A friend recently asked me,
“How come Rupa Goswami said to worship Ganesh? I saw on FB you have a Ganesh altar and since you studied Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu, I’m asking you for the tika behind that instruction of worshipping Ganesh.”
(A) I don’t exactly have a Gaṇeśa altar. Once upon a time my wife and I bought a wooden statue of Gaṇeśa from a “Pier One” type store. We took it with us when we moved to Japan. My mother in law, whom we live with, created an altar around it. So, it’s not my altar, really.
(B) Rūpa Goswāmī didn’t say to worship Gaṇeśa. Nectar of Devotion (a summary presentation of Śrī Rūpa’s Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu) does say, in Chapter Eight,
“One should begin the worship of the demigod Gaṇapati, who drives away all impediments in the execution of devotional service. In the Brahma-saḿhitā it is stated that Gaṇapati worships the lotus feet of Lord Nṛsiḿhadeva and in that way has become auspicious for the devotees in clearing out all impediments. Therefore, all devotees should worship Gaṇapati.”
This, however, is Śrīla Prabhupāda’s inclusion of material from Śrī Jīva’s commentary on Śrī Rūpa’s Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu. The commentary is on BRS 1.2.118, which lists as the 19th item of sādhana “seva-nāmāparādhānāṁ varjanaṁ” (“Casting off the anti-affections in deity worship and chanting of Krishna’s name.”) In his commentary on this verse, Śrī Jīva goes to the extent of enumerating 64 anti-affections (aparādhā, “offenses”) to serve as examples of what to avoid and cast off. One idea that emerges from this list is to avoid jumping into worship unprepared. When you do service to Krishna, you should do it nicely, calmly, and fully from start to finish – not abbreviating it. Abbreviation is likely to be a symptom of anti-affection. Therefore Jīva Goswāmī advises us to be on guard against abbreviation of our services.
One specific way in which abbreviation can take place involves neglect of Gaṇeśa. All auspicious deeds should begin be worshipping Gaṇeśa. This puts the performer in a fortunate, blessed position therefore more likely to carry out the deed / service nicely. If we skip the worship of Gaṇeśa at the beginning of our seva, we are abbreviating our service – and that is likely to be an anti-affection that will ruin the point of the service: to practice affection (bhakti).
Now, the devotee may question:
But Gaṇeśa is a material demigod, and we are not supposed to worship other gods besides Krishna.
This attitude is not exactly, necessarily “wrong” but in most cases today it carries the strong scent of the Judeo-Christian approach to divinity, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me… For I am a jealous God.” This is not an accurate conception for Krishna. Krishna is generous, not jealous. There are many other gods, and they are all invested with power by Hari (Krishna), therefore we certainly respect them all – though certainly our heart naturally reserves its true affections for adorable Krishna alone.
This, in fact, is the injunction given by Śrī Rūpa in the verse two verses before the one under discussion here. BRS. 1.2.116 lists the 16th practice of sādhana as anya devajñā (“Following the orders of other gods”) – and Śrī Rūpa quotes Padma Purāṇa to substatiate it: “Always worship Hari – who is the master of all the Gods; but also do not disrespect Brahmā, Rudra, and others.”
There is nothing wrong with worshipping a demigod for the purpose of serving Krishna. What is wrong is to worship a demigod to gain personal rewards. In fact this is the general principle applying to all things: “anukūlyeṇa saṁkalpa, pratikūlyeṇa varjita” - we will do anything for the purpose of serving Krishna, and not do anything for any other purpose.
Gaṇeśa, like all gods, worships the Supreme Person, Hari – to obtain the power to carry out his responsibility as a god. Specifically Śrīla Prabhupāda says that he worships Hari in the form of Nṛsiṁhadeva. Seeing the gods as a class of Vaiṣṇava, we who aspire to be Vaiṣṇava will always respect them as such.
So, if we are very elaborate and “full-format” in our pūjā, we begin with “maṅgalācaraṇa” (auspicious beginning), which traditionally means respecting Gaṇeśa. If we abbreviate this, it is a lack of affection for Krishna – and we should avoid that. Perhaps it is not necessary to include Gaṇeśa in the maṅgalācarana of our pūjā. All gods are respected by respecting the guru. Therefore by remembering and respecting our guru in the beginning of our worship of Krishna – we perform a full maṇgalācarana. And, as Prabhupāda indirectly indicates in the 8th chapter of Nectar of Devotion – a full maṅgalācarana can be effected simply by chanting the all-powerful Hare Krishna mantra in the right state of mind.
One might ask:
Why is Gaṇeśa traditionally associated with auspicious beginnings?
The answer is that Gaṇeśa is the god of thresholds. You can investigate the story of Gaṇeśa getting an elephant’s head to see that his mother Pārvatī put him in charge of guarding the door, the threshold. A doorway is the entrance to, thus the beginning of, a place. So, by being the guardian of thresholds, Gaṇeśa Jī is the guardian of beginnings. If you want a new endeavor to “get off to the right start” you should remember Gaṇeśa while starting, and ask him humbly for his blessing of your crossing the threshold.
I hope this helps satisfy your curiosity.