Why is Ganesha the Leader of Gods?


by Jayaram V

Question: According to the Vedas, Indra is the leader of the gods. How is then Ganesha is considered the leader of gods? Is there any specific reason we consider him so?

Both are leaders in their spheres. It is not necessary that we should have only one leader for everyone. There can be many leaders leading many groups in different planes and doing different tasks, all for one supreme goal. In God’s creation there is diversity in leadership also, as there is diversity in various other aspects.

In Vedic times, Indra was the leader of gods and the lord of the heaven. He received a larger share in Vedic offerings. Agni, Mitra, Soma, Varuna and several others were his friends with whom he shared the ritual honors. He was the illustrious leader who broke the back of feisty asuras in many a war and helped his devotees destroy their enemies in fiery battles. He was a student as well as a teacher of the secret doctrine of the Upanishads. People loved him, feared him and respected him for he could break the walls of mightiest forts to forge victories, and hurl bolts of lightning from the heaven to release the water held in captive by the dark clouds that blocked the sun.

Ganesha was then relatively unknown. The Vedas are silent about him. If there is any hint of him in the Vedas, it is hidden in the invocations to other gods such as Brihaspati or Brahmanaspati. In excavations and archaeological findings, he appears later than Kumara. In all likelihood, Ganesha was an original Saiva Deity, elevated from rustic traditions, and probably unknown to the early Vedic people. He was the leader of the Shiva Ganas, which consisted of all types of ferocious beings, who struck terror in the hearts of their enemies. As their leader, Ganesha played an important role in the Puranic wars against the enemies of Shiva as part of his filial duty.

Overtime, Indra lost his position in the Hindu pantheon as the leader of gods. He was relegated to a lower position which probably corresponded with the ascendance of Shiva and Vishnu and the growing popularity of Bhakti tradition in Shaivism and Vaishnavism. Indra continued to be the lord of the heaven in an expanded universe of several other heavens. However, in the larger scheme of things, he was just a ruler of a direction (dikpala) and a weak god who often succumbed to moral turpitude. In the esteem of people, he became a god with human like frailties, while admiration for Ganesha as the leader of gods grew.

Ganesha, the first among gods

Those who are acquainted with Hinduism and Hindu rituals methods know that in the traditional, ritual worship, devotees invariably worship Ganesha before they worship other gods. The only exception is Lord Shiva who is considered by his devotees the highest Supreme Being. Because of his popularity, in Hindu temples you will most likely find a statue of Ganesha near the sanctum or near the entrance so that people can offer him worship before they visit the main deity.

Ganesha is also worshipped by millions of Hindus on the occasion of Ganesh Chathurthi. He is invariably worshipped on many auspicious, festive occasions and sacrificial ceremonies when devotees offer their respects to Hindu gods and goddesses to celebrate important milestones in their lives and express their gratitude. Currently we may consider Ganesha the most popular deity of Hinduism, next only to Shiva and Vishnu. In this essay, we discuss the symbolic significance of why Lord Ganesha is the leader of gods in the Hindu pantheon.

The hidden truth in the legend of Ganesha

Legend has been that Shiva wanted to appoint one of his sons as the leader of gods. Therefore, he held a contest between Kumaraswamy, his elder son and Ganesha his younger son, stating that whoever made a round trip of the triple words and reached him first would be the winner and the leader of gods. Knowing his limitations, Ganesha sought the advice of his father who suggested him to go around him and Parvathi three times.

Accordingly, Ganesha circled around them three times with great devotion and won the contest to become the leader of gods. He was declared winner because he took refuge in God and sought his help rather than egoistically relying upon his own power. As a devotee he truly qualified himself to lead with humility the followers and believers of Shiva, including the gods. Besides, his mother and father represented the entire creation, and circling around them was equal to circling around all the worlds.

This is the surface story, which is well known to almost all Hindus, who worship Ganesha. However, hidden in it is the significance of Ganesha as the presiding deity of intelligence and the lord of the mind and body. The moral of the story is that if you are clever and if you have intelligence, you can overcome any problem and achieve victory.

Ganesha used his intelligence to become the leader of gods. In an unequal contest, he wisely used his problem solving ability to defeat his brother who was far superior to him in physical prowess. Intelligence rules the world. Intelligence overcomes all obstacles. If you worship the presiding deity of intelligence, you will gain intelligence, perceive solutions and answers to overcome obstacles. Ganesha clears our paths by illuminating our minds with supreme intelligence. He is therefore, Vighnesa, the remover of obstacles as well as their lord.

Ganesha leadership symbolism

As the deification of intelligence, Ganesha is the leader of all. He is the path breaker and the path finder. He leads the way in the darkness of ignorance and delusion. Ganesa (Ganesha) means the lord (isa) of Ganas, the army of Shiva. The ganas represent the energies, elements and organs in the body. Ganapati means the commander of Ganas. Vinayaka means the leader of the ganas and gods. Ganesha also has several other names. The most popular among them are Vighnesa or Vighnaraja, meaning the lord of the obstacles and the king of obstacles.

As the son of Shiva, Ganesha partakes the functions of his father as a destroyer. He engages in destruction as part of a reformative and renewal process to uphold Dharma and ensure the order and regularity of the worlds. He destroys the enemies of God just as he destroys the obstacles and the adversity that often beset people. He helps those who worship him by opening their minds to hidden truths  and creative solutions. For the enemies of God and evil doers, he is the source of obstacles and difficulties. He obstructs their paths by deluding them. However, to his devotees he is the destroyer and remover of all obstacles and impurities. By illuminating their minds with intelligence, he brings them peace, prosperity and happiness.

Ganesha the lord of intelligence

Ganesha gives us the discerning power to know truth from falsehood and find right solutions to overcome obstacles and solve our problems and difficulties. Since Ganesha is the lord of the mind and body, he is rightly qualified as the leader of the organs (deities) in the body. The ganas constitute the parts and energies of the body and mind. Parvathi is the body or the field (Kshetra). Shiva is the soul, or the owner of the field (Kshetrajna). As intelligence (Buddhi), Ganesha is the first (pradhama) among gods and the leader (nayaka) of the ganas (tattvas and body parts). He rules over them and their functions and properties.

Adversity and difficulties arise due to delusion and ignorance, or lack of discretion. When intelligence is clouded by desires, attachments, egoism, etc., one becomes deluded and experiences suffering. When they are removed, intelligence shines in the consciousness and one finds a way to achieve complete liberation from all suffering. Intelligence is a reflection of the soul in the mind. Just as Vinayaka in Creation, in a living being (Jiva) it is the child of Purusha (soul) and Prakriti (mind and body).

Thus, symbolically Ganesha represents supreme intelligence, which controls and directs the aspects and working of Nature in the microcosm of beings as well as in the macrocosm of Isvara. As the child of Purusha and Prakriti, he contains aspects of both and communicates with both. His elephant head symbolizes his unusually high intelligence. The large ears in his images represent his attentiveness and keen sense of hearing, while the trunk denotes his ability to discriminate things. Because of his association with intelligence, he was rightly chosen by sage Vyasa to be his scribe for the composition of the Mahabharata, the longest epic in the history of the world. For the same reason, Siddhi (success, perfection, supernatural power) and Buddhi (intelligence, discerning wisdom) are considered his consorts.

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