Ganesh : Introduction
nirvighnamkuru me deva sarvakaryeshusarvada.
Praise be the lord God, having a twisted face, a huge body with the luster of crores of suns, I pray to thee, please remove all the obstacles always from all my works.
Ganapati is one of the most popular Hindu deities. As the remover of obstacles, he is propitiated at the beginning of every undertaking. Whether it’s a journey or building a house, opening a venture or writing a book; it is auspicious amongst Hindus to pray to Ganapati first before starting anything.
Ganapati is also the god of wisdom, a good scribe and learned according to the scriptures. He wrote the Mahabharata as Sage Vyasa narrated it. Ganapati is much worshipped for his erudition and divine stature. While writing the Mahabharata, he had set a pre-condition with Sage Vyasa that the narration should be continuous and he should at all times be able to understand its meaning.
In Hindu religion, there are two main prevalent cults, first is Shaiva, the followers of Lord Shiva and the second is Vaishnava cult, followers of Lord Vishnu. Ganapati is known as a god in the Shaiva cult.
The seeds of the concept of this god were sown during the days of the Rigveda. In the subsequent centuries, this concept got passed through the mills of the epics and the Puranas to produce the Ganapati as we know today. The Rigvedic deity Ganapati-Brahamanaspati gradually got the form of Ganapati-Ganesh-Vinayaka.
The Rig Vedic Ganapati is portrayed as golden red in color with the battle axe as his important weapon. Without his grace no religious rite can succeed. He is always in the company of a troop of singers and dancers. He destroys the enemies of the gods, protects the devoted votaries and shows them the right path in life. Thus, the Rig Vedic concept of the deity is quite similar to his present form.
Details of his origin
Ganapati is known as the son of Shiva and Parvati. But according to the Puranas, he is not born from the womb. Many famous legends attribute the parenthood of Ganapati either to Shiva or Parvati; and there are various stories explaining his birth and his elephant’s head.
According to one legend, once Parvati was bathing and she formed a man’s figure from the scurf of her body and gave it life by sprinkling waters from the Ganges. She put him outside the bathhouse door to guard her. Meanwhile, finding his way barred, irate Shiva cut off the door-keeper’s head. However, upon seeing his wife upset, he brought the head of the elephant of God Indra and planted on the door-keeper’s body, later known as Ganapati.
In another version, Parvati had long prayed to Vishnu for a son. When Vishnu fulfilled her wish, the delighted mother invited all the gods to admire her son. Unfortunately, during the same time, Lord Shani was under the influence of a curse and the moment he gazed at the son, the son’s head was burnt to ashes. Upon this, Parvati became extremely sorrowful. Meanwhile, Lord Brahma comforted her and told her that if the first available head was put on her son’s trunk he would be able to restore his life. Parvati found the head of an elephant and joined it to the body of her son.
Several different versions also believe Shiva to have created Ganapati. One such story tells that once all gods and sages approached Shiva and expressed their grievances on having no obstacle to the performance of bad deeds. They wished Shiva to create for them a being who would oppose the perpetration of sins. Upon this, Shiva pondered for some time on how he could help them and then turned his face to Parvati.
As he looked, a radiant youth of great beauty- endowed with the qualities of Shiva- sprang forth from his dazzling countenance. All the gods and sages were amazed by his beauty. But Parvati was enraged and jealous of her husband’s son. She cursed him to be ugly, to have a pot-belly and an elephant’s head.
But Shiva countered this curse by declaring that the being that he had created should be called Ganapati, the son of Shiva. He should be the leader of Shiva’s Ganas. Success and failure should be derived from him; he should be the foremost amongst all gods. In all spiritual and worldly affairs, he should be prayed to first on all occasions. Shiva also said that those who did not do so would be destined to failure.
Another version of this story ascribes Ganapati’s deformity not to Parvati, but to Shiva’s previous crime of killing the Sun. Shiva had restored Sun to life but Sage Kashyapa had pronounced a curse whereby Shiva’s son should lose his head. When Ganapati lost his head, it was replaced by setting Indra’s elephant’s head.
