Ganesh, or Ganesha, the chubby, gentle, wise, elephant-headed Hindu god, is one of the most popular deities in Hinduism.
He is the patron of beginnings and intellectuals. He is revered before major undertakings. His name means “Lord of the People“. His vehicle is the rat bandicoot, symbol of his ability to overcome obstacles. Ganesh is a remover of obstacles, honored during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi in August-September.
The Hindu god Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, the deity worshipers first recognize when visiting a temple.
“In heaven, Lord Ganesha will establish the predominance of gods, on earth, that of men, in the lower world, that of serpents and anti-gods”
~A hymn of Sri Bhagavat-Tathva~
Ganesha, elephant-headed Hindu god – The destroyer of obstacles
Statues of Ganesha can be found in most Indian cities. His image is placed where new houses are to be built; he is honored at the start of a journey or business venture, and poets traditionally invoke him at the beginning of a book.
The representation of the elephant god Ganesh
Ganesha is usually depicted in red; he has a hollow stomach, a broken tusk and four arms which often hold a noose called a pasam, an elephant goad and a pot of rice, or his favorite sweets, laddus. Her appetite for these sweets is legendary and offerings are often left at her shrine.
See our complete collection of Ganesh statues
Ganesha is known as the patron saint of literature and learning; he is the legendary scribe who, using his broken tusk, wrote down parts of the epic Mahabharata.
Ganeshaa is often depicted wearing a pasam or noose. The noose is a three-threaded weapon.
The three strings represent:
- Arrogance and vanity.
- Maya – the illusory nature of the real world.
Goads (or elephant prods) are generally used to steer elephants. The goads symbolize how one must lead the soul away from the ignorance and illusions of this earthly world, just as a mahout leads an elephant away from a dangerous path.
In Hindu ideology, weapons are often seen as symbolic tools intended to destroy the ego rather than to cause any bloodshed.
What does Ganesh mean?
The name Ganesh literally means “Lord of Gana”. Ganesha was entrusted by Shiva with leadership of the Ganas, Shiva’s turbulent dwarf retinue, as compensation for the loss of his human head.
Ganesha’s characteristic belly is usually surrounded by a cobra. The cobra is an animal generally associated with its father, the Hindu god Shiva, which reminds us that Ganesha is his son.
Meaning of Ganesh Position
In sculpture, the position of Lord Ganesha’s trunk has a symbolic meaning. If the trunk is facing towards the left of Ganesha, it is the direction of success in the world. This position is associated with the grihasthas, the masters of the house.
To its right, the trunk represents moksha, good for renunciation of the world. When choosing a Ganesh sculpture suited to one’s own spiritual path, it is good to keep the position of the trunk in mind.
Who is the representative of Ganesha?
Ganesha’s companion is the rat. Since rats are considered capable of gnawing most things, the rat symbolizes Ganesha’s ability to destroy all obstacles.
Ganesha is often depicted playing a musical instrument. Just like Krishna, Ganesha affirms life by celebrating its pleasures and beauty.
Various stories explain how Ganesha came to have an elephant’s head. One of them says that Parvati formed him from the friction of her body so that he could stand guard at the door while she bathed. When Shiva approached, unaware that it was his son, he was furious at being kept away from his wife and proceeded to cut off Ganesha’s head.
To ease Parvati’s grief, Shiva promised to cut off the head of the first living creature he saw and attach it to the body. This creature was an elephant. The Hindu god Ganesha was thus brought back to life and rewarded for his courage by becoming the lord of new beginnings and the guardian of entrances. A prayer to Ganesha is invariably accompanied by the crushing of a coconut, a symbol of crushing the unwanted forces inherent in oneself.
The birth of Ganesha
One day, Goddess Parvati was at her home on Mount Kailash and was preparing to take a bath. As she did not want to be disturbed, she asked Nandi, her husband Shiva’s bull, to guard the door and not let anyone pass. Nandi faithfully took up her post, intending to fulfill Parvati’s wishes. But when Shiva came home and naturally wanted to enter, Nandi had to let him pass, being loyal to Shiva first. Parvati was angry at this affront, but even more so, at the fact that she had no one as loyal to herself as Nandi was to Shiva. So, taking turmeric paste (for bathing) from his body and breathing life into it, she created Ganesha, declaring him to be her own loyal son.
The next time Parvati wanted to bathe, she placed Ganesha on guard at the door. In due time, Shiva returned home and found this strange boy telling him that he could not enter his own house! Furious, Shiva ordered his army to destroy the boy, but they all failed! Ganesha possessed such power, being the son of Devi herself!
This surprises Shiva. Seeing that this was no ordinary boy, the usually peaceful Shiva decided to fight him and, in his divine fury, cut off Ganesha’s head, killing him instantly. When Parvati found out, she was so furious and insulted that she decided to destroy all of Creation! Lord Brahma, as the Creator, naturally does not agree with this decision and asks Parvati to reconsider her drastic plan. She accepted, but on two conditions: on the one hand, that Ganesha be brought back to life and, on the other hand, that he be forever worshiped before all other gods.
Shiva, who has calmed down in the meantime and realized his mistake, accepts Parvati’s conditions. He sent Brahma with the order to bring back the head of the first creature he came across and which was lying with its head facing north. Brahma soon returns with the head of a strong and powerful elephant, which Shiva places on Ganesha’s body. Breathing new life into him, he declared that Ganesha was also his own son and gave him the status of first among the gods and the head of all ganas (classes of beings), Ganapati.
In conclusion, The form of Ganesh and its sacred symbols all have deeper meanings
The gods described in Hinduism are considered great personalities, not only because they are endowed with power and mystical might, according to the Vedas, but also because of their ability to inspire, through their simple presence, the importance of cultivating one’s spiritual life.
Therefore, the form of each deity and its accompanying objects can be meditated on as symbols of various spiritual truths. Many see the union of Ganesha’s body and his elephant head as a representation of how the spirit should live in harmony with nature.
Its large elephant head also embodies wisdom and understanding. Her round belly can be seen as the cosmos, while the snake around her waist represents the energy that holds the cosmos together.
The mouse he rides represents the wandering mind that can be controlled under the weight of knowledge. He has four hands – one with an ax for cutting attachments, one with a rope for pulling a person towards the highest goal, one with a candy to reward those who lead a life of spiritual discipline, and one held with the palm outward to bestow blessings and protect those on the path of spirituality.
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