Article of the Month - Oct 2000

This article by Nitin Kumar

(Viewed 2922541 times since Oct 2000)

The beloved Hindu elephant-headed-deity popularly known as Lord Ganesha has intrigued thinking men all over the world, all through the ages even unto the present day. Revered across India as the ideal son, brother, and protector of all beings, Sri Ganesha is evoked as “Prathama Pujya”- the first worshipped god. With his blessings, a person gains confidence in the success of their endeavor and his guarding hand keeps negativity and ignorance at bay. The majesty of Sri Ganesha is all-pervading in the Hindu religious world, to understand one has to go back to Ganesha’s birth. The sacred texts of Hinduism give a variety of stories narrating the events of Lord Ganesha's birth. The most popular is the one where Ganesha was created by Goddess Parvati as a guardian of her privacy and the following events which resulted in Ganesha getting his elephant head and position as Ganapati- Lord of Ganas.

The Birth of Ganesha

Once upon a time on Kailash, goddess Parvati was taking bath in her private chambers when Lord Shiva entered her bathing area, without announcing his arrival. Enraged with this surprise, goddess Parvati decided to guard her personal space against any such intrusion in the future. Before going for her bath the next time, she rubbed off the sandalwood paste on her body and fashioned the figure of a young boy. She infused life into the figure and called him her son. The boy was instructed by Devi Parvati to protect his mother’s solitude and to not let anyone enter her chamber while she took her bath.

Soon after, Shiva (Lord of destruction and husband of Parvati) came to see Parvati but the young boy, Lord Ganesha, blocked his way. Shiva, unaware that this lad was his son, became furious and in great anger fought with this boy whose head got severed from his body in the ensuing battle. Parvati, returning from her bath, saw her headless son and threatened in her sorrowful rage to destroy the heavens and the earth.

Shiva pacified her and instructed his followers (known as Ganas) to bring the head of the first living being they encountered. The first creature they encountered was an elephant. They thus cut off its head and placed it on the body of Parvati's son and breathed life into him. Overjoyed and relieved at the revival of her son, Parvati embraced the elephant-headed boy, who was crowned the head of the Ganas- Gana+ Isha (lord). As a dutiful son of the supreme mother goddess Parvati, Ganesha continues to guard her home- this world. His blessings make every occasion auspicious, which is why in the common parlance of India, the act of starting something new is often described as doing its “Sri Ganesha” (श्री गणेश करना).

Decoding the Ganesha Statue

A Ganesha statue in a Hindu household is a must-have divine icon, to be worshipped and seen daily for the success of all big and small deeds. Small Ganesha statues are often placed in the Puja ghar, while larger icons are used as Vaastu-prescribed pieces, kept in certain corners of the home to bring a balance to the aura of the space. Let us take a closer look at the Ganesha statue to understand the deeper meanings behind it.


Head

The large elephant head represents wisdom, the ears like a winnowing basket keep the bad separate from the good, and the elephant’s trunk used to push away hindrances from its path symbolizes Ganesha’s ability to destroy the obstacles of one’s life. The elephant is the largest and strongest of animals in the forest. Yet he is gentle and, amazingly, a vegetarian, so he does not kill to eat. He is very affectionate and loyal to his keeper and is greatly swayed if love and kindness are extended to him. Ganesha, though a powerful deity, is similarly loving and forgiving and moved by the affection of his devotees. But at the same time, the elephant can destroy a whole forest and is a one-man army when provoked. Ganesha is similarly most powerful and can be ruthless when containing evil.

Arms

According to the strict rules of Hindu iconography, Ganesha statues with only two hands are taboo. Hence, Ganesha idols are most commonly seen with four hands (chaturbhuja form) which signify their divinity. Ganesha figures with six, eight, ten, sixteen, or even more hands are also worshipped, in which the Lord holds powerful weapons symbolizing his prowess as the protector of the universe.


Attributes in Ganesha’s Hands

Ganesha is normally shown with one hand in the Abhaya pose of protection and the second holding a sweet (modaka) symbolic of the sweetness of the realized inner self. In the two hands behind him, he often holds an ankusha (elephant goad) and a pasha (noose). The noose is to convey that worldly attachments and desires are nooses. The goal is to prod man to the path of righteousness and truth. With this goad, Ganesha can both strike and repel obstacles. His pot belly signifies the bounty of nature and also that Ganesha swallows the sorrows of the Universe and protects the world. 

Ganesha and Animals

The Ganesha statue is a composite one. Four animals viz., man, elephant, the serpent as a belly belt), and the mouse is often seen as a part of a Ganesha icon. All of them individually and collectively have deep symbolic significance. The image of Ganesha thus represents man's eternal striving towards integration with nature. He has to be interpreted taking into consideration the fact that though millennia rolled by, a man yet remains closer to animals today than he was ever before. The inclusion of various animals such as lion, peacock, snake, and rat in the iconography of Sri Ganesha, who is the Lord of Wisdom, also underlines his mastery over the basal nature of human beings, which is not so different from these creatures of the wild.


15" Mouse Offering Modak to Ganesha In Brass | Handmade | Made In India

Significance of the Mouse

The little mouse whom Lord Ganesha is supposed to ride upon is another enigmatic feature in his iconography. At a first glance, it seems strange that the lord of wisdom has been granted a humble obsequious mouse quite incapable of lifting the bulging belly and massive head that he possesses. But it implies that wisdom is an attribute of an ugly conglomeration of factors and further that the wise do not find anything in the world disproportionate or ugly.

The mouse is, in every respect, comparable to the intellect. It can slip unobserved or without our knowledge into places that we would have not thought it possible to penetrate. In doing this it is hardly concerned whether it is seeking virtue or vice. The mouse thus represents our wandering, wayward mind, lured to undesirable or corrupting grounds. By showing the mouse paying subservience to Lord Ganesha it is implied that the intellect has been tamed through Ganesha's power of discrimination.