Various names of Ganapati
Following verse state the twelve names of Ganapati:
Prathamam vakratundam cha ekadantam dvitiyakam,
Trutiyam krushnapingaksham gajavakrtam chaturtakam,
Lambodaram panchamam cha shashtam vikatameva cha
Saptamam vighanarajendramdhumravarnamtath ashtamam,
Navamam bhalachandram cha dashamam tuvinayakam,
Ekadasham ganapatim dvadashamtugajananam.
These names have a history and there are various stories behind them.
- Vakratunda’ means ‘having a curved mouth’. Ganapati has a face of an elephant and bears a trunk which is either turned to left or right. Veering of the trunk is symbolic to removing obstacles from the lives of the devotees.
- His second name Ekadantam has various legends linked to it. The term ‘Ekadantam’ means ‘having one tusk’. According to one story, Shiva was sleeping in his abode at Mount Kailasa. In the meantime, Parashurama came to visit Shiva, seeing which Ganapati informed him that his father was asleep. Since Parashurama had little time to wait, he hastened to wake up Shiva. Upon which Ganapati rebuked Parashuram saying he was not a sufficiently important visitor to waken his father. This led to a serious scuffle between the two, amid which Parashurama broke Ganapati’s tusk. Another version says, once Ganapati was fighting with a demon called Gajamukha and his tusk got broken during the fierce fight.
- ‘Gajavakrtam’ and ‘Gajananam’ mean ‘having the face of an elephant’. Stories regarding these names are explained in the ‘Origin of Ganapati’. The word ‘Gaja’ has a much deeper connotation. ‘Ga’ indicates ‘Gati’- the final goal towards which the entire creation is moving whether knowingly or unknowingly. ‘Ja’ stands for ‘Janma’ – birth or origin. Hence ‘Gaja’ signifies god from whom the worlds have come out and towards whom they are progressing, to be ultimately dissolved into him.
- ‘Ganapati’ or ‘Ganesh’ means ‘King or Lord of the troops’. A Purana explains that ‘Ga’ means knowledge and ‘Na’ means ‘liberation from the physical world’. So, this implies that he is the god who imparts the knowledge of liberation from the physical world. Ndyanartha vachakogashchanashcha nirvana vachaka
- ‘Lambodara’ means having a big belly. This obesity of Lord Ganapati implicates various subliminal messages. It is believed that his belly contains the whole universe. Sometimes, it is symbolic of the fact that Ganapati has the knowledge of everything. Some also believe that he has a big belly because he stores all the sins of his devotees inside it.
- Vinayaka is a famous name of Ganapati. As mentioned in Puranas, Lord Shiva formed Vinayaka– the remover of obstacles; but, he simultaneously created Vinayaka troops to create obstacles. The relation between Ganapati and Vinayaka is explained in Varaha Purana. Once gods and sages were worried because there were various difficulties in the life of good people but the evil ones were immune to obstacles. So, they went to Rudra, i.e. Shiva, who thence created a lustrous son from his mouth and the son was named Vinayaka.
However, this act of Shiva agitated his wife Parvati and she cursed the son to turn ugly. Irate Shiva, in return, created troops of Vinayaka – having elephant head, of black color and carrying various weapons. The whole episode terrified the gods while Lord Brahma made them understand that Shiva had created the troops for the good of the gods. He explained that that these troops will remain in the lordship of the youth, Shiva had created from his mouth. Hence the lustrous youth acquired the names – Gajamukha, Ganesha and Vinayaka and the cruel troops remained under his command,
Again by virtue of Lord Shiva, Ganapati became the first to be prayed to in all the rites and whosoever would not follow this ritual would create obstacles in his own works. As per Shiva’s command, the troops of Vinayaka became cruel and creator of difficulties but their Lord Vinayaka became the remover of these obstacles.
- Again for this sole reason, Ganapati is also called as Vighneshvara or Vighanarajendra. He is the Lord of all that obstructs or hinders. With various grades and shades he can create a hell of troubles for a man on his whims.
