Above image is one of the several variations depicting Laxmi, Saraswati and Ganesh in a single image representing Wealth, Knowledge and Intelligence. The seating arrangement varies and so does the posture of all three deities in its different forms. Sometimes all three are seated but usually all the idols are of equal size.
This print is fairly common in Indian households. It can also be seen in the background, of say a TV show, even if the characters portrayed in the foreground do not have any Indian connection. But I have not seen a similar depiction on the walls of a temple. It is quite probable that the earliest image dates to within the last hundred to two hundred years. So it becomes one of the most cherished if not the oldest image of Hindu gods.
It is common knowledge that Ganesh is a patron of wisdom and intellect. While Devi Saraswati also represents intelligence, she is revered as the goddess of knowledge. Honored in fields of education, she is also admired by artists and musicians. Ganesh who is widely worshiped in general is also commonly associated with Arts but commonly gets affiliated with Science. Goddess Laxmi is the patron of prosperity both spiritual and material.
I treasure this image where I tie-up each idol with a simplified trait: Devi Saraswati to pursuit of knowledge, Ganesh to inherent talent, and Goddess Laxmi to the objective(लक्ष्य/लक्ष्मी) of uplifting personal life. In a very narrow sense the images to the left and right incarnate ‘Nature’ and ‘Nurture’. With this view the middle image then illustrates the ‘life lived’ by making the best use of aptitude and awareness. Hence I chose an image where Devi Laxmi takes centre stage.
This decade we have witnessed a fascinating debate about Nature Vs Nurture. As a parent, there is an even greater desire to understand both sides to help raise the progeny to the best of our abilities. Studies carried out on identical twins show that a few things are hardwired. One of the twins operated for heart surgery was asked to test his identical twin who lived several thousand miles away leading a significantly healthier life. The other twin was developing similar conditions despite a huge difference in the lifestyle of these twins and had to be operated. These studies also show that despite sharing the same genes and similar environment in their development years, the twins develop several distinguishing characteristics. At birth we may get constrained by our genes, but our brain is capable of rewiring the neural network allowing each individual to pursue proficiency in any domain.
In popular press, we have books by Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Coyle etc who champion the ‘Rule of 10,000 hours’. Artists, sportsmen, musicians etc practise, train, workout or rehearse for over 10,000 hour to achieve world-class status. This amounts to a worship of Devi Saraswati where intense drill results in our brain growing and learning to improve our potential.
Surely, we must also take into account the intellectual potential. Without the incremental rewards in the area of innate talent, will any person be able to devote the 10,000 hours typically spent in reaching the pinnacle of any trade? Will my young one get rewarded if I relied only on intense practice without taking into account his interests? Should the child get the blame if the 10,000 hour excercise, which is necessary, does not turn out to be sufficient?
Not everyone will become a world-class performer. But all of us will make use of both our imagination(Ganesh) as well as knowledge(Saraswati) to earn our living(Laxmi). One is neither more or less important than the other. Both are essential. We will get better at imagination with more education. Similarly our talent(Ganesh) will lead us to pursue development(Saraswati) in the area of interest with the aim of improving our life(Laxmi).