Ganesha

Ganesha
  • God of New Beginnings, Success and Wisdom
  • Remover of Obstacles[1][2]
Attired in an orange dhoti, an elephant-headed man sits on a large lotus. His body is red in colour and he wears various golden necklaces and bracelets and a snake around his neck. On the three points of his crown, budding lotuses have been fixed. He holds in his two right hands the rosary (lower hand) and a cup filled with three modakas (round yellow sweets), a fourth modaka held by the curving trunk is just about to be tasted. In his two left hands, he holds a lotus in the upper hand and an axe in the lower, with its handle leaning against his shoulder.

Affiliation Deva, Brahman (Ganapatya), Saguna Brahman(Panchayatana puja), Ishvara, Buddhi
Abode Mount Kailash (with parents Shiva and Parvati), Ganeshloka
Mantra Oṃ Shri Gaṇeśāya Namaḥ
Oṃ Gaṃ Gaṇapataye Namaḥ
Weapon Paraśu (axe), pāśa (noose), aṅkuśa(elephant goad)
Symbols Om, Modak
Mount Mouse
Texts Ganesha Purana, Mudgala Purana, Ganapati Atharvashirsa
Gender Male
Festivals Ganesh Chaturthi
Personal information
Consorts
Parents
Siblings Karthikeya, Ashokasundari

Ganesha (Sanskrit: गणेश, IAST: Gaṇeśa; About this soundlisten ), also known as Ganapati, Vinayaka, or by numerous other names, is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon.[4] His image is found throughout India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Thailand, Mauritius, Bali (Indonesia) and Bangladesh.[5] Hindu denominations worship him regardless of affiliations.[6] Devotion to Ganesha is widely diffused and extends to Jains and Buddhists.[7]

Although he is known by many attributes, Ganesha’s elephant head makes him easy to identify.[8] Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles,[9] the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom.[10] As the god of beginnings, he is honoured at the start of rites and ceremonies. Ganesha is also invoked as patron of letters and learning during writing sessions.[11][2] Several texts relate mythological anecdotesassociated with his birth and exploits.

Ganesha likely emerged as a deity as early as the 2nd century CE,[12] but most certainly by the 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the Gupta period, although he inherited traits from Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors.[13] Hindu mythology identifies him as the restored son of Parvati and Shiva of the Shaivism tradition, but he is a pan-Hindu god found in its various traditions.[14][15] In the Ganapatya tradition of Hinduism, Ganesha is the supreme deity.[16] The principal texts on Ganesha include the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana, and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa. Brahma Purana and Brahmanda Purana are other two Puranic genre encyclopaedic texts that deal with Ganesha.

Ganesha, Madhya Pradesh, c. 750, India

Ganesha has been ascribed many other titles and epithets, including Ganapati (Ganpati) and Vighneshvara. The Hindu title of respect Shri (Sanskrit: श्री; IAST: śrī; also spelled Sri or Shree) is often added before his name.

The name Ganesha is a Sanskrit compound, joining the words gana (gaṇa), meaning a group, multitude, or categorical system and isha (īśa), meaning lord or master.[17] The word gaṇa when associated with Ganesha is often taken to refer to the gaṇas, a troop of semi-divine beings that form part of the retinue of Shiva, Ganesha’s father.[18] The term more generally means a category, class, community, association, or corporation.[19] Some commentators interpret the name “Lord of the Gaṇas” to mean “Lord of Hosts” or “Lord of created categories”, such as the elements.[20] Ganapati (गणपति; gaṇapati), a synonym for Ganesha, is a compound composed of gaṇa, meaning “group”, and pati, meaning “ruler” or “lord”.[19] Though the earliest mention of the word Ganapati is found in hymn 2.23.1 of the 2nd-millennium BCE Rigveda, it is however uncertain that the Vedic term referred specifically to Ganesha.[21][22] The Amarakosha,[23] an early Sanskrit lexicon, lists eight synonyms of Ganesha: Vinayaka, Vighnarāja (equivalent to Vighnesha), Dvaimātura (one who has two mothers),[24] Gaṇādhipa (equivalent to Ganapati and Ganesha), Ekadanta (one who has one tusk), Heramba, Lambodara (one who has a pot belly, or, literally, one who has a hanging belly), and Gajanana (gajānana); having the face of an elephant.[25]

Vinayaka (विनायक; vināyaka) is a common name for Ganesha that appears in the Purāṇas and in Buddhist Tantras.[26] This name is reflected in the naming of the eight famous Ganesha temples in Maharashtra known as the Ashtavinayak (Marathi: अष्टविनायक, aṣṭavināyaka).[27] The names Vighnesha (विघ्नेश; vighneśa) and Vighneshvara (विघ्नेश्वर; vighneśvara) (Lord of Obstacles)[28] refers to his primary function in Hinduism as the master and remover of obstacles (vighna).[29]

A prominent name for Ganesha in the Tamil language is Pillai (Tamil: பிள்ளை) or Pillaiyar (பிள்ளையார்).[30] A.K. Narain differentiates these terms by saying that pillai means a “child” while pillaiyarmeans a “noble child”. He adds that the words pallu, pella, and pell in the Dravidian family of languages signify “tooth or tusk”, also “elephant tooth or tusk”.[31] Anita Raina Thapan notes that the root word pille in the name Pillaiyar might have originally meant “the young of the elephant”, because the Pali word pillaka means “a young elephant”.[32]

In the Burmese language, Ganesha is known as Maha Peinne (မဟာပိန္နဲ, pronounced [məhà pèiɴné]), derived from Pali Mahā Wināyaka (မဟာဝိနာယက).[33] The widespread name of Ganesha in Thailand is Phra Phikanet.[34] The earliest images and mention of Ganesha names as a major deity in present-day Indonesia,[35] Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam date from the 7th- and 8th-centuries,[36] and these mirror Indian examples of the 5th century or earlier.[37] In Sri Lankan Singhala Buddhist areas, he is known as Gana deviyo, and revered along with Buddha, Vishnu, Skanda and others.[38]

A 13th-century statue of Ganesha, Hoysala-style, Karnataka

Ganesha is a popular figure in Indian art.[39] Unlike those of some deities, representations of Ganesha show wide variations and distinct patterns changing over time.[40] He may be portrayed standing, dancing, heroically taking action against demons, playing with his family as a boy, or sitting down on an elevated seat, or engaging in a range of contemporary situations.

Ganesha images were prevalent in many parts of India by the 6th century.[41] The 13th-century statue pictured is typical of Ganesha statuary from 900–1200, after Ganesha had been well-established as an independent deity with his own sect. This example features some of Ganesha’s common iconographic elements. A virtually identical statue has been dated between 973–1200 by Paul Martin-Dubost,[42] and another similar statue is dated c. 12th century by Pratapaditya Pal.[43] Ganesha has the head of an elephant and a big belly. This statue has four arms, which is common in depictions of Ganesha. He holds his own broken tusk in his lower-right hand and holds a delicacy, which he samples with his trunk, in his lower-left hand. The motif of Ganesha turning his trunk sharply to his left to taste a sweet in his lower-left hand is a particularly archaic feature.[44] A more primitive statue in one of the Ellora Caves with this general form has been dated to the 7th century.[45] Details of the other hands are difficult to make out on the statue shown. In the standard configuration, Ganesha typically holds an axe or a goad in one upper arm and a pasha (noose) in the other upper arm. In rare instances, he may be depicted with a human head.[46]

The influence of this old constellation of iconographic elements can still be seen in contemporary representations of Ganesha. In one modern form, the only variation from these old elements is that the lower-right hand does not hold the broken tusk but is turned towards the viewer in a gesture of protection or fearlessness (Abhaya mudra).[47] The same combination of four arms and attributes occurs in statues of Ganesha dancing, which is a very popular theme.[48]

A typical four-armed form. Miniature of Nurpur school (circa 1810)[49]

Ganesha has been represented with the head of an elephant since the early stages of his appearance in Indian art.[50] Puranic myths provide many explanations for how he got his elephant head.[51] One of his popular forms, Heramba-Ganapati, has five elephant heads, and other less-common variations in the number of heads are known.[52] While some texts say that Ganesha was born with an elephant head, he acquires the head later in most stories.[53] The most recurrent motif in these stories is that Ganesha was created by Parvati using clay to protect her and Shiva beheaded him when Ganesha came between Shiva and Parvati. Shiva then replaced Ganesha’s original head with that of an elephant.[54] Details of the battle and where the replacement head came from vary from source to source.[55][56] 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.[57]

Ganesha’s earliest name was Ekadanta (One Tusked), referring to his single whole tusk, the other being broken.[58] Some of the earliest images of Ganesha show him holding his broken tusk.[59] The importance of this distinctive feature is reflected in the Mudgala Purana, which states that the name of Ganesha’s second incarnation is Ekadanta.[60] Ganesha’s protruding belly appears as a distinctive attribute in his earliest statuary, which dates to the Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries).[61] This feature is so important that according to the Mudgala Purana, two different incarnations of Ganesha use names based on it: Lambodara (Pot Belly, or, literally, Hanging Belly) and Mahodara (Great Belly).[62] Both names are Sanskrit compounds describing his belly (IAST: udara).[63] The Brahmanda Purana says that Ganesha has the name Lambodara because all the universes (i.e., cosmic eggs; IAST: brahmāṇḍas) of the past, present, and future are present in him.[64] The number of Ganesha’s arms varies; his best-known forms have between two and sixteen arms.[65] Many depictions of Ganesha feature four arms, which is mentioned in Puranic sources and codified as a standard form in some iconographic texts.[66] His earliest images had two arms.[67] Forms with 14 and 20 arms appeared in Central India during the 9th and the 10th centuries.[68] The serpent is a common feature in Ganesha iconography and appears in many forms.[69] According to the Ganesha Purana, Ganesha wrapped the serpent Vasuki around his neck.[70] Other depictions of snakes include use as a sacred thread (IAST: yajñyopavīta)[71] wrapped around the stomach as a belt, held in a hand, coiled at the ankles, or as a throne. Upon Ganesha’s forehead may be a third eye or the sectarian mark (IAST: tilaka), which consists of three horizontal lines.[72] The Ganesha Purana prescribes a tilaka mark as well as a crescent moon on the forehead.[73] A distinct form of Ganesha called Bhalachandra (IAST: bhālacandra; “Moon on the Forehead”) includes that iconographic element.[74] Ganesha is often described as red in colour.[75] Specific colours are associated with certain forms.[76] Many examples of color associations with specific meditation forms are prescribed in the Sritattvanidhi, a treatise on Hindu iconography. For example, white is associated with his representations as Heramba-Ganapati and Rina-Mochana-Ganapati (Ganapati Who Releases from Bondage).[77]Ekadanta-Ganapati is visualised as blue during meditation in that form.[78]

Dancing Ganesha sculpture from North Bengal, 11th century CE, Asian Art Museum of Berlin (Dahlem).

The earliest Ganesha images are without a vahana (mount/vehicle).[79] Of the eight incarnations of Ganesha described in the