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The Sugarcane Bow


This fragmentary essay began. when, following a Ganesha Puja, Jojo asked me what “the sugarcane bow” signified. This is by no means an entire answer, but it’s a start.

Firstly, an observation about Tantra’s historicity. The general scholarly consensus is that what we refer to as Tantrism (a slippery concept at the best of times) begins to flourish in India around the 6th-7th century C.E.. At least, some of the earliest texts which can be identified as Tantric can be dated to that period. This would be fine, if Tantra was something self-contained and hermetically ‘different’ from other Indian religious traditions, but of course, that isn’t the case; Tantra is influenced by all that went before it, and the other movements and traditions that flourished around it.

Some of the imagery, concepts, and ideas that crop up in Tantric texts are incredibly ancient, dating back to the period in which the Vedas were composed – 1750-1200 B.C (and perhaps earlier). It’s worth meditating on that point alone. Of course meanings change over time, and in context. Thus an image’s meaning will be different within the context within which it appears, be it Buddhist, Jaina, Tantric, Advaita, or Bhakti. That’s also worth meditating upon. There’s never just one ‘reading’ of an image, a symbol, a story, a goddess, a ‘truth’.

So, to the Sugarcane Bow…

Salutations to him who holds the sugarcane bow
The 108 names of Ganesa

“I concentrate early in the morning on the svelt-creeper like comely arms of Shree Lalita Devi whose hands are bedight with the red ring worn on her fingers and with the jewel embedded gold bangles (on the wrist). Her hands hold the bow made of the sugarcane of red variety, the arrow made of flowers and a cumulus.”
hymn to Lalita attributed to Shankaracharya

Sugarcane has been a part of Indian life for a long time. The process of making sugar (it’s thought that our English word derives originally – via Persia – from the Sanskrit sharkara) by evaporating the juice of the sugarcane was developed in India around 500BC. Its first introduction to the West came via Alexander the Great’s conquest of India in 326BC.

There are references to Sugarcane’s use as a magical ingredient in the Arthava Veda, as instanced in the following love-charm:

“This plant is born of honey, with honey do we dig for thee. Of honey thou art begotten, do thou make us full of honey!
At the tip of my tongue may I have honey, at my tongue’s root the sweetness of honey! In my power alone shalt thou then be, thou shalt come up to my wish!
Sweet as honey is my entrance, sweet as honey my departure. With my voice do I speak sweet as honey, may I become like honey!
I am sweeter than honey, fuller of sweetness than licorice. Mayest thou, without fail, long for me alone, (as a bee) for a branch full of honey!”
I have surrounded thee with a clinging sugarcane, to remove aversion, so that thou shalt not be averse to me!”


The image of the bow, and the five, flower-arrows is equally ancient, with its primary association as the weapon of the god Kamadeva.

Kama, as an experience, and a deva, is usually translated as “desire” or “pleasure” – and in particular, sexual desire (although as we will see, his remit it in actuality much wider). One of the origin-stories of Kama is recounted in the Kalika Purana, a text that has been dated to 10-11th C.E.
In this version of Kama’s origin, he is brought into existence inadvertently, when Brahma gazes upon his daughter Usas (“the dawn”) and experiences lust for her.

Kama’s appearance is described as follows:

“…broad thighs, hips and calves, blue-black hair twisted into a crown. His pair of joined eyebrows were moving or agitated and his face shone like a full moon. … His eyes were like the petals of a full-blown lotus, and he was pleasing to smell, like the filaments (of a flower). He had a conch-like neck (with three folds) and carried the fish-banner. His vehicle was the makara. Armed with five flowers as arrows and a bow, his eyes moved back and forth in charming side-glances. A fragrant wind was blowing and he was accompanied by the sentiment of love. Produced from the mind, in front of daksa, he was quite astonishing.

The man then said to Brahma, “What work will I be appointed to?”

Brahma replied:

With your charming beauty, and bow and flower arrows, do (the work of) creation, eternally bewildering men and women. No devas, no gandharvas, no kinnaras, no great serpents, no asuras, no daitvas, no vanavidyas, no raksasas, No yaksas, no pisacas, no bhutas, no vinayakas, no guhyasas, no vasiddhas, no mortals. no birds. no cattle, no deer, no worms, insects, or any water-born, none of all these will be exempt from the mark of your arrow.”

But this ‘origin’ is not the first appearance of Kama. In order to understand more about Kama, we need to go much further back.

