legend, Morya Gosavi used to travel from Chinchwad to Morgaon on foot every month, to pray at the Moreshwar temple there. On one occasion, he arrived after the temple was shut but the locks miraculously fell away so that he could worship Lord Mayureshwar.
Morya Gosavi attained sanjeevan (living) samadhi at Chinchwad. According to one version, his son Chintamani built a Ganapati shrine on his samadhi in the 17th century CE. It is said that Chintamani was addressed as ‘Dev’ by the popular Saint Tukaram, and it went on to become the family surname.
Today, the Shri Morya Gosavi Ganapati Mandir at Chinchwad, a few meters away from Mangalmurti Wada, is a place of pilgrimage, with the samadhis of all seven Devs, including Morya Gosavi, revered by devotees. During the four-day period from Margashirsha Vadya Tritiya to Shashti, elaborate celebrations are observed in the temple on the occasion of Morya Gosavi’s Punyatithi, the day he attained sanjeevan samadhi.
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