Rat in Hindu mythology


Maneka Gandhi


(Bihar Times) I am in Chennai to release a book Sacred Animals of India by Nanditha Krishna. It sets me thinking about all our Gods. No deity is complete with his/her animal and the animal has such a rich symbolism round it that it is worth learning about.
Let me start with the Mouse – mount of my beloved large, elephant headed Ganesha, remover of obstacles.
Ganesha was first seen in the 2nd Century C.E in Sri Lanka and was a common sight by the 6th century in India. In the incarnations described in the Puranas  he has a lion in one, a peacock , a snake , a horse till it finally settles down to a mouse in 5 of them. Jain depictions show Ganesha with an elephant, tortoise, ram, peacock and then settle on a mouse.

According to Wikipedia “Martin-Dubost says that the rat began to appear as the principal vehicle in sculptures of Ganesha in central and western India during the 7th century; the rat was always placed close to his feet. The mouse as a mount first appears in written sources in the Matsya Purana and later in the Brahmananda Purana and Ganesha Purana, where Ganesha uses it as his vehicle only in his last incarnation. The Ganapati Atharvashirsa includes a meditation verse on Ganesha that describes the mouse on his flag. The names Mūṣakavāhana (mouse-mount) and Ākhuketana (rat-banner) appear in the Ganesha Sahasranama. “

Why a mouse ? I asked the mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik whose book The Pregnant King was my best read of 2009. He wrote “ Not much direct information on animals is available in scriptures - so we can speculate.” Let me give you the conjectures of all the scholars before I give you my favorite view.
First the story:
According to the Ganesha Purana , Ganesha's mouse, originally a celestial musician named Krauncha, accidently insulted Muni Vamadeva at Lord Indra’s  darbar and was cursed to become a mouse. .But Krauncha was as big as a mountain and he damaged the Ashram of Sage Parâshara. The sage invoked Ganesha who unleashed his pasha (noose) and it looped round Krauncha’s neck and brought him to Ganesha's feet. Ganesha decided to take him as his vehicle. But when Ganesha stood on Krauncha he was too heavy and Krauncha cried out with pain. Ganesha took pity on him and made himself light and Krauncha has happily borne Him since.
Like all stories in our mythology this has many versions. In another, Krauncha is a mountain sized confederate of the demon Taraka and is defeated by Taraka and tamed and renamed by Ganesha as Mushika (from the Sanskrit root “ stealing”).
Many mythologists say that the mouse symbolizes base desires(Vaasana)  and Ganesha shows that they have to be overcome . The mouse is a symbol of darkness and the fear of light and knowledge. Vinayaka has control over the darkness and mastery over our Vaasanas.
The mouse (Mushika or Akhu) represents the ego, the mind with all of its desires, and the pride of the individual. Ganesha, riding atop the mouse, is the complete conquest over egoism. As the mouse enters unnoticed and eats everything in sight, egotistical desire enters the personality and eats up the good we have in us . In placing the mouse at his feet our Seers depicted the subservience of egoistical desire to the will of the wise man.
Others view the rat as a symbol suggesting that Ganesha, like the rat, penetrates even the most secret places. Or that Mushika attests to the all-pervasiveness of Ganesha carrying his grace into every nook and cranny. Alternatively, the mouse is the wandering wayward mind which slips into places which we would have not thought it possible to penetrate, unconcerned whether it is seeking virtue or vice. By showing the mouse paying homage to Ganesha it is implied that the intellect has been tamed through Ganesha's power of discrimination.
More symbolism:
*Ganesha  in spite of being a God is humble enough to ride the lowest of creatures, a mouse.
*  To show the irrelevance of the physical body  and the relationship that even the largest has with the smallest - the elephant on the rat
*To show that luck comes in unexpected ways and through the unexpected , even the scorned upon.
* It denotes the process of evolution--the mouse gradually evolves into an elephant and finally becomes a man. This is why Ganesha has a human body, an elephant's head and a mouse as His vehicle.
* The wise do not find anything in the world disproportionate, incongruous or ugly.
*  The mouse symbolises the meek who, if they surrender to the Lord will share in his power and glory.

*Ganesha allows the mouse to eat his laddoos. The message is that we should always care for the smallest of the small
* A mouse gazing at the Laddus, but not consuming them, denotes that a purified or controlled ego can live in the world without being affected by the worldly temptations.
*It takes all sorts to make a world and the mouse complements the elephant in making a complete world.
* As rats generally succeed in gnawing their way through every obstruction, the rat symbolizes Ganesha’s ability to destroy every obstacle.
*Even the smallest being can be of use to the greatest
Why does Ganesha the auspicious have an animal that is so widely detested as the rat ?

Pattanaik says: “ Ganesha represents prosperity and power. Hence he is fat (prosperous) and has the head of an elephant (powerful).But prosperity and power are meaningless if life is plagued with problems. And what better way to represent problems than as a rat/mouse. Mooshika represents that issue which makes our life miserable. That problem which though small eludes resolution and continues to exasperate us, irritate us, outwit us at every turn.. These are the rats in our lives, the insatiable thieves who are gnawing into our sense of well being. Imagine someone who gets rid of all those irritating rat-like problems of your life. That someone, for Hindus, is Ganesha. Around Ganesha’s giant belly is a serpent – that friend of the farmer – who eats the rats, controls pilferage and thus protects the harvest. With the grace of Ganesha, problems disappear and prosperity and power appear. You can imagine Ganesha catching hold of a problem by its tail, dragging it away, sitting on it, so that it troubles you no more.
Rats are also symbols of fertility. They breed like crazy. Ganesha is always associated with fertility symbols. The Dhurva grass for example, which keeps growing even when uprooted. If Dhurva is the plant-symbol of fertility, rat is the animal-symbol of fertility.. Rats are also unstoppable, relentless, breaking through any obstacle to get to the grain. Simultaneously, rats are symbols of avarice and greed. They are relentless hoarders. Thus, rats have a positive aspect (fertility/unstoppability) and a negative aspect (pilferage/plague). With Ganesha sitting on top of Mooshika only the positive aspects reach devotees while the negative aspects stay away.
Ganesha’s image may evoke a sense of prosperity and power and auspiciousness for which fertility is important but his Mooshika reminds us not to be complacent: the rat may be fertile and unstoppable – a contributor to our wealth – but it is also capable silently and secretly gnawing into our ethics, our morals, our values, the very foundation of our apparently fulfilled lives.”

Of all the possible explanations , I like my sister Ambika’s the best : The mouse is the smallest and most vulnerable of all. That is why Ganesha himself protects him.


To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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