The earliest reference to Kama I have found is in the Rg Veda (X.129):

“Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of heat.

Desire (kama) came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence in non-existence.”

In the Arthava Veda, Kama appears in both hymns, in which he is propitiated in order to grant the desires of the supplicant (aid against enemies and so forth) – and these hymns make explicit references to the ‘origin’ in the Rg Veda:

“Kama was first-born; neither the gods, the Fathers, nor mortals reached him; to them you are superior, always great; to you as the superior one, O Kama, do I pay homage.”


“Desire (Kama) here came into being in the beginning, which was the first seed if mind; O desire, being of one origin with great desire, do you impart abundance of wealth to the sacrificer.”

Kama also features in some of the spells and charms aimed at inducing love in women:

“May the up-thruster thrust you up; do not abide in your own lair; with the arrow of kama that is terrible I pierce you in the heart.
The arrow feathered with longing, tipped with love, necked with resolve, let love pierce you in the heart.”

So already there is a link between Kama (desire); the mind; the bow and the desire-producing arrows.

A pause for breath

The image of the bow, and the flowery-arrow which pierces the heart, the primacy of desire, and with the sweetness of the sugarcane, can be seen as linked to the emergence of Kamadeva in the Vedic period. Yet the sugarcane bow, in later texts, is carried by Ganesa and by Lalita. Have they usurped Kama’s function? Is the Sugarcane bow a ‘generic’ weapon? An early problem I encountered in reading about various Indian gods & goddesses was their inter-identification – the way in which they ‘become’ each other, yet at the same time, remain themselves. Being more used to western-oriented magical cultures, which tend to be presented as relatively fixed in terms of genealogical relationships between deities (who’s a creator god, or ‘chief’ god, for example) I became extremely confused when, for example, trying to establish the point at which Rudra becomes Siva. In western culture, we tend to associate strong identity in terms of drawing boundaries in terms of difference from others. Thus there’s a tendency to think of gods & goddesses in terms of possessing different abilities and immutable, distinguishable characteristics. But in South Asian cultures, a “strong” deity is one who can absorb contradictions; who does not need boundary lines, and can be identified with nearly everything else. So, when we read of Ganesa or Lalita bearing the sugarcane bow, it’s not so much that they have ‘stolen’ Kama’s weapon, or that they have usurped Kama’s function, but that Kama is an aspect of their manifestation – if only momentarily. This is reflected in the Ganesa Upanisad, wherein Ganesa is identified with other principles & powers:

“You create this world. You maintain this world. All this world is seen in you. You are Earth, water, Fire, Air, Aethyr. You are beyond the four measures of speech. You are beyond the Three Gunas. You are beyond the three bodies. You are beyond the three times. You are always situated in the Muladhara. You are the being of the three Shaktis. You are always meditated upon by Yogins. You are Brahma, you are Vishnu, you are Rudra, You are Agni, You are Vayu, You are the Moon, You are the Sun, You are Brahma, Bhur-Bhuvah-Svar.”
(translation, Mike Magee)

This single passage shatters the notion often found in contemporary Western occult texts, that deities can be easily categorised according to fixed schema – i.e. associations with a particular element, or by planetary relationships. Sun goddesses and Moon gods, yes – but Ganesa is both Sun and Moon, and beyond them at the same time.

The Pursuit of Kama

Kama, we should remember, is not just a god. Kama is one of the four purusarthas (“aims of life”) along with dharma, artha, and moksha. In the Mahabharata, a discussion takes place between the five pandava brothers as to which of the purusarthas is most important, and how they should be ranked in relation to each other. Arjuna favours artha (wealth) whilst Bhima favours Kama, but eventually the brothers agree that Moksha (release) is the primary life-aim, as it presupposes non-attachment to the other three. Within the discussion, there emerges the perspective that although the pursuit of kama is important it should not be pursued at the detriment of dharma or moksha.

