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Ganapati or Ganesha, also known as Vinayaka, is perhaps, the most popular of the Hindu deities worshipped by all sections of the Hindus. No undertaking, whether sacred or secular, can get started without first honouring and worshipping him. This is understandable and highly desirable, since he is said to be the lord of obstacles (‘Vighaneshwara’ or ‘Vighanharta’). However, what is not understandable and certainly not very agreeable is his repulsive origin and grotesque form! Even for those who admire Lord Shiva’s skill in the surgical art of head-transplantation, it becomes rather difficult to admire the end product! Once we successfully manage to delve into the mysteries of this symbolism, our repugnance will give rise to respect and respect to reverence and worship.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Ganapati referred to in the famous ‘Rigvedic Mantras’, gananam tva ganapatim havamahe…. and vi su sida ganapate and the Ganapati we worship today are strangers to each other, all unbiased scholars agree that the seeds of the Ganapati concepts are already there in the Rigveda itself. In the subsequent centuries, this concept has passed through the mills of the epics and the ‘puranas’ to produce the Ganapati as we know him today. In any community, the development of the concept of God and the modes of His worship are as much the products of geographical, historical and cultural factors as a mystic experiences and spiritual realizations of the highly evolved persons. It is quite reasonable to suppose that the ‘Ganapati-Brahamaspati’ of the Rigveda graduallygot metamorphosed into the deity, ‘Gajavadaba-Ganesha-Vighneshwara’.
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The Rigvedic deity ‘Ganapati-Brahmanaspati’ – also called as ‘Brihaspati’ and ‘Vachaspati’ – manifest himself through a vast mall of light. He is golden-red in colour. The battle-axe is an important weapon of his. Without his grace no religious rite can succeed. He is always in the company of a group (‘gana’ – a group) of singers and dancers. He vanquishes the enemies of gods, protects the devoted votaries and shows them the right way of life.
Another class of Rigvedic deities, known as the ‘Maruts’ or ‘Marudgana’, described as the children of ‘Rudra’, also have similar characteristics. In addition, they can be malevolent towards those who antagonize them and can cause destruction like the wild elephants. They can put obstacles in the path of men if displeased and remove them when pleased. They are independent, not subject to anyone’s sovereignty (‘arajana’ = ‘vinayaka’).
A perusal of these two descriptions will perforce lead us to the obvious conclusion that Ganapati is the metamorphosed form of ‘Brhaspati-Marudgana’ deities. There is nothing strange in this, especially if we can recognize the transformations that have taken place among the various Vedic deities, as they were gradually absorbed among the gods of the later Hindu pantheon. The once all-important and all-Powerful ‘Indra’ (the king of the gods) was demoted to the rank of a minor deity ruling over one of the quarters. His lieutenant Vishnu was elevated to the central place in the Trinity. ‘Rudra’, the terrible, became Shiva the auspicious. Many other deities like ‘Dyuas’, ‘Aryaman’ and ‘Pushan’ were quietly dispatched into oblivion!
Despite the fact that Ganapati is a highly venerated and all-important deity, his ‘head’ has often been a mystery for others. No doubt, our puranas have easily ‘solved’ this problem, each in its own way. But this has satisfied neither the layman nor the scholar.
It will be extremely interesting to bring together, though in brief, all the stories about the origin of the wondrous deity, Ganesha:
1. At the request of the gods who wanted a deity capable of removing all obstacles from their path of action and fulfillment, Shiva himself was born of the womb of Parvati as Ganapati.
2. Once Parvati, just for fun, prepared an image of a child with an elephant’s head out of the unguents smeared over her body and threw in into river Ganga. It came to life. Both Ganga, the guardian deity of the river and Parvati, addressed the boy as their child. Hence he is known as ‘ Dvi-matura’, the once who has two mothers.
3. Parvati prepared the image of a child out of the scurf from her body, endowed him with life and ordered him to stand guard before her house. When Shiva wanted to enter the house he was rudely prevented by this new gatekeeper. Shiva became ‘Rudra’ and got him beheaded. Seeing that Parvati was inconsolable owing to this tragedy that befell her ‘son’ and not finding the head of the body anywhere – meanwhile one of the goblins of Shiva had gourmandized it! – He got an elephant’s head, grafted it on to the body of the boy and gave him new life. To make amends for his ‘mistakes’, Shiva appointed this new-found son as the head of all his retinues, who thus became ‘Ganapati’,
4. He sprang from Shiva’s countenance which represents the principle of ether (akashatatva’). His captivating splendour made Parvati react angrily and curse him, resulting in his uncouth form!
5. Ganesha was originally ‘Krishna’ himself in the human form. When ‘Shani’, the malevolent planet-spirit gazed at him, his head got separated and flew to ‘Gokola’, the world of ‘Krishna’. The head of an elephant was subsequently grafted to the body of the child.
Equally interested are the other myths about his adventures: He lost one of his tusks in a fight with ‘Parashurama’, which he successfully used as a stylus to write the epic ‘Mahabharata’ dictated by the sage ‘Vyasa’. He tactfully won the race against his brother ‘Skanda’ by circumambulating his parents and declaring that it was equivalent to going round the worlds. He thus won the hands of two damsels ‘Riddhi’ and ‘Siddhi’. He cursed the moon to was and wane, since the latter derisively laughed at him when he was trying to refill his burst belly with the sweets that had spilled out. He vanquished the demon ‘Vighanasura’ and successfully brought him under his subjugation.
There is no gainsaying the possibilities of man developing the concept of God and faith in Him as a result of his experiences through the various vicissitudes of life which prove his helplessness. He often disposes, what man proposes. Such a God must needs to be all-powerful. If He is pleased, all the obstacles in our path will be removed. If displeases He may thwart our efforts and make them in fructuous. Hence the paramount need to appease Him and please Him.
What could be the form of this almighty God! For a simple aboriginal living in a group (‘gana’) near a forest or a mountain, the mighty elephant might have provided the clue. This might have led to the worship of an elephant-like God. He being the ‘pati’ (Lord) of the ‘gana’ (group or clan) might have obtained the name ‘Ganapati’. As the group became more refined and cultured, this Elephant God might have been transformed into the present form.
However plausible or attractive this hypothesis may be, it is at best guesswork, if not an invention! Since Ganapati had gained de facto recognition in the hearts of millions or votaries, over several centuries, the puranas rightly struggled to make it de jure! True, they have given very confusing accounts.
Nevertheless they have succeeded in fusing together the votaries by giving them a scriptural or authoritative base. There is certainly no contradiction or confusion in the accounts as far as the worship and its result are concerned.
It is a favorite pastime of some western scholars and their Indian counterparts to ‘discover’ a Dravidian base for many interesting developments in our cultural and religious life and then to ‘unearth’ the further fact of the white-skinned Aryan ‘conquerors’ graciously and condescendingly absorbing these, tactfully elevating the same to higher levels all the while. This has naturally led to a vigorous reaction and these ‘reactionaries’ go the whole hog to prove it the other way round! When our Ganapati is caught in the web of such controversies one may be driven to the ridiculous conclusion that he is not an Aryan deity at all, but, most probably, imported from Mongolia! It is therefore better to play safe, rescue our deity from embarrassing situations and get the best out of him for spiritual life.
The most commonly accepted from of Ganesha depicts him as red in colour and in a human body with an elephant head. Out of the two tusks, one is broken. He has four arms. Two of the arms hold the ‘pasa’ (noose) and ‘ankusha’ (goad). The other two are held in the ‘abhaya’ and ‘varda’ ‘mudras’. The belly is of generous proportions and is decorated with a snake-belt. There is also a ‘yajnopavita’ (sacred-thread), either of thread or serpent. He may be seated in ‘padmasana’ (lotus-posture). When the belly does not permit this, the right leg may be shown bent and resting on the seat.
Apart from beautiful robes and ornaments, he wears a lovely carved crown. The trunk may be turned to the left or to the right.
He is normally seen helping himself to liberal quantities of ‘modaka’ (a kind of sweet balls).
A mouse, of ridiculously small proportions, is seen near him, nibbling at his share of the sweets, hoping perhaps, to gain enough strength to carry his master!
A third eye may sometimes be added on the forehead, in the centre of the eyebrows. The number of heads may be raised to five. The arms may vary from two to ten. Lotus, pomegranate, water vessel, battle-axe, lute, broken tusk, sugarcane, ears of paddy, bow and arrow, thunderbolt, rosary, book – these are some of the other objects shown in the hands. His ‘shakti’ (power) is often shown with him as sitting on his lap. Sometimes two ‘shaktis’, ‘riddhi’ and ‘siddhi’, are also shown.
Among the various myths that deal with Ganapati’s origin, the one that attributes it to the scurf or dirt taken out of her body by Parvati seems to be the most widely known, and considered as odd and odious.
The major fact about Ganapati today is that he is worshiped as the
‘Vighanharta’ (obstacle remover).
Other Sayings about Lord Ganesha
Lord Ganesha is said to be “Vighaneshwar”,
which stands for hurdles remover. He is also known as “Ridhi-Sidhi
Dayak”, which stands for success, prosperity and good
fortune. Lord Ganesh is the God who is devoted first among all other
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