Lord Ganesh is perhaps one of the most highly venerated and represented of all the Hindu deities – so much so, that Lord Ganesh is even symbolised in our very own Imperial College Hindu Society logo.
Lord Ganesh is most commonly known to be the ‘Remover of Obstacles’ which is why he is always prayed to first. But, like many other Hindu deities, he has many names and forms – here are just a few:
- Ganapati – Lord of Ganas (Gods)
- Vinayaka – Lord of All
- Vigneshwara – Lord of Beginnings & Obstacles
- Vighnahara – Remover of Obstacles
- Nandana – Lord Shiva’s Son
- Devavrata – One who accepts all Penances
- Vakratunda – Curved Trunk Lord
Lord Ganesh is one of two sons of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, the other son being Karthikeya. There are many stories of his birth some of which are alluded to later. He also has two consorts (or wives) namely Riddhi (signifying prosperity) and Siddhi (signifying success.)
Origin of the Elephant Head
Lord Ganesh has been represented with the head of an elephant since the early stages of his appearance in Indian art. Puranic myths provide many explanations for how he got his elephant head. While some texts say that Ganesha was born with an elephant head, in most stories he acquires the head later. The most recurrent motif in these stories is that Ganesha was born with a human head and body and that Shiva beheaded him when Ganesha came between Shiva and Parvati. Shiva then replaced Ganesha’s original head with that of an elephant. In another story, when Ganesha was born, his mother, Parvati, showed off her new baby to the other gods. Unfortunately, the god Shani (Saturn), who is said to have the evil eye, looked at him, causing the baby’s head to be burned to ashes. The god Vishnu came to the rescue and replaced the missing head with that of an elephant. Another story says that Ganesha was created directly by Shiva’s laughter. Because Shiva considered Ganesha too alluring, he gave him the head of an elephant and a protruding belly.
- His broad crown is an invitation to think big.
- The tiny eyes speak of the importance of concentration and attention to detail for success in any foray.
- One chief form of concentration is to listen to others more, and talk less. This is symbolised by the huge elephantine ears and small mouth He sports.
- Ganesh has only one tusk, with the other broken off. This symbolises the importance of holding on only to the good and discarding the bad.
- The trunk of Ganesh symbolises the importance of being efficient and adaptable in order to be successful in one’s ventures. The curvature is also said to represent the rising of the kundalini (spiritual energy that is believed to be coiled serpent-like at the base of the spine) powers.
- His large tummy points to the necessity of digesting all that life has to offer—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- The abhaya mudra (gesture of fearlessness) of Ganesha’s lower right hand symbolises his blessings and protection on a person’s journey through life, especially the spiritual one.
- In his upper right hand, Ganesh usually holds an axe, with which he is said to cut of all attachments.
- He pulls the devotee nearer to the spiritual path by the rope (noose) that He carries in His upper left hand.
- He offers rewards for penances (sadhana) done with the modak (type of confection, usually made from rice flour and a stuffing of jaggery, coconut, etc.) He holds this in his lower left hand.
- The bowls and baskets of offerings at Ganesh’s feet are there to symbolise that the entire world, and all its choicest pleasures, are out there for the taking.
- Ganesh’s tiny pet and vehicle, his mouse named Moshika, bowing down close by, is there to indicate that though a little desire is good, it is essential for one to master it. You have to ride your desires and not vice versa.