Imagine walking into your house and finding a rat scurrying across your sofa. Or imagine opening your kitchen cabinet and a rat leaping right at you. Sharp teeth, red eyes. A painful bite. Open your desk and there are the gnawed remains of your text book. And the excrement of rats. Go to the toilet, smell that rotting flesh, a dead rat somewhere. See that open sewer next to your house–what do you see there? Rats, for sure. Dozens of rats. Rats everywhere. Imagine them under your bed, in your attic, behind the sofa, in your toilet, in your pantry, your storehouse, your basement.
Rats evoke feeling of disgust. There is something inherently dark, and unclean, and sinister about them. Think rats and you think garbage, gutter, plague, disease. Rats means destruction of property. Pilferage. Filth. There is nothing adorable or desirable about a rat. So why is Ganesha always associated with a rat, lovingly called Mooshika?
But it is not a rat, you are corrected. It is a mouse. Rats are nasty. Mice are much gentler. Cute Ganesha rides a cute mouse, my nephew insists. The fact is nobody is sure what Mooshika is exactly. Scholars and the general public can argue about it endlessly referring to obscure Sanskrit texts: Rat. Mouse. Maybe even a bandicoot. Whatever! Basically a rodent, a pest, the bane of the storehouse, enemy of the farmer, a denizen of the sewer. Rats are inauspicious. You definitely don’t want them in your house.
Ganesha is Mangala-Murti, the embodiment of auspiciousness. Why then does he have as his mount something so inauspicious as a rat? What is the message there?
Imagine someone who gets rid of all those irritating rat-like problems of your life. That someone, for Hindus, is Ganesha.
Devdutt Pattanaik is an Indian physician turned leadership consultant, mythologist, author and communicator whose works focus largely on the areas of myth, religion, mythology, and management.