Ganesha and the Symbols of Auspiciousness

A Sri Ganesha idol is also sculpted with Hindu symbols of auspiciousness and divinity. One of the most common motifs seen with Sri Ganesha statues is the Purna-ghata or the vase of plenty, which in Hindu beliefs represents fertility and plushness, qualities which are also associated with goddess Lakshmi. Decorating the iconographical representation of Ganesha in some statutes is the lotus pedestal or Padmasana, which symbolizes spiritual awakening and purity. The symbol of “Aum”- the first sound from which the universe is believed to have originated, when inverted, resembles the head of Ganesha, which is why drawing an Aum or keeping an Aum pendant or symbol with you is considered the source of the blessings of Sri Ganesha in your life.


Dancing Ganesha

Sri Ganesha Statues For You

In the Hindu religion, Sri Ganesha’s universal greatness has been recorded as his 8 or 32 forms. Popularly known as Ashta Ganapati or Ashta-Vinayaka, these forms are worshipped together or separately for gaining success in different fields of life. Whether you are a devout Ganapataya (follower of Ganesha), a Hindu devotee, or someone who seeks to have Ganesha’s blissful presence in your life, a statue of Sri Ganesha in your home is the way to ensure it. 

In Your Puja Ghar

You can place a four-armed (Chautr-bhuja) Ganesha murti in your Puja ghar and worship the elephant-headed lord daily for attaining his benevolence. Idols of Ganesha made from pure brass and bronze are perfect for regular ritualistic worship, which will bring your life auspiciousness and divinity. You can also place Ganesha with Lakshmi and Saraswati, Ganesha with Riddhi and Siddhi, and Ganesha with Shiva and Parvati in your Puja ghar to experience the heavenliness of the elephant-headed god.

In your Place of Work

A small Ganesha idol placed on your workstation or a large icon of Ganapati for your office space is the key to welcoming Ganesha’s qualities in your professional sphere. Following Vaastu tips on the placement of Ganesha, you can buy an exquisite marble or stone statue or a traditional Panchaloha statue for your work and experience wisdom, calmness, and success seep into your life.


40" Large Size Bursting with Divine Energy In Brass | Handmade | Made In India

In your Home Decor

Artistically made wooden, marble and metal statues and wall hangings of Sri Ganesha are preferred by Vaastu experts to correct the Vaastu-related issues of a house, and instill sacredness in the environment. Dancing Ganesha or Nritya Ganapati, Baby Ganesha or Baala Ganapti, Panchamukhi or Five-Headed Ganesha, and the popular four-armed royally seated Sri Ganesha are some of the most loved aspects of Ganesha for home décor. Modern representations of Ganesha with musical instruments, reclining Ganesha, and other stylized variations fitting the abstract and minimalistic requirements of home décor are also well-liked among the followers of Sri Ganesha. 

The chronicle of Ganesha’s might and glory in Indian religion and Hindu art is unending. Moved by the immensity of Sri Ganesha, Indian artists have handcrafted a range of magnificent Sri Ganesha murtis, which are the best way to feel the presence of Ganesha in your life. Exotic India Art brings to you an assemblage of handmade and divine icons of Parvati-Putra (son of goddess Parvati), sculpted by skilled artists following the established instructions of ancient iconographical traditions. Bring a statue home from our collection and experience living under the protective gaze of Sri Ganesha.

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  • Several years ago I performed a wedding ceremony for a couple. She is Hindu, he is a Lutheran Christian. We had a joint ceremony with me using Christian traditional liturgy, and a Pujari who conducted his part in Sanscrit. He chanted the entire part of his service and it was beautiful! The couple gave me a very ornate and beautiful figurine of Lord Ganesha as a thank you. I thank you for telling me more about this important Deity especially now as He is being worshipped by the faithful all over the world but most especially in India.
    JANIS J KINENS September 03, 2019
  • Daily II am drawn more and more into the Hindu Pantheon, finding pieces of myself explained in accuracies I never thought possible. having been a student of all cultures and not altogether unfamiliar with hundu things; I feel now a profound drive to dive in and never return.
    James Staples V August 29, 2017
  • really informative,eye openers to atheists if they have brains and can open them
    KRISHNA RAO August 04, 2015
  • this web page is awsome
    Albena Kostova February 27, 2015
  • Ganesha is a myth! Go to google and type in Hilda Charlton and Ganesha and read the article that you come up with. Read how Hilda Charlton, an American devotee encountered Ganesha in her real life while on a pilgrimage to a sacred site in Sri Lanka. There is no myth. These are called Puranas (stories from the remote past). They have basis in reality. Western people and British rule of India has brain washed many Indians into believing everything is a myth!
    Sridhar August 27, 2014
  • Nice! Informative! Where is the very last image in your article from? Is it a well known symbol for Ganesha? I really like it!
    NIk October 24, 2011
  • very nice and memorable
    amitmadhvani June 10, 2011
  • OMG
    cheese March 09, 2011
  • Ganesha is a Myth--not a fact. The story of Ganesh birth is unbelievable and not scientific. Vedas believe in one infinite, unborn, formless God. Ganesha is just one of 100 names of God--Ohm is the supreme name of the God.
    Sanjeev Verma September 07, 2010
  • Great article but you have one imperfection... " The biggest and minutest of tasks are within the range of this trunk which is symbolic of Ganesha's intellect and hiss powers of discrimination."... you said hiss rather than his. Amazing information and it will help me a lot in my Hindu god assignment, Snowjewl
    Snowjewl April 25, 2010