Ganesh Visarjan: Notes on leadership and life from Ganapati celebrations

In Mumbai, every year in the month of August/September, the countdown begins months in advance, themes for pandals and decorations are deliberated upon. The sculptors spend ‘nights out’ giving form to him who is essentially formless; armies of people work relentlessly to meet the deadlines and everyone waits with bated breath.

As various forms of the One Divine (there is only one Supreme Being who is formless — human beings comprehend the Divine through different names - ekam satya vipra bahuda vadanti) in majestic splendour, make their way through snarling traffic and pouring rains, the city stops to shower its love and affection on its favourite deity.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

And then within less than 24 hours of welcoming the 'Leader of All' (free translation of the word Ganapati)…the visarjan (immersion) commences. Some forms of Ganapati stay for less than 24 hours, very few stay beyond 10 days and the fervour of months reaches a grand and befitting finale as Ganapati departs to his abode.

The sight of visarjan never fails to move me for a multitude of reasons. The environmental havoc that the exaggerated and unabashedly consumerist, modern festivities wreak deserve special mention. We will however, leave that for another note and instead spend a few moments on the real symbolism of the visarjan and the timeless lessons that it reminds us of.

There is a purpose to ‘being’ and a time for ‘being’. Ganapati assumes the form of a ‘raja’ (king – most Ganapati forms are affectionately regarded as kings of the local society/area etc.) to remove obstacles of his followers (‘vighnaharta’), to herald the season of plenty as the monsoons start receding and to set in motion months of festivities.

And there is a right time to move on. Once he has fulfilled the current purpose of being invoked at a particular time of the year, the ‘raja’ moves on to allow his followers to cherish his blessings and welcome and worship other forms of the divine.

Nothing that is material, is forever. Even the divine ‘raja’ is invoked in a material form for a finite period of time and then the material form is allowed to depart. He lives on in the hearts and the minds of his followers but the adulation and the attention shift elsewhere.

What seems fairly matter-of-fact in the cycle of worship becomes hard to digest for leaders and organisations. Organisations led by their leaders struggle to cling to their successes. The success of products and adulation for leaders trick us into believing that both the success and the adulation will last forever.

Organisations can and should strategise for the long term but products and services need to be phased out at the right time or be completely reinvented for the changing times (innovate and disrupt). The same strategies do not work in every context. Orkut was phased out by Facebook and the Facebook killer is probably already on the anvil somewhere. A new iPhone will be released every year to eventually perish like the iPod.

Leaders can leave behind legacies but the next leader is always in waiting, the adulation has to shift as soon as the current leader fulfills the purpose for which s(he) became a leader. The baton has to be passed on.

Visarjan of material forms of the divine is essentially a cultural symbol for exhorting leaders, humans and organisations alike to assess their purpose and relevance — to reinvent or to exit as necessary and to acknowledge their inevitable mortality.

As divinity personified Ganapati promises us that he will be back next year (‘punchya varshi lavkar aahe’ (come back soon next year) as humans we need not despair too, there is always another coming, in another time, in another context.

The author is a mentor to start-ups and a strategy consultant. This piece on her LinkedIn profile has been reproduced here with permission

Updated Date: Sep 15, 2016 12:43 PM

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