When I think of Lord Ganesha, I see a very pleasing, fun looking, completeness harmless & innocent looking being, who is every child’s favourite for various reasons. I have been told he is the remover of obstacles, grants all wishes whispered in those elephant ears & auspicious for new beginnings. Little did I know that this mighty but cute elephant-headed God, is steeped in symbolism head to toe, inside out!
The essence of Ganesha is brought out beautifully by Adi Shankaracharya in this shloka;
अजं निर्विकल्पं निराकारमेकं निरानन्दमानंदमद्वैतपूर्णम् ।
परं निर्गुणं निर्विशेषं निरीशं परं ब्रह्मरूपं गणेशं भजेम ॥१॥
Ganesha (the Lord of all groups) is unborn, unchanging, formless, the one,
Beyond bliss and full of bliss, who is the fullness of non-duality,
The supreme, devoid of qualities, without differences, and beyond desire,
I worship Shri Ganesha, the Supreme Brahman personified.
The story of Shri Ganesha’s birth states that he was created out of the dirt on Goddess Parvati’s body, to guard the home while she bathed and not allow passage to strangers. When Lord Shiva returns from an errand, he is forbidden entry to his own home by a strange little boy. Infuriated at being barred from entering His home, the Lord cut off the boy’s head. Devi Parvati is shocked and inconsolable when she discovers what the Lord had done to their own son. To alleviate her suffering, Lord Shiva commanded his troops to get the head of the first living being facing north, they come across. The first living being they chanced upon happened to be an elephant calf. And so the Lord placed the head of the calf on the boy’s body and restored life to him. Thus Lord Ganesha was created.
Devi Parvati is symbolic of festive energy. Her becoming dirty signifies how celebrations, in the absence of knowledge, tend to develop ‘Rajasik’ tendencies like feverishness, greed or stress and take you away from your centre. Shiva, on the other had represents wisdom & balance. When feverishness dawns it obstructs or refuses to recognize wisdom. However, knowledge cannot stand ignorance. This is the symbolism behind Shiva chopping off Ganesha’s head and replacing it with elephant head.
Lord Ganesha’s physical form is also very symbolic of the deep knowledge of the vedas. His elephant head is symbolic to wisdom & effortlessness. It represents the power of wisdom & his size represents the power of strength. His large ears indicate that he has gained wisdom through listening and reflecting on the eternal truths of the vedas. His head and trunk are curved into the shape of the Om, our most sacred of symbols, representing the primeval sound of creation and our most powerful mantra in prayer and meditation.
It is believed that, with his large ears, Lord Ganesh converts the language of sound (Nāda Bhaashaa) into the language of light (Prakaash Bhaashaa), so that prayers made by humans can be understood by Deities. His big ears pick up on the softest of prayers whispered by his devotees and hence is known to be the remover of obstacles.
Ganesha – means, ‘the lord of all energies (beings)’. Gana means group and a group cannot exist without a lord (Esha), a supreme energy which holds it together. The Lord of all these groups of atoms and energies is Ganesha. Lord Ganesha’s huge belly represents generosity and total acceptance of all.
His single tusk represents one-pointedness or focus. The elephant’s trunk can perform both gross and subtle actions to perfection and hence Lord Ganesha’s trunk signifies the need for us to be able to develop our intellect, in both the gross or material world and also in the subtle or spiritual world.
Ganesha, the elephant-headed God has a small mouse as his vehicle. Philosophically, the mouse is a connotation of the human mind. Our mind is always full of desires and is often selfish, just like the mouse. The mouse is depicted as an obstacle that we create by negative thoughts and ill feelings. Lord Ganesha seated on the mouse depicts the lord’s supremacy over all negativity of the little mind. The relation of Lord Ganesha and his mouse also symbolises the fact that when God does not discriminate between big and small, then who are we to be judgmental?
The four arms of Lord Ganesha depict his protective hand over his devotees. In His right hand he holds a hook or Ankusa and in His left hand he holds a noose or Paasa. These tools are used by elephant-trainers to tame wild elephants. Symbolically, the mind is like a wild elephant, in chaos, running helter-skelter. Praying to Lord Ganesha, will help calm their wandering mind and bring them onto the path of righteousness. Finally, the fourth hand holds a sweet modak which shows his eternal childlike nature.
Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most popular of Hindu festivals. This is the birthday of Lord Ganesha. It is the day most sacred to Lord Ganesha. It falls on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada (August-September). It is observed throughout India, as well as by devoted Hindus in all parts of the world. The occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi gives us, as spiritual aspirants, an opportunity to remember what Lord Ganesha stands for.
The 32 Forms of Ganesha
Impossible as it is to contain Him, ancient Sanskrit texts list thirty-two forms of Lord Ganesha that give us a glimpse of His manifold attribute. The Ganesha Purana describes the 32 forms of Lord Ganesha and among them, Mahaganapathi is widely worshiped. The first 16 forms of Ganesha are known by the name “Shodasa Ganapati” and the later ones are known as “Ekavimsathi”.
In the coming 11 days of prayer, meditation and celebration we shall know more about these forms, there significance and the shlokas that glorify their meaning.
Stay tuned for more blogs on the 32 forms of Ganesha coming up in the subsequent days.
Om Shri Ganeshaya Namah!
Anamika Khosla is an Art of Living Teacher, a Cranio-sacral therapist, a Gourmet-Chef, a blogger & much more. Her blog is beyondname.blogspot.in.