Ganesha is one of the famous and greatly worshiped deities in Hinduism. The main identity of Ganesha is his elephant like head. It is known that Ganesha is the eldest son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
Ganesha or Ganapati is the leader of the Shivaganas (the forces of Shiva). He is the first among the gods to receive all the honors. He is called Vighnaraja, or Vighneswara, lord of the obstacles and impediments. Devout Hindus worship him for removal of obstacles. Before starting any particular venture or worshiping other gods, they remember Ganesha, their beloved god. The only exception to this rule is when Shiva is worshiped. When you worship the father there is no need to worship the son separately because the son is always found in the heart of his father. So when Shiva is worshiped Ganesha is kept in the sidelines.
He is known by many names. The most popular ones include: Ganapathi (Lord of the ganas), Vighneswara (lord of the obstacles), Lambodara (potbellied), Vakrathunda (with a curved trunk), Mahaganapathi (great Ganapathi), Parvathinandana (son of Parvathi), Mushikavahana (rider of a mouse), Ekadantaya (one with one tusk), Dvaimātura (one who has two mothers, Kumaraguru (child guru), Siddhivinayaka (boon giver), , Heramba, Lambodara (one who has a pot belly, or, literally, one who has a hanging belly), and Gajanana ; having the face of an elephant and Balaganapathi (child Ganapathi). There are many other names and forms.
The Hindu title of respect Shri is often added before his name. One popular way Ganesha is worshiped is by chanting a Ganesha Sahasranama, a litany of “a thousand names of Ganesha”. Each name in the Sahasranama conveys a different meaning and symbolises a different aspect of Ganesha. At least two different versions of the Ganesha Sahasranama exist; one version is drawn from the Ganesha Purana, a Hindu scripture venerating Ganesha.
A prominent name for Ganesha in the Tamil language is Pillai. In the Burmese language, Ganesha is known as Maha Peinne, derived from Pali Mahā Wināyaka. The widespread name of Ganesha in Thailand is Phra Phikhanet or Phra Phikhanesuan, both of which are derived from Vara Vighnesha and Vara Vighneshvara respectively, whereas the name Khanet (from Ganesha) is rather rare.
In Sri Lanka, in the North-Central and North Western areas with predominantly Buddhist population, Ganesha is known as Aiyanayaka Deviyo, while in other Singhala Buddhist areas he is known as Gana deviyo.
BIRTH OF LORD GANESHA
Many stories are there about the birth of Vinayaka. Once Devi Parvati created a very powerful boy for preventing anybody from entering into her room, without her permission. Then Lord Shiva came there for visiting Devi and asked that boy to allow him to enter. Devi was then having bath. But that boy didn’t allow Lord Shiva to enter. Then the uncontrolled Lord Shiva cut off that boy’s head. Hearing this news, Goddess Parvati became furious and asked Shiva to get back her son. Shiva was helpless in returning his head. Then he cut the head of an elephant and placed it over his neck. Thus Lord Shiva gave him a new birth and named him as Vinayaka. He is the God of art, music and prosperity. Devotees of Vinayaka offer him ‘Modhaka’ and laddus for getting his blessings.
THE LEADER OF THE GODS: GANESHA
There is also an interesting story about how he became the leader of the gods. Once lord Shiva decided to appoint one of his sons as the head of the gods. He called his two sons and arranged a competition between the two. He told them that whoever managed to circle around the universe completely and returned to him first would be given the exalted position. Knowing well his strength and power and sure of himself and his victory, Kumaraswamy sped on his peacock to complete the journey, while the young Vinayaka, knowing his limitations, stayed back. But wisely he considered his father as an embodiment of the entire universe and circled around him. So strong was his faith and belief that wherever Kumaraswami went he found his brother going ahead of him. Tired and bewildered, he returned to Kailash and admitted his defeat. Impressed by his devotion and intelligence, Shiva declared Ganesha the winner among the two and made him the leader of gods.
Ganapathi is worshiped in various forms. There are a number of temples built all over India for him, where appears in his different aspects. His form depends upon who built the temple and for what end. Some of his most popular forms and their respective names are listed below.
- Balaganapati: Ganapathi as a child
- Tarunaganapathi: Ganapathi as a youth.
- Herambhaganapathi: Genesha with five heads and ten hands and a third eye.
- Viravighnesa: Ganapathi in his ferocious form
- Saktiganapathi: Ganapathi in the company of his Shaktis, either Lakshmi and Sarasvathi or his wives Siddhi and Riddhi.
- Achintyaganapathi: Ganapathi in a dreadful aspect worshipped by the secret cults of Tantricism in a negative way.
- Nrittganapathi: Ganapathi in a dancing mode.
- Varasiddhi Vinayaka: Ganapathi as the giver of boons. This is the form in which he is normally worshipped on the occasion of Ganesh Chathurthi.