- Dhumravarna’ means ‘having the color of smoke’. The story related to this name is as follows. Once, Brahma honored the Sun as the Lord of all actions. The Sun felt proud on being given such a respectful status. While engaged in various egoistic thoughts, he sneezed and a demon named Ahamasura or Abhimanasura was born. Ahamasura –the demon of ego– was on the verge of destroying all the religious rites following which the gods prayed to Ganapati for rescue. Ganapati thus killed the demon in the form of Dhumravarna – having dark-complexion.
- Another famous name of Ganapati is Heramba. ‘He’ and ’ramba’ indicate ‘misery’ and ‘protector’ respectively. Thus he protects his devotees from misery.
Appearance of Ganapati
The most commonly accepted form of Ganapati is a red colored human body with an elephant’s head. His ears are like winnowing basket. Out of the two tusks, one is broken. He has four arms. They hold the Pasha (noose), Ankusha (goad), the broken tusk and Varada Mudra. The belly is of generous proportion and is decorated with a snake belt. There is also Yadnyaopavita – the sacred thread – across his chest. He is seated in the padmasana posture. He wears the robes of red color. His body is anointed with red sandal. This appearance of Ganapati is stated in following verses.
Radam cha varadamhastairbibhranammushakadhvajam
A third eye may sometimes be added on the forehead, in the centre of the eyebrows. The number of heads may vary from five to ten. Lotus pomegranate, water-vessel, battle-axe, lute, sugarcane, ears of paddy, bow-arrow, thunderbolt, rosary, and book are some of the other objects shown in the hands.
Interpretation of Lord Ganesh Appearance
His ears are large to listen to the supplications of everyone but like a winnowing basket they are capable of choosing what is good for the supplicant and what is not. Out of the two tusks, the one which is whole stands for the truth and the broken tusk stands for the manifest world which appears to be imperfect because of inherent incongruities. The bent trunk is the representation of Omkara. His large belly indicates that all the worlds are contained in him. The noose stands for attachment and goad for anger. Attachment binds us like the noose and anger hurts us like the goad. If the lord is displeased with us, our attachment and anger will increase, making us miserable.
The vehicle of Ganapati (Ganesh)
Ganapati is accompanied by a mouse and therefore he is called Mushakavahana. This story is narrated in the Ganesha Purana.
A Gandharva named Krauncha was wandering in the court of Lord Indra and he accidently stepped upon Sage Vamadava. Angry Vamadava cursed Krauncha and he turned into a mouse. The sage told him that he would be released from the curse only when Ganapati would make him his vehicle. Soon, he fell down as a mouse in the hermitage of the Sage Parashara. When Ganapati – the adopted son of Parashara – visited the sage’s hermitage, the mouse instantly recognized him and bowing down it started offering prayers to him. Ganapati was pleased with the prayers and granted it a boon. The mouse being proud of its strength, asked the grace of being the vehicle of Ganapati as the boon. As Ganapati rode on it, the mouse felt crushed down to the earth. It prayed to Ganapati to become light. The Lord took pity on it and become lighter.
According to another Purana the mouse was a gift from the earth to Ganapati on his birthday.
vasundhara cha dadautasmaivahanaya cha mushakam.
Marriage of Ganapati (Ganesh)
Shiva and Parvati wanted their sons, Ganapati and Kartikeya, to get married. They decided that whoever, amongst the two sons, finishes circumambulating the world faster would be married first. Hearing this, Kartikeya immediately set out on a world tour. However, Ganapati requested his parents to sit side by side. When they did so, he worshipped them and circumambulated them seven times, and argued that for him this act was equal to circumambulating the earth. Hearing this, Shiva-Parvati got extremely pleased and arranged his marriage with the two daughters of Prajapati, named Siddhi and Buddhi. Ganapati got two sons from them, Kshema from Siddhi and Labha from Buddhi.
According to another story, Brahma worshipped Ganapati and offered his two beautiful daughters, Siddhi and Buddhi, in Dakshina to Ganapati. Both the daughters worshipped Ganapati with flowers and propitiated him wholeheartedly. Being pleased, Ganapati accepted them as his wives.
Icons of Ganapati (Ganesh)
There are several varieties of Ganapati icons available in the temples and archaeological monuments.