Also in the Mahabharata (and elsewhere) is the story of Yayati. The basic form of this story (there are many versions) is that Yayati marries Devyani, the daughter of Sukra. Devyani has a maidservant Sarmistha, and Yayati, in some versions of the story, is specifically warned not to take her to his bed, yet being ruled by his passions, this is exactly what he does. Devyani, quite properly, returns to the house of Sukra and complains. Yayati follows Devyani and tries to patch things up, and Sukra, in a rage, curses him with sudden old age – so although his desire remains as strong as ever, he is no longer able to do anything about it. When Yayati pleads with Sukra for leniency, Sukra modifies the curse so that Yayati might be returned to his youthful vigor if he can find someone who will accept their youth for his decrepitude. Now Yayati has five sons, and so he asks each of them to make this exchange. Four of them refuse, but the youngest, Puru, agrees, so that Yayati is able to continue to enjoy the pleasures of Devyani. In some versions of the story, Yayati, despite his long life of pleasure, remains unsatisfied, and journeys to the land of the Gandharvas where he takes yet another wife. Eventually, Yayati tires of his pleasure-seeking life. Yayati’s conclusion, which is made either to Devyani or Puru (depending on the version) is that:

“Desire is never satisfied by the objects of desire; like a sacrificial fire fed with ghee, it only increases in intensity. Nothing, not grain, wealth or women can satisfy one whose mind is subject to desire.”

This conclusion is a recurrent theme in Indian philosophy/religion, and is dealt with, as we will see, in a variety of ways.

Yayati renounces his life of pleasure and becomes a forest-dwelling sadhu, performing ascetic practices. There is more to his story (how his penances attract the favour of Indra, and how his pride gets him booted out of Indra’s heaven) but we will leave him for now.

The story of Yayati is basically the story of one who, in pursuit of his desires, loses his wife and is cursed, and is so intent on his own pleasure that he subjects one of his own sons to his curse. Eventually, he renounces his endless quest for pleasure and becomes a forest-dwelling ascetic. This story illustrates the power of desire, and the familiar point that its’ pursuit – to the exclusion of all else – does not necessarily bring happiness.

Moreover, it illustrates a core concept in Indian thought about the relationship between kama and moksha. Desire is transitory, and can never be satisfied, so the only way to achieve freedom (moksha) is to renounce desire itself.

So for example, within Buddhism, the five kama-gunas (which are related to the experience of the five senses) are seen as obstacles to progress. In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3) Krishna identifies kama as the root-cause of sinful actions:

Arjuna said:
“O Krishna, what impels one to commit sin, as if unwillingly and forced against one’s will? (36)

Krishna said:
It is kama and anger born of raja-guna. Kama is insatiable and a great devil, know this as the enemy. (37)

Kama, the passionate desire, for all sensual and material pleasures, becomes anger if it unfulfilled. As the fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror by dust, and as an embryo by the amnion, similarly Self-knowledge gets obscured by Kama. (38)

The senses, the mind, and the intellect are said to be the seat of Kama. Kama, with the help of the senses, deludes a person by veiling Jnana. (40)

Note the link between kama (desire, pleasure) and krodha (anger).

Are the pursuit of desire and the pursuit of spiritual release incompatible then? It is easy to gain that impression, particularly as we often tend to frame positions as oppositions. One must take up one stance against another. One must be for something and against its’ other. Not necessarily.

Kama-the-god is not present in the story of Yayati, yet kama-the-principle runs through it, rather like the juice within the sugarcane. The story of Yayati is not merely that of sexual shenanigans, although that makes it a fun story to read or listen to. Through the story of Yayati’s ‘sex addiction’ and where it leads him, we are led towards the broader category of desire and its pursuit. Kama, as one of the purusarthas, is not confined to sexual relationships (although sexuality is perhaps the most forceful expression of kama) but rather, can be understood as passionate engagement in any particular pursuit.

Also, Yayati’s story illustrates another recurrent concept in Indian religions – that the pursuit of something may lead to a state beyond that pursuit.

Earlier, I mentioned the discussion between the pandava brothers over the four life-aims in the Mahabharata, and that Bhima (a powerful warrior, and son of the god Vayu) proposed that Kama is the primary life-aim. His argument is that:

“One without kama does not strive for artha, one without kama does not wish for dharma; one without kama is not striving for anything; therefore kama is pre-eminent.”

Bhima’s argument in favour of kama also reflects a key theme in Indian religious & philosophical texts – that what might be otherwise be seen as an impediment to spiritual progress can, paradoxically, lead to progress. There is also the recognition that desire is inescapable. This point is made clearly by Manu, in the Dharmashastra:

“Acting out of desire (kama) is not approved of, but here on earth there is no such thing as no desire; for even studying the Veda and even engaging in the rituals enjoined in the Veda are based upon desire.

Desire is the very root of a definitive intention (samkalpa), and the sacrifices are the result of that intention; all the vows (vratas) and the religious duties of restriction (yamas) are traditionally said to come from the conception of a definite intention.

Not a single rite is ever performed here on earth by a man without desire; for each and everything he does is motivated by the desire for precisely that thing.”

The all-pervasive nature of Kama is reinforced in a later section of the Mahabharata (Book 14, 13) which refers to the Kamagita – the song of Kama:

Vasudeva (i.e. Krishna) says:
“Men do not look with approbation upon the conduct of those who are engrossed in worldly desires and there is no act without having a desire (at its root) and all (Kama) desires are, as it were, the limbs (offshoots) of the mind. Therefore, wise men knowing this subjugate their desires. The Yogi who holds communion with the Supreme Spirit, knows Yoga to be the perfect way (to salvation) by reason of the practices of his many former births. And remembering that, what the soul desires, is not conducive to piety and virtue, but that the suppression of the desires is at the root of all true virtue, such men do not engage in the practice of charity, Vedic learning, asceticism and Vedic rites whose object is attainment of worldly prosperity, ceremonies, sacrifices, religious rules and meditation, with the motive of securing any advantage thereby. By way of illustration of this truth, the sages versed in ancient lore, recite these Gathas called by the name of Kamagita, do thou O Yudhishthira, listen to the recital of them in detail.

Kama says:
No creature is able to destroy me without resorting to the proper methods. If a man knowing my power, strive to destroy me by muttering prayers etc., I prevail over him by deluding him with the belief that I am the subjective ego within him. If he wish to destroy me by means of sacrifices with many presents, I deceive him by appearing in his mind as a most virtuous creature amongst the mobile creation, and if he wish to annihilate me by mastering the Vedas and Vedangas, I over reach him by seeming to his mind to be the soul of virtue amongst the immobile creation. And if the man whose strength lies in truth, desire to overcome me by patience, I appear to him as his mind, and thus he does not perceive my existence, and if the man of austere religious practices, desire to destroy me by means of asceticism, I appear in the guise of asceticism in his mind, and thus he is prevented from knowing me, and the man of learning, who with the object of attaining salvation desires to destroy me, I frolic and laugh in the face of such a man intent on salvation. I am the everlasting one without a compeer, whom no creature can kill or destroy. For this reason thou too, O prince, divert thy desires (Kama) to Virtue, so that, by this means, thou mayst attain what is well for thee.”

Kama is all-pervasive, and though his action can be stilled or directed through yogic practices, he can never be completely eliminated. The Kamagita suggests that as desire can never fully be banished, it is best to direct kama into virtuous acts, i.e. the desire for spiritual progression and the pleasure in practice for its own sake (without lust of result). The story of Yayati is not only illustrative of the pursuit of pleasure for it’s own sake, but the egoic attachment to pleasure, and the idea that kama incurs consequences.

Another point for reflection is the tension between the pursuit of kama and dharma – or at least, the individual and the communitas.

This is an idea which recurs throughout the Yoga traditions, for example in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

That even a great ascetic such as Siva can be subject to Kama, is illustrated in the next story.

Burning Desire to Ash

One of the most famous stories in which Kama features is the myth of how, at the bequest of the gods, Kama shoots one of his desire-producing arrows at Siva (who is engrossed in ascetic withdrawal) in the hope that Siva will beget a son with Paravati, as the gods are beset by the demon Taraka, who can only be killed by a son of Siva. Kama’s arrow disturbs Siva, who turns his terrible third eye onto Kama, burning him to ash. Siva eventually allows Kama to be ‘reborn’ as Ananga (“the bodiless one”).

There are several versions of this story, and the one I am summarising here is from the 10th Century C.E. Lalitopakhyana, which is contained within the larger Brahmanda Purana, and deals with the emergence of Lalita, and her relation to Siva, Kama, and more besides.

