Ganesha As Mahat Tattva, Supreme Intelligence
Summary: This essay explains the hidden symbolism and significance of Ganesha in the human body and in creation as the son of Shiva and Parvathi.
Ganesha is one of the most popular gods of Hinduism. He is worshipped by millions of Hindus all over the world in temples and at homes, sometimes in public also. He played an important role in uniting the religious sentiments of Hindus during the British rule of India and symbolized their nationalist aspirations at a critical time in the history of the country. Even today, on the occasion of Ganesha Festival, Ganesha unites Hindu communities to participate in public festivities, who otherwise prefer to keep their religious activities private and personal.
Ganesha is not only a deity in the macrocosm, he also symbolizes intelligence (buddhi) in the human body. In creation, he represents Mahat, the highest form of Prakriti (Nature). Intelligence (buddhi) which is responsible for our reasoning and discernment is considered the higher mind in modern parlance. It is responsible for the executive functions of the brain. The Bhagavata Tattva clearly declares, "Ganapathi is the lord of universal intelligence (mahat-tattva.)"
In Hinduism, intelligence is considered the first and the highest among the finite realities (tattvas) of Nature. Finite realities are perishable and subject to decay and impermanence, compared to the infinite realities, namely Purusha (Self) and Prakriti (Nature) which are eternal, independent, self-existent, indestructible and infinite. Accordingly, Ganesha, who embodies intelligence, is also considered the first among the gods, next only to Shiva and Parvathi, the infinite realities.
According to Hindu scriptures, intelligence is said to be a reflection of the Self or Isvara (Lord) in the body. In a living being, the Self represents Shiva, and the body, Nature or Parvathi. Intelligence exists in the body so long as the two are together, but disappears when the Self departs from it. In other words, intelligence manifests in creation only when Purusha (Shiva) and Prakriti (Parvathi) are together. It is truly a child of both, just as Ganesha is.
Intelligence distinguishes gods and humans from animals. It gives them the discerning power and the ability to participate in God’s creation and participate in the order and regularity of the world. When intelligence is clouded by the impurities of delusion, ignorance, desires and attachments, one becomes deluded and bound to the cycle of births and deaths. When intelligence is perfected and purified through Yoga and self-transformation one attains perfection (siddhi) or supernatural powers of grasping, seeing, hearing, etc., which arise from the use of intelligence (buddhi) only.
Ganesha is portrayed in the scriptures as the lord of obstacles. It is mainly because he personifies intelligence, which plays a key role in our problem-solving skills and our ability to overcome problems and difficulties. Without intelligence, we will remain stuck in the cycle of births and deaths as we will not be able to discern our spiritual nature and achieve liberation.
Ganesha grants us success in our endeavors, and thereby peace and happiness. As the lord of intelligence, he is associated with two other deities namely Siddhi and Buddhi. Siddhi means perfection, success, attainment in yoga and supernatural powers. Buddhi means pure intelligence, which helps us find a way in darkness and distinguish things and dualities. Buddhi is responsible for Siddhi. Hence, Ganesha is rightly associated with both of them.
As the son of Shiva, Ganesha has partaken the qualities of manifested Brahman, who is said to be pure intelligence only (prajnam brahma). However, the intelligence of Brahman is transcendental, self-existent and beyond the mind and the body. The intelligence of a living being is a reflection of it in the body, just as the reflection of the sun upon water. Human intelligence depends upon both, the soul and the body, for its existence. Hence, it is a dependent, finite reality.
It is in intelligence that Nature manifests its subtlest, discerning power of the mind (chit-shakti) and the power of will (atma-shakti). From intelligence only arises the ability to know, reason, judge, comprehend, discriminate and choose. Intelligence sets humans apart from animals. It is also intelligence, which awakens the being in an animal body and first transforms him into human, and later into a god. Just as intelligence is the reflection of the Self in the human body, Ganapathi arises in the womb of Mother Goddess, Parvathi, as the reflection (son) of Shiva, who is both the lord of the body and the universe.
