Who is Ganesh?
Ganesh is one of the most admired Hindu Deities. He is the god of wisdom. He is known as the master of all academic subjects, all the sixty four arts and crafts. It is said that, the great epic Mahabharata is narrated by Sage Vyasa to Ganesh and he wrote it.
In Vedic literature he is depicted as a leader of troops (Gana – troops & Isha – Lord or leader). During Purana period Lord Ganesh became an immensely famous and significant deity. Various stories from different Puranas gives detailed account of Ganesh as; he is the son of Parvati and Shiva, has elephant head, etc.
Ganesh in Vedic literature
The origin of Ganesh concept is already there in the Rig Veda. Later, this concept was carried forward in the epics and the Puranas to produce the Ganesh which is known today. The Rigvedic deity Ganapati-Brahamanaspati gradually got the form of Ganapati – Ganesh-Vinayaka.
The Rigvedic deity is 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 gods, protects the devoted votaries and shows them the right path in life. Thus, the Ganesh of the Rig Vedic period is very much similar to today’s Ganesh.
Worship of Ganesh
Ganesh is worshiped in the beginning of all important occasions. It is said in Skanda Purana that Lord Ganesh is worshipped in the beginning of all auspicious celebrations.
Vivahotsava yadnyeshu purvam aradhobhavet
(All marriages, festivals and sacrifices Ganesh is to be first propitiated.)
It is said Brahma prayed to Him before starting creation, Vishnu worshiped him before vanquishing the mighty demon king Bali, Shiva before conquering the demon Tripura, Durga before the annihilation of Mahishasura, Sheshanaga before carrying the earth on his head and Kamadeva before conquering the universe. It is interesting to note that according to scriptures not only humans but even various divinities worshipped Ganesh on different occasions.
How is He worshipped?
Ganesh is worshipped at the beginning of every auspicious work. Often His worship consists of a coconut or betel nut that is placed on a heap of rice. This worship is symbolic of Ganesh fulfilling the work which has started. He is worshipped with the following Mantra as,
Karyam me siddhimayatu prasannet
Vayidhatari Vighnaninashamayantu sarvanisuranayaka
(O leader of the gods, be satisfied with me, help me to complete my work and destroy all the obstacles in my work.)
Why is Ganesh offered worship first?
As the remover of obstacles, He is propitiated at the beginning of every undertaking, whether it is a journey, the building of a house, the writing of a book or even of a letter.
As said before He also receives foremost place during all the auspicious occasions in Puranic literature. Hence it is the custom to worship Lord Ganesh at the beginning of every auspicious work undertaken, praying to Him to remove all obstacles which comes in the way and to grant us success. Following verse is narrated.
Vakratunda mahakaya suryakoti samaprabha
Nirvighnamkuru me deva sarvakaryeshu sarvada
O Lord Ganesha, with Curved Trunk, a Large Body, and with the Brilliance of a Million Suns, Please remove all the obstacles always from all my works
Legend behind it
Once gods and sages were worried about various difficulties confronting good people and obstacle-less life of the bad people. So they went to Lord Rudra-Shiva. He created a lustrous son from his mouth. Parvati, his wife became very angry and gave a curse to the son as ‘he will become the Gajamukha (having face of an elephant), Lambodara (having big belly) and sarpaveshtita (will be covered with snake)’. Shiva became angry at the curse of Parvati and created troops of Vinayakas having elephant head and Vaktratunda (having truncated mouth), of black color and having various weapons. All gods were frightened by the Vinayakas. Lord Brahma told them that Shiva had created the troops for the wellbeing of gods and sages. And he also told Shiva that these troops may remain under the leadership of the youth he had created from his mouth earlier. So Shiva told the youth that he would get the epithets Gajamukha, Ganesh and Vinayaka; and these cruel troops would remain under his command. And additionally Shiva also told Ganesh that ‘he should be first prayed to in all the rites and rituals hereafter. Whosoever would not do so would have obstacles in his works’.
So troops of Vinayaka were cruel and created difficulties but their Lord Vinayaka became remover of these obstacles. Sometimes he is also called as Vighneshvara or Vighanarajendra which means the Lord of all those who obstruct or hinder.
Ganesh is also associated with the creation of the world. He is imagined as the final soul of the world. Pranavopasana which is the worship of Pranava or Om is believed to be the worship of Lord Ganesh. Hence indirectly worshipping Lord Ganesh is the worship of Brahmavidya.
In the Atharvashirsha, different philosophical forms of Ganesh are visualized
Tattvamasi brahmamasitvam dnyanamayo vidnyanamayosi
(You are brahma, knowledge and Vidnyana.)
Followers of Vedanta philosophy have imagined Ganesh as the basis of literature and the origin of the sound. Similarly Ganesh is also considered as the Adhishtata of Muladhara Chakra in Yogavidya.
In Mudgal Purana, the meaning of Gaja is given as Ga –the basic element where everything is dissolved, Ja – the basic element from which everything is created. As destruction and creation are the functions of Brahma, Gaja is considered as Brahma, the ultimate soul.
Purana also explains Gajavaktram and Gajananam as having the face of an elephant. Stories regarding these names are explained in the origin of the Ganapati. The word Gaja has much deeper connotation. ‘Ga’ indicates ‘Gati’- the final goal towards which the entire creation is moving 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 in 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.
Dnyanartha vachakogashchanashcha nirvana vachaka
Thus, Ganapati is worshipped at the beginning of every auspicious work. There are lots of temples of this god in India. Hence, Ganesh has the highest priority among all the gods as the remover of obstacles.