SYMBOLISM OF LORD GANESHA
Ganesha represents all that is grotesque and unusual in the world around a center of purity and divinity and in that synthesis of odds, he symbolizes the unity between the the usual and the unusual, the normal and the abnormal and the beautiful and the ugly aspects of earthly life. He reminds us of the simple truth that everything in the company of God becomes divine. His form dispels many illusions that we entertain in our minds about forms and appearances and the notion that beauty and intelligence go together, where as in truth we rarely see these two in equal proportions.
Lord Ganesha is described as the creator of obstacles. But this is only symbolic. In reality Ganesha is a facilitator who helps us in our good actions by obstructing us in our wrong doings. He becomes an obstacle when we indulge in actions that are not in harmony with our divine nature or detrimental to our spiritual progress. As human beings, we have limited awareness and we may not always take the right decision.
When we surrender to Ganesha and worship Him he helps us in our good actions and prevents us from pursuing wrong aims by creating obstacles on our paths. We are therefore expected to surrender to Ganesha and seek his divine guidance. The food that he devours is not just food. It is symbolic of our insatiable desires, our fears and our devotion. By devouring our desires our love and our fears he develops in us the qualities of detachment and devotion.
The mouse which he uses as his vehicle is not a mere mouse but a symbol of our fears and nervousness and our humility and self surrender. To perform any action successfully, we need faith and belief in God. Lord Vinayaka drives away our fears, when he descends into our consciousness and rides our minds. He instills in us the courage to face life and become divine. His large elephant head is indicative of his abnormally high intelligence and his enormous mental powers. Ganesha is an epitome of knowledge, well versed in the Vedas and other scriptures. He put the Mahabharata into writing. His broken tusk gives us the hope that we too can transform our aggressive tendencies and sublimate them into peace and intelligence.
LORD GANESHA FAMILY
Though Ganesha is popularly held to be the son of Shiva and Parvati, the Puranic myths give different versions about his birth. In some he was created by Parvati, in another he was created by Shiva and Parvati, in another he appeared mysteriously and was discovered by Shiva and Parvati or he was born from the elephant headed goddess Malini after she drank Parvati’s bath water that had been thrown in the river.
The family includes his brother the war god Kartikeya, who is also called Skanda and Murugan. Regional differences dictate the order of their births. In northern India, Skanda is generally said to be the elder, while in the south, Ganesha is considered the first born. In northern India, Skanda was an important martial deity from about 500 BCE to about 600 CE, after which worship of him declined significantly. As Skanda fell, Ganesha rose. Several stories tell of sibling rivalry between the brothers and may reflect sectarian tensions.
Ganesha’s marital status, the subject of considerable scholarly review, varies widely in mythological stories. One pattern of myths identifies Ganesha as an unmarried brahmachari. This view is common in southern India and parts of northern India. Another pattern associates him with the concepts of Buddhi (intellect), Siddhi (spiritual power), and Riddhi (prosperity); these qualities are sometimes personified as goddesses, said to be Ganesha’s wives. He also may be shown with a single consort or a nameless servant (Sanskrit: daşi). Another pattern connects Ganesha with the goddess of culture and the arts, Sarasvati or Sharda (particularly in Maharashtra). He is also associated with the goddess of luck and prosperity, Lakshmi. Another pattern, mainly prevalent in the Bengal region, links Ganesha with the banana tree, Kala Bo.
The Shiva Purana says that Ganesha had begotten two sons: Kşema (prosperity) and Labha (profit). In northern Indian variants of this story, the sons are often said to be Shubha (auspiciouness) and Labha.
LORD GANESHA ICONOGRAPHY
Ganesha has a peculiar, if not grotesque form. His form defies all norms of physical beauty and sense of proportion. But it does not invoke any sense of ugliness or repulsion in those who are devoted to him. Filled with love in their hearts, they see in him a peculiar charm, that is uniquely his own and powerfully appealing. He is short in stature, almost dwarfish to look at and red in colour. Circumstances made him live with an elephant head, which sits rather confidently on a big pot belly supported by the stout limbs and legs of a sumo warrior. The colour of his body is usually red. But his images in blue, black, green, yellow, white or pink colours are available.
He lost one of his tusks in an encounter with Parasurama. So he is left with only one which we see in all his images. The other tusk sometimes appears in his hand and serves as his pen. He is shown with four arms, seated or standing. Sometimes we see more than four hands. His each arm holds a different object. A snake girdles around his pot belly and a yajnopavitam (a sacred thread) dangles across his shoulders. Sometimes the sacred thread is substituted with a snake.
He also wears a golden or a silver crown. Rarely do we see him with long and flowing hair. A large Shivanama adorns his forehead, with a third eye in the middle. His trunk may turn to the left or to the right, depending upon your luck and the intentions of the artist or the sculptor who makes the image. A small funny looking mouse serves him as his vehicle. Looking at the mouse one wonders whether it is his vehicle or his pet, for the mouse hardly seem to have been put to work. One can see it happily sitting at the feet of its master and nibbling away at the tasty food served to its master.