As the presiding deity of intelligence in the human body, Ganesha plays an important role in our spiritual transformation and liberation. In worldly life, we need his help to achieve the triple aims of Dharma (duty), Artha (wealth) and Kama (enjoyment) by performing actions with intelligence and avoid the fruit of karma. In spiritual life, we need his help to overcome the impurities of egoism, attachment and delusion to achieve the fourth aim of liberation (Moksha).
As the deity of intelligence, Ganapati is the door keeper to the chamber of Prakriti. Without his permission, presence, and involvement, Shiva (the soul) cannot communicate with Parvathi (body). The soul can communicate with the body only through intelligence, which is the connecting link, the child. Intelligence arises in the field of Prakriti only. Hence, Ganapati was a creation of Parvathi. She made him with the material, which she gathered from herself.
Hence, the legend associated with the birth of Ganesha rightly symbolizes him as the sole creation of Parvathi. It also perfectly symbolizes the confrontation that took place between Shiva and Ganesha at the time of his birth. Lord Ganesha is thus an integral part of creation, the highest aspect of Nature, and a reflection of Shiva (the light of the chidakasam or sky) in the field of creation (the materiality of the earth).
As the son of Shiva (sky or Self) and Parvathi (the earth or the body), he represents the best of both eternal realities as the lord of the internal organ (antahkarana) which is responsible for our perception, cognition and awareness. In Hindu symbolism, the organs in the body are the personifications of the gods in heaven. Their supporting power is breath and soul (Shiva), and their resting place is the body (Nature). However, their actions are controlled by intelligence only. Hence, Ganesha is not only the lord of the mind and ego, but also the lord (pathi) of all the organs (ganas or deities) in the body. He is thus the lord of all the physical and mental aggregates or categories (ganas) in the embodied selves (jivas)
He is the discerning, deciding, reasoning and judging power in both gods and humans. As the intellect (buddhi), he is the lord of our perceptions and cognition. When we are overwhelmed with the negative emotion of fear in the face of problems and self-doubt, the discerning wisdom of Ganesha in our minds comes to our rescue. When we take refuge in him (our intelligence), he helps us find answers and solutions using reason and intelligence and overcome our fear. Therefore, if you want to overcome fear and nervousness, you should take refuge in your intelligence which is Ganesha and seek his help.
As your intelligence, Ganesha is your constant companion, friend, guide, and support. Only Ganesha can remove the delusion and the impurities of your mind and make it stable and peaceful. You should nourish that intelligence with the offerings of knowledge and wisdom. They right way to worship him is to pray for the purification of intelligence and the illumination of the mind and heart so that one may have sharp intellect and wisdom to perceive, think and discern clearly the reality of any situation.
Thus, symbolically, at the highest level, Lord Ganesha represents human intelligence. As the son of Parvathi, he personifies all the tattvas (realities), but most importantly intelligence (buddhi). One should worship him to improve one’s knowledge, awareness and intelligence, so that one can resolve problems, overcome obstacles, achieve goals, success, peace and happiness. Next time, when you worship Ganesha remember that he is the lord of intelligence and the source of intelligence.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Why To Worship Lord Ganesha?
- Symbolism of the Vedas
- The Symbolism of Lord Ganesha
- Symbolism of Goddess Lakshmi
- Symbolism of Sri Satyanarayana Puja
- Symbolism and Significance of Vibhuthi in Hinduism
- The Symbolism of Mahishasura Mardini
- The Symbols of Hinduism and Their Symbolism
- Purusha, The Universal Cosmic Male and Prakriti, The Mother Nature
- Hindu God Lord Shiva (Siva) - the Destroyer
- About Goddess Parvathi or Shakti
- Human Body Symbolism in Hinduism
- Hindu Gods - Lord Ganesha
- Buddhi Yoga in Spiritual Practice
- The Many Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism
- Symbolism and Significance of the Descent Of Ganga
- Symbolism of Ganga As the Purifier and Liberator
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