5 Ganesha Stories, 5 Environmental Thoughts

This year’s Ganesha walk was a vibrant one. 2nd of August 2014 was high summer, but one of the pleasanter days, with some showers, and breeze. It was lovely walking along the river, not feeling that thirsty, walking across some muddy bits. Stopping by woods, under trees and besides lush river banks, twelve of us engaged with some Hindu stories and reflection on nature. The Ganesha walk is a gentle two mile walk starting at Grindleford train station car park. The little café at Grindleford is a welcome feature of our start point, to pick up water and even some big lunches if needed! I always like to have a little peek at the book shelf, which stocks many interesting publications on the Peak District National Park, its trails, biodiversity, history and its people. Starting at 11 am, we usually aim to get to Hathersage train station around 2.30 pm, stopping for lunch and a couple of breaks on route. We finish at Hathersage train station, we ask participants to bring £1.70 with them, to get themselves on the train to Grindleford- the starting point. So we end up on a circular route, half walk, and half train journey, so people can get back to their cars, vans etc.

Myself and Anne Goodwin, a ranger on shift at Brunts Barn, who is a writer and very interested in storytelling, and Hindu tales, lead the walk. We narrate the stories using pictures as props, and also natural features of the National Park. This year, I decided that I have some bright ideas, and want to pick up one key point for reflection from each story. Anne was game for it and so came about this ‘ 5 stories, 5 environmental thoughts’ scheme.

So here the outline of our scheme. We felt it was quite well received!

story -ET snip

If you want to listen to the whole stories, you will have to join us on the walk next year, or research them yourselves!

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Since childhood I have enjoyed listening to Puranas that are set in the outdoors, and my dance training also helped me imagine the outdoors artistically. As I was training as a ranger in 2010, these were my only connections with the outdoors, unlike some of my fellow trainees who had been walking for quite some years before they embarked on ranger trainee. I would hear from rangers the names of rock formations, and I would be reminded of the shiva lingham, my only point of association with the rock! I pressed on along those lines and then began to think out of the box. When I saw that the Hindu Samaj in Sheffield do a visarjan (immersion) of the Ganesha idol, I thought people would enjoy a walk in the countryside and developed the Ganesha walk. The outdoors and nature may not be familiar to us Indians and Hindus, as in it isn’t that common to hold maps and tramp the countryside, but it is integral to our life in other ways, I discovered. I wanted to explore. Well, after all, that is the remit of the ranger – to explore the landscape, so I was going to physically explore, culturally explore and spiritually explore. Avadhutta Dattatreya (a Hindu teacher) famously talks of many birds and animals as his teachers, as a ranger I find I learn a tremendous lot from observing nature, and I began to discover that I can make a tremendous lot of sense from what I am learning using Hindu philosophy. I was hooked to this connection now – Rangering and Hindu Philosophy!

It was in the midst of this journey that I was interviewed by radio 4 about the work I was doing on a chap called Edward Carpenter, who many decades ago, was going through the same process – understanding nature and making sense of it, living very near the Peak District. He visited India, met a guru, and was hooked to Hindu philosophy! So I discovered I wasn’t the only one exploring the landscape through Hinduism in the heart of the north of England!

Actually I am told on good authority, these explorations/ thoughts are not alien to the British Isles, and could be very very old indeed! I received a fascinating letter, written by the fireside by a radio 4 listener. It took me on a wonderful journey of language and ritual in the British Isles! It struck a chord in him, the correspondent wrote, listening to a ‘magnificent and original programme’ on Radio 4, where I spoke of the Ganesha walk. His letter struck a chord with me, that willingness to open up and explore and marvel at discoveries, and particularly to communicate that!

He wrote about the Ganesh festival celebrations in Sheffield,

” Your mention of Ganesha being washed in the river Don struck a chord with me, a chord that may go back many thousands of years.

The old languages of Britain (Celtic, and later Teutonic) are descended from the same language as Sanskrit. In an impressive family tree from millennia ago, the eminent archaeologist Barry Cunliffe speaks of a ‘proto Indo-European language’ which branched out into three, one of which went East and evolved into Sanskrit, the other went to Mongolia and onwards to America and yet another went to Europe and obliterated older native languages (of which Basque, Finnish and Hungarian survive today). The European language further fragmented and became Greek and Roman and around 6,000 years ago, another split led to Celtic and Teutonic. The Celts invaded Britain and from it evolved Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gallic. The Teutons became the Anglo-Saxons and also the Norse invaders. The Peak District was taken over by the Anglo-Saxons or Norse invaders.

Eilert Ekwall, author of Oxford dictionary of English place-names and English river names says Don is from the British ‘Dana’, an old name for water, related to Sanskrit ‘ danu’ (rain or moisture)

The origins of many Welsh and English words for the basics of life seem to have links with Sanskrit and the Proto Indo European. (look up mother, father, water, tree, door, oak, sky, earth, horse, door) It seems in short, the ancestors of Welsh and Anglo-saxons carry the same words as the people of India, as we are all from the same source.

The Welsh legends are based on families, I do not see them as ‘Gods’ exactly (perhaps a Victorian word for these beings?), but as characters who live for so long and are so archetypal that they appear, compared to our short lives, to be immortal. The Vikings who came to the Peak District had tales of the Aesir and the Vanir: Orin, Thor, Frey and Freya, Loki etc etc, much is known of the male gods as their stories were written down, but the stories of the fertility deities such as Frey and Freya (brother and sister) (as in Friday) are few. I remember in ‘Gods and myths of Northern Europe’ (H.R.Elis Davidson) that there is a record of a ceremony, witnessed by a Christian missionary, of carts containing idols of Frey and Freya being wheeled into the lake in Denmark for the idols to be washed.

I know very little of the ninth legends, and forget what I’ve read in the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita, but my feeling for all the stories of Krishna, Siva, Brahma, of Ram and Hanuman and Lakshmi, has been one of recognition. I feel deeply that the tales passed down to us in Britain are from the same source or wellspring as the tales that are told from India. Now how much the spread of language reflects the spread of actual people, or if language colonises a native people who then switch tongues, I do not know. But the washing of Ganesh in the Don seems right to me.

I do not know if you are aware of ‘well dressing’ (at Tissington, Buxton etc) where flower pictures adorn springs (always sacred to Celts) or of garland Days, when a main is dressed all in leaves like a giant bush mounted on a horse (at Castleton, I think) India without elephants!

I feel your work in the Peak District is completing a circle.”

Signed off as ‘your distant cousin’

Isn’t it all just amazing! I am so very pleased to have also received a bibliography for further reading on these ideas, which I very much look forward to reading.

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2 thoughts on “5 Ganesha Stories, 5 Environmental Thoughts

  1. Your lovely photos are a great reminder of a good day out, though personally I wouldn’t say we were so lucky with the weather as we sheltered under that tree from the rain. Very interested in this correspondence about the interconnectivity of language. I always thought that the northern Indian languages had different routes to the southern and were more closely related to European but I might be talking nonsense. Maybe we should do a language walk next time?

  2. sure Anne! I will post the bibliography too, should help with any further investigation into this. Talking of language, I had an interesting proposal from an academic who wanted to gather different words for natural phenomenon that might have been coined by Indians/other ethnic minorities living in Britain!

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