The child and young Ganapati in Hindu religion are depicted as Balaganapati and Tarunaganapati respectively.
The Vinayaka image of the Lord is depicted with four arms; holding the broken tusk, goad, noose and rosary in each arm. His trunk holds a sweet Modaka or Ladoo which is the trademark in all forms of Ganapati. He may be standing or seated.
Herambaganapati has five heads, ten hands, three eyes in each face. He rides on a lion.
Viravighnesha exhibits the martial spirit with several weapons held in his ten hands.
Shaktiganapati, several varieties of which are described in the Tantras, is shown with Shakti called variously as Lakshmi, Ruddhi-Siddhi, Pushti and so on.
Nruttaganapati is a beautiful image showing him in the dancing form.
Ganapati is sometimes depicted as Shakti (female deity) under the names of Ganeshanee, Vinayakee, shurpakarnee, Lambamekhala and so on.
In the Himalayas, there is a Ganapati called Mundakataa Ganesha. He does not have a head.
Ganapati is worshipped in Lingas, Shalagramas, Yantra(geometrical diagrams) and Kalashas (pots of water) also.
The Svastika is also accepted as a graphic symbol of Ganapati.
Incarnations of Ganapati (Ganesh)
Puranas have described four incarnations of Ganapati.
- MahotkataVinayaka- He was born in Kruta Yuga. He was the son of Kashyapa and Aditi. He killed the demons named as Devantaka and Narantaka.
- Gunesha-He was born in Tretaa Yuga. He was the son of Umaa. He killed demon Sindhu. He got married to the daughters of Brahma, named as Siddhi and Buddhi.
- Ganesha- He was born in Dvaapaara Yuga as the son of Parvati. But Parvati threw him in the forest because he was deformed. Sage Parashara became his guardian. Ganesha killed the demon Sinduraasura and freed many kings and great heroes.
- Dhumraketu- In Kali Yuga, he will be born as Dhumraketu or Dhumravarna and will destroy the Mlecchas, the sinners.
Worship of Ganapati (Ganesh)
Ganapati is the destroyer of obstacles; hence he should be propitiated at the beginning of every auspicious work. This worship is not of the icon of Ganapati but of a coconut that is placed on the heap of rice. He is worshipped with the following Mantra.
karyam me siddhimayatuprasannetvayidhatari,
(O leader of the gods, be satisfied with me, help me to complete my work and destroy all the obstacles in my work.)
Bent grass, coral tree and Shami tree are favorites of Ganapati.
Tulasi plant is never used for the worship of Ganapati. The story behind this is once Ganapati was engrossed in meditation – fixing his mind on Lord Krishna – and Tulasi disturbed him. When Ganapati ordered her not to disturb him, she got angry and cursed him saying that his wife will betray him. He also counter-cursed her that she would be seized by an Asura and would turn into a tree.
The trunk of Ganapati is bent towards either right or left. But normally, people worship the Ganapati having a trunk bent towards left. Because, it is said that Ganapati having the trunk bent to the right side is very choleric. If he is not worshipped in proper ways he brings difficulties and sorrows to that person and his family.
Chaturthi, the fourth day in a fortnight is believed as the favorite day of Ganapati. On Chaturthi of both the fortnights viz. Krushna-dark and Shukla-bright, believers observe special vows. They are called as Vinaayaki and Sankashti respectively. One should worship Ganapati, wearing red garment on the Chaturthi, once or twice taking limited meals.
The Chaturthi of bright half month that comes on the Tuesday is a special day called as Angaraki.
The Chaturthi in the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada is a very important day. It is celebrated as Ganeshotsava- the festival of Ganapati. The duration of this festival varies. But normally it ends on the tenth day i.e. on Ananta Chaturdashi.
Fourth bright day of Magha is also a special day for Ganapati. Devotees eat Laddus of white sesame.
Thus Ganapati is worshipped at the beginning of every auspicious work. There are lots of temples of this god in India. Though Ganapati maintained a low profile during the ancient period, today Ganapati is accorded a high status among all the gods as the remover of obstacles.