No traditional Hindu will embark upon a new project without invoking Ganesha, for it is he, as Vigneshwara, prime mover of obstacles, who clears the path to success. Ganesh is the first to be revered at temples, and huge festivals of public worship are popular, especially in Maharashtra and Orissa states.
The legends about the birth and exploits of this deity are as numerous as Indians themselves.
One favoured version is as follows.
On Mt Kailasa, the divine household of Shiva and Parvarti stood divided, for Shiva had no respect for his wife’s privacy. So Parvarti used the perspiration from her own body to create a strong son, who would stand guard, and not allow Shiva to enter without permission.
When Shiva failed to overpower the youth he called his guards, but every one of his attendants was defeated. Eventually, a huge army of devas, led by Indra and Kartikeya, were sent by Shiva to attack the boy, who fought them valiantly. When Parvarti heard of this she created two shaktis, demi-gods Kali and Durga, who destroyed all the weapons of the enemy.
Eventually, Shiva sent Vishnu, on his great bird, Garuda. While the youth was fighting the powerful Vishnu, Shiva attacked from behind and cut off his head. When Parvarti learned of her son’s death, she was infuriated and created thousands of powerful shaktis, who set about destroying all the devas. Brahma and Vishnu were terrified and begged for mercy.
Parvarti agreed to forgive them if they restored her son to life, so Shiva sent his attendants out to remove the head of the first creature they come across and fit it to the head of the boy. Then, he said, the boy will come to life.
It was a single-tusked elephant that met them. They cut off his head and fitted it to the boy.
Parvarti was only completely satisfied when Shiva bowed before her, apologised and recognised her son as his own. He placed his hand on the boy’s elephant head, and named him Ganesha, the commander of his ganas. He also called him Vighneshwara, the queller of obstacles. And peace reigned once more in Mt Kailas.
Another version of the Ganesha story says it was Shiva who ”emits” from his body a handsome son, who becomes a seducer of women. Parvarti is offended by her son’s exploits and curses him to have the head of an elephant and a big belly.
While in some parts of India he is considered celibate, others see him settled down with two wives: Buddhi (wisdom) and Siddhi (success), who can see beyond his physical form. Ganesha, in time, becomes the commander of Shiva’s troops, and becomes famous as one who creates obstacles for the demons and removes obstacles for the devas or demigods. Thus, he is known as Vigneshwara – Lord of Obstacles and Vinayaka – One who removes Obstacles.
His vehicle is a rat, a rodent who can knaw through anything and is said to symbolize Ganesha’s ability to remove any obstacle.
Another interpretation of Ganesha using a tiny mouse as his chosen vehicle is that in the deity are embodied the power and wisdom of the elephant and the mobility of the agile mouse.
A further story tells of Ganesha defeating a demon in battle and turning him into a mouse to serve and carry him for all eternity.
He is often depicted writing out the Mahabhrata with his broken tusk, and is worshipped as the Hindu god of Wisdom and Literature.
There are many facets in the symbology of Ganesha – his huge body represents the Cosmos; being an elephant he represents, auspiciousness, strength and intellectual prowess, vegetarian despite his powerful form. A most interesting feature is his trunk which represents OM, the Pravan Mantra – the sound from which the world was created. His huge belly signifies that Ganesha absorbs the sorrows of the world and protects its people.
Ganesha is normally shown with one hand in protection pose and in the other a bowl of sweets symbolic of the sweetness of the realised self. Other hands may contain an elephant goad to prod Man to the path of truth, a noose symbolising attachment to worldly desires, a broken tusk symbolising knowledge as he used it to write the Mahabharata. He is also seen with a variety of demon-slaying weapons such as trident, spear, bow, axe, dagger and peaceful attributes such as a whisk, pot of nectar or various fruits. Around his waist is often a serpent to hold his attire in place.
Ganesha is often seen with Saraswati, goddess of Learning and Arts, as well as Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth and Good Fortune. Indians see it as extremely beneficial to have likenesses of these three deities in their homes and businesses.
Originally published in Here & Now magazine. Written by Khalid Julian Millane, joint owner of Shikara Design, importer of Asian artifacts, furnitire and carpets, and who has anendless fascination with Eastern mythology and history.
Related to - Eastern Spiritual Mythology