The story opens with the demon Taraka harassing the gods, who discover that he can only be slain by a son of Siva. The gods beg Kama to intervene, as Siva is engaged in ascetic meditation. So Kama shoots his desire-producing arrow into Siva, whose mind becomes permeated with the presence of Kama. Realising what has happened, Siva turns his flaming third eye upon Kama and burns him to ash. Citrakarma, the captain of Siva’s hosts (the ganas) creates the image of a man out of the ashes of Kama, and when Siva gazes upon this form, it becomes alive. Chitrakarma teaches this being how to worship Siva, and the latter, delighted, names this being Bhand (“Good” or “Fortunate”) and tells him that he will ‘rule’ for 60,000 years. However, Bhand, born from the fire of Siva’s anger, took on the nature of that anger (raudrasvabhavah) and took glory in his power and pleasures, building a city that rivalled that of Indra, and gaining power to the detriment of the gods. In order to counteract the waxing of Bhand’s power, Vishnu created a beautiful maya-woman to enchant and delude Bhand. On seeing this maya-woman and her attendants, Bhand and his followers were deluded, and ceased to practice the auspicious rituals of the Veda and forgot their worship of Siva. This offered the gods some respite, but the Sage Narada warned them that when Bhand realised that he had been enchanted, he would burn the three worlds in his anger. Narada said that the only way for the gods to defeat Bhand was to propitiate the goddess Parashakti (“Supreme Power”). It is told that the gods performed the worship of the Parashakti for ten thousand years and ten days, and the gods themselves offer their own flesh as part of the sacrifice. Eventually, the goddess Lalita (or Tripurasundari) appears to them, and they honour her. She is the essence of beauty, and in her hands she bore the sugarcane bow, the five arrows, the noose and the goad. Lalita is married to Siva, who appears in the wondrous form of Kamesvara (Lord, or conqueror of desire) – although in some versions of the tale, Lalita retains her independence from Siva (despite being married to him).

A mighty battle ensues, and the Lalitopakhyana contains long descriptions of Lalita’s various allies (her own saktis) and her opponents, and the progress of the battle. One point I will mention is that during this battle, Ganesa emerges out of Lalita’s laughter as she gazes upon the face of Kamesvara, and destroys Bhand’s brother. Eventually Bhand himself is forced into action, and Lalita destroys him with an arrow named Mahakamesvara (“the great desire”), which burns with the radiance of 10,000 suns.

After the battle, the gods explain to Lalita how they were trying to get Siva and Parvati together in order to defeat Taraka, and that Bhand was born from the ashes of Kama. Kama’s grieving wife, Rati, is brought before Lalita, and out of Lalita’s sidelong glance, Manmatha (i.e. Kama) was reborn. Kama declared himself to be the son and slave of Lalita, and she gave him the power to influence Siva so that he would join with Parvati (but this time, Siva will not be able destroy Kama). Parvati herself performed austerities in order to secure her husband, and the two engaged in amorous dalliance and eventually brought forth the six-faced Mahasena (i.e. Skanda), who went on to slay Taraka.

There’s quite a lot going on here, to say the least. Firstly, this text proclaims Lalita Tripurasundari to be the supreme goddess, greater than Siva and Kama and all the other gods. The Lalitopakhyana is a Shakta text, showing the influence of the earlier Devi-Mahatmayana, which presents for the first time, an understanding of Devi as the primary ontological reality. The story of Lalita’s battle with Bhand is similar in structure to Devi’s battle with the buffalo-demon, Mahisa.

There is a suggestion, in some versions of this story, that the goddess is created by the ritual action of the gods, but a Shakta understanding is rather, that the Devi is the power (Shakti) behind the gods which emerges – and takes on form – in answer to their prayers and rituals. Further, it can be argued that everything which happens in this story is ultimately, the play of Lalita (“playful one”, or “She who plays”).

Its worth noting that Bhand and his followers initially are under the protection of Siva, and that they perform the auspicious Vedic rituals – they are acting in accordance with dharma. It is only when Visnu sends his Maya to delude them that they ‘forget’ the necessity of the rituals and give themselves up to sensuality & pleasure.

At the end of the story, Lalita is in command of Kama, and he is no longer subject to Siva’s destroying anger. Moreover, her side-long glance (an indication of flirtatious behaviour in Sanskrit literature) is enough to bring Kama back to life. She appears, bearing the weapons formerly associated with Kama (the sugarcane bow, the flower-arrows, the noose, and the goad). It is Lalita who creates Ganesa and decrees that he is to be worshipped before all other gods because of his prowess in the battle. She is herself, Kamesvari – the embodiment of desire, and has greater power than the ascetic Siva.

The Lalitopakhyana offers a different view of the nature of kama – one more ‘friendly’ to a Tantric perspective.

Tasting the Sweet Essence

Sugarcane juice, in Sanskrit, is iksurasa – and rasa, as a term, has a multitude of meanings. Rasa can denote essence, taste, flavour, juice, or the experiencing of savouring. It can refer to the experience of passion, profound aesthetic pleasure, sensual delight, and sensitivity. Moreover, rasa can be understood as a transformative experience – the knowledge or awareness that arises out of an intense experience. Rabindranath Tagore describes Rasa in this way:

“Our emotions are the juices which transform this world of appearance into the more intimate world of sentiments. On the other hand, this outer world has its own juices, having their various qualities, which excite our emotional activities. This is called in our Sanskrit Rhetoric, Rasa, which signifies outer juices having their response in inner juices of our emotions. And a poem, according to it, is a sentence or sentences containing juices, which stimulate the juices of emotion. It brings to us ideas vitalized by feelings, ready to be made into the life-style of nature.”

The Rasa doctrine emerges from Sanskrit poetics and drama. The Natyashastra (sometimes called the ‘fifth Veda’) is a text dealing mainly with drama – theatre, dance, musical performance. According to the Natyashastra, the major purpose of dance, drama, ritual and poetry is catalytic in that aesthetic performance should provoke an emotion that is already present in members of the audience. The various elements of a performance combine to create a sympathetic response in those who experience them. Moreover, a member of the audience who has cultivated his or her own aesthetic response may experience a transformation of their own emotion into a purely aesthetic, transcendental feeling – an experience of divine bliss. This is the transformation of Bhava (“mood”) into its essence – Rasa.

A particular application of the Rasa aesthetic (what might be considered a ‘tantric’ theory of desire) can be found in the works of the Kashmir Saivite scholar Abhinavagupta. For Abhinavagupta, Sakti is the primary reality, and it is her power that pervades all perceptual and creative experiences. To become aware of the ever-present goddess in all experience is an illuminatory moment (a gnosis, if you will) which may arise from intense passion in the practitioner. Rasa is the essence of the liberated state of consciousness.

How does all this relate to the Sugarcane bow itself?

Lalita’s Bow

One explanation of the sugarcane bow in the hands of Lalita sometimes given is that the Sugarcane bow represents the character of the mind (it is through the mind that we can experience the joy of realisation – the sweet juice), and the five flowery arrows, the five senses (or the subtle involutes of the five senses) which pierce the sense-objects. In the hands of Lalita (or Ganesa, for that matter) we are reminded that our minds are not separate to her, that she is the source of joy, of our sensory delights, and experiences.

Whereas in the hands of the god Kama, the arrows cause delusion, attachment, and momentary desire for the sensual, the bow in the hands of Lalita pierces the devotee with the arrow-desire for her vidya, the ‘knowledge’ of liberation.

Moreover, to gain the juice of the sugarcane requires effort – the hard outer coat must be removed, and the white stem inside must be squeezed hard to obtain the juice which pervades it.

Kameshvari Nitya

The “Eternal Lady of Desire” is one of the Nityas (“Eternities”) or enamations of Lalita featured in the ritual worship of the Sri Yantra. Each of the 15 Nityas has their own Yantra, Mantra, and subsidiary Saktis. In the Tantrarajatantra Kameshvari is described as holding the bow of sugarcane, the five flowering arrows of desire, noose, goad, a nectar-filled cup, and making the gesture of granting boons. The five arrows of desire are named as Longing, Maddening, Kindling, Enchanting, and Wasting.

Ganesa and Sugarcane

Ganesa is said to love sugarcane (as is proper for a god with an elephant’s head) –some representations of Ganesa from the Deccan region of Southern India (where sugarcane is a major crop) show him holding a sheaf of corn and a sugarcane stalk, and are thought to indicate an early association with agriculture as the protector of the harvest . His vehicle, the mouse (Musaka) is thought to also be related to his association with crops, although it has other associations. Pieces of Sugarcane are traditionally offered to Ganesa in his puja.

In his child-form, Ganesa is sometimes depicted resting on a thousand-petalled lotus in the centre of an ocean of sugarcane juice.

The female Tamil Siddha adept Avaiyar (14th century) writes of Ganesa in her Vinayagar Agaval:

“He has concentrated my mind,
clarified my intellect,
and said,
“Light & Darkness
share a common place.”
He presses me down
into the grace giving ecstasy.
In my ear
he renders limitless bliss.
He has revealed Sada Shiva
within the sound.
He has revealed the Shiva Lingam
within the mind.
And he has revealed that…
The smaller than the smallest,
The larger that the largest,
stands within…
like ripe sugarcane.”

Sugarcane is sometimes used as a metaphor for difference & similarity in religious experience and interpretation – so it is sometimes said that whilst the different forms of processed sugarcane, such as Jaggery, come from the same source – the sugarcane, they have different tastes and flavours – the allusion being that one text can have many interpretations, or that the one source can manifest in many different ways.

to be continued…