In the images he is depicted in several ways. The only way we can tell which aspect he is, is by looking at the objects he holds, his posture and also the colour of his body. Depending upon his mood and purpose, he carries several objects. An axe, a broken tusk, modakas (traditional rice cakes), a lute, a sugarcane stem, weapons, a book, a rosary, are some of the popular objects in the list. These objects denote the state of his consciousness.
For example if he is shown holding modakas we have to assume that he is in a pleasant and enjoying mood. If he carries weapons we have to believe that he is on some fighting mission. If he is shown holding sugarcane we have to assume that he is in the company of the rural folk. In his most popular aspect he generally holds a noose (pasa) and a goad (ankush) in two arms while the other two are held in the abhaya and varada mudras. Sometimes he appears in the company of Lakshmi and Saraswathi and also his Shaktis namely Riddhi and Siddhi. When he does that people call him Siddhivinayaka.
FESTIVALS AND VRATS
Festivals associated with Ganesh are Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chaturthi in the Shuklapaksha (the fourth day of the waxing moon) in the month of Bhadrapada (August/September) and the Ganesh Jayanti (Ganesha’s birthday) celebrated on the Chaturthi of the Shuklapaksha (fourth day of the waxing moon) in the month of magha (January/February).
An annual festival honors Ganesha for ten days, starting on Ganesha Chaturthi, which typically falls in late August or early September. The festival begins with people bringing in clay idols of Ganesha, symbolising Ganesha’s visit. The festival culminates on the day of Ananta Chaturdashi, when idols (murtis) of Ganesha are immersed in the most convenient body of water. Some families have a tradition of immersion on the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, or 7th day.
Lord Ganesh is one of the most prominent deities in Hinduism. Ganesh has the unique distinction that his name is always invoked before any other God’s name in any prayer service.
Lord Ganesh received this distinction as a blessing from his parents, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Lord Ganesa is designated as the chief (-eesha) of all of Lord Shiva’s ganas (servers) – hence his name, Ganesh.
We begin with an invocation to Lord Ganesh – he of the single tusk, whose vehicle is the mouse and he who penned the Mahabharata with his own hands.
Vakratunda mahaakaaya suryakoti samaprabhaa
nirvighnam kurumedeva sarvakaaryeshu sarvadaa
Meaning: Salutations to the supreme Lord Ganesh, whose curved trunk (vakra-tunda) and massive body (maha-kaayaa) shines like a million suns (surya-koti) and showers his blessings on everyone (sama-prabhaa). Oh my lord of lords Ganesh (kurume-deva), kindly remove all obstacles (nir-vighnam), always (sarva-) and forever (sarvadaa-) from all my activities and endeavors (sarva-kaaryeshu).
Ganesha Gayatri Matra
- Om tadapurushhaaya viddhamahe, vakratundaaya dhimahi, tanno danti prachodayaath
Meaning: We pray to the supreme and perfect male (tadapurusḥāya) who is omnipresent (viddhamahe). We meditate upon and pray for greater intellect (dhīmahi) to the Lord with the curved, elephant-shaped trunk (vakratunḍāya). We bow before the one with the single-tusked elephant tooth (tanno danti) to illuminate our minds with wisdom (prachodayāt).
- Om ekadantaaya viddhamahe, vakratunDaaya dhimahi, tanno danti prachodayaath
Meaning: We pray to the one with the single-tusked elephant tooth (ekadantāya) who is omnipresent (viddhamahe). We meditate upon and pray for greater intellect (dhīmahi) to the Lord with the curved, elephant-shaped trunk (vakratunḍāya). We bow before the one with the single-tusked elephant tooth (tanno danti) to illuminate our minds with wisdom (prachodayāt).
- Om lambodaraaya viddhamahe, mahodaraaya dhImahi, tanno danti prachodayaath
Meaning: We pray to the one with the expandable belly (lambodarāya) who is omnipresent (viddhamahe). We meditate upon and pray for greater intellect (dhīmahi) to the Lord with the huge belly (mahodarāya). We bow before the one with the single-tusked elephant tooth (tanno danti) to illuminate our minds with wisdom (prachodayāt).
Several shrines are dedicated to Ganesha himself, of which the Ashtavinayak temples in Maharashtra are particularly well known. Located within a 100-kilometer radius of the city of Pune, each of the eight shrines celebrates a particular form of Ganapati, complete with its own lore and legend. The eight shrines are: Morgaon, Siddhatek, Pali, Mahad, Theur, Lenyadri, Ozar and Ranjangaon.
There are many other important Ganesha temples at the following locations: Wai in Maharashtra; Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh; Jodhpur, Nagaur and Raipur (Pali) in Rajasthan; Baidyanath in Bihar; Baroda, Dholaka, and Valsad in Gujarat and Dhundiraj Temple in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Prominent Ganesha temples in southern India include the following: Kanipakam in Chittoor; the Jambukeśvara Temple at Tiruchirapalli; at Rameshvaram and Suchindram in Tamil Nadu; at Malliyur, Kottarakara, Pazhavangadi, Kasargod in Kerala, Hampi, and Idagunji in Karnataka; and Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh.