by Jayaram V
Ganesha or Ganapati is the leader of the Sivaganas (the forces
of Siva). He is
the first among the gods to receive all the honors . He is called
Vighnaraja, or Vighnesvara, lord of the obstacles and impediments. Devout Hindus
worship him for removal of obstacles. Before starting any particular
venture or worshipping other gods, they remember Ganesha, their
beloved god. The only exception to this rule is when Siva is worshipped.
Siva is the father of Ganesha. 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 Siva is worshipped Ganesha
is kept in the sidelines.
Of all the gods, Ganesha attracts and arrests our attention.
No one can fail to notice his peculiar features and his unusual
placement in the Hindu pantheon. Looking at his form, a foreigner,
who is not familiar with the tenets of Hinduism, would perhaps draw
wrong conclusions about Ganesha and about Hinduism.
But he would be surprised to know that despite of his looks,
Ganesha is one of the most popular gods of Hinduism. Irrespective
of their age, gender, education and background, millions are drawn
to him irresistibly and worship him deeply with unparallel devotion.
His very presence adds a lot of variety and vibrancy to Hinduism. His
childlike innocence and behavior, attract the younger lot and draw
them into religious life from an early age. They develop friendship
with Ganesha and that friendship stays with them for the reminder
of their lives.
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 color. 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 color of his body is usually red. But his images in
blue, black, green, yellow, white or pink colors 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 we see him with
long and flowing hair. A large sivanama adorns his forehead, with
a third eye in the middle. His trunk may turned 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 color 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 carry 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.
The mystery behind his form: Despite of his looks and abnormal
form, Ganesha has millions of followers and devotees all over the
world. This amply illustrates the point that true devotion to God
independent of our mental notions of form and beauty and that men
are capable of worshipping God in all his manifestations, irrespective
of what he appears to be.
Ganesha has a peculiar beauty and charm of his own. His is not
a surface beauty. Hidden behind his peculiar features is a far deeper
harmony which a casual glance fails to notice. As you become his
true devotee and open your heart to his love, you realize his truly
radiant personality. When he touches your heart, you see in Him
the beauty of true innocence, purity, divinity and a childlike consciousness
that touches your heart with all its captivating charm and ever
flowing tenderness. No other god brings out the child in you with
all the associated feelings as Ganesha does. No other god, with
the sole exception of perhaps his parents, invokes in you the combined
feelings of awe and fear. Those who have true devotion to him are
able to experience these emotions and understand his true significance.
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), Kumaraguru (child guru),
Siddhivinayaka (boon giver), and Balaganapathi (child Ganapathi).
There are many other names and forms. There is no temple in India,
old or new, without an image of Ganesha in the temple precincts.
There is a lot of speculation about his origin and how he became
so popular. Some scholars draw a parallel between Ganapathi and
Ganapathi Brahmanaspati of the Vedas. Some believe that probably
he had something in common with the Maruts or the storm gods of
the Vedic pantheon. But we do not find any direct reference to the
worship of an elephant god by the name Ganapathi in the Vedas.
He was most probably a non Aryan and non Vedic god and had some
connection with the earlier cults of Mother Goddess and pastoral
He might be even associated with Saivism from the earliest times
and became popular with the ascendance of Saivism. With his elevation
to the rank of the leader of the gods, he also probably diminished
the importance of Indra. Probably these changes were reflective
of the metamorphosis that was going on in the Vedic religion, following
the collapse of Vedic kingdoms and the migration of the Brahmin
families to new lands. His association with the epic Mahabharata
must have also made him popular among the masses.
Many legends are associated with his origin. These are briefly
mentioned here. 1. He was born to Parvathi. 2. He was the mind born
child of Parvathi and Ganga. 3. He was created by Parvathi, but
was beheaded by Siva due to some misunderstanding. At the behest
of Parvathi, Siva fixed an elephant head and brought him back to
life. 4. He sprang directly from Siva's face, with great brilliance
and captivating beauty, annoyed Parvathi in the process who cursed
him to become ugly and dwarfish. 5. He was Krishna with an elephant
head. of these the third version is most popular and widely accepted.
Some tend to trace the tradition of Ganapathi to the fear of elephants
and rats in ancient farming communities.
How he became the leader of the gods? There is also an interesting
story about how he became the leader of the gods. Once his father
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, Siva declared Ganesha
the winner among the two and made him the leader of gods.
Ganapathi is worshipped in various forms. Of late it has become
a fashion to keep the images of Vinayaka in drawing rooms and offices,
as decorative pieces without offering true worship. This is not
at all in line with our traditions. In olden days there was
a strict instruction not to keep the images of Vinayaka in ones
house unless one was willing to offer him daily worship. Disrespect
to Ganesha may not disturb him, but will disturb our spiritual progress,
because he is the first god to manifest in our deeper states of
The images of Ganesha are made in different sizes and with different
materials. Generally clay, flour, sandal paste, metals, stone and
wood are used. Clay, flour and sandal paste are used to make images
that are worshipped temporarily and then immersed in water. Any
one can make these images and there are no restrictions except that
the makers of these images should be pure and clean. The images
of Ganesha are rarely kept in the houses after worship. They are
generally immersed in the water. There are two main reasons
for this peculiar practice. One is the belief that if you
keep an elephant in the house, it would devour everything and leave
you destitute. And the second reason is that this way Ganesh reminds
us all of the transience of life and relationships in this world.
Ganesh-chaturthi, is one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism.
It is celebrated throughout India for nine days. During this period,
people set up temporary pandals in public places and worship Ganapathi.
In some places the images are made to stand as tall as one or two
stories high. At the end of nine days the idols of Ganesh are carried
in a big procession and immersed in a near by lake, river, well
or sea. By all means Ganesh-chaturthi is a popular festival
celebrated by big and small alike.
Ganapathi is worshipped in various aspects. 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
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.
Ganapathi is a lover of good food. He likes mostly oily and sweet
food, fruit and coconuts. Being an elephant god, he is also fond
of leaves and twigs. During Ganeshchathurth he is worshipped with
21 types of leaves. We have given the native names of these plants:
machi, brihati, bilwa, durvayugma, datura, badari, apamarga, tulasi,
choota, karavira, vishnukranta, dadimi, devadaru, maruvaka, sindhuvara,
jaji, gandaki, sami, asvaththa, arjuna and arka. (We would be happy
if some one provides us with their English or Botanical equivalents.)
Symbolism of 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
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.
Suggested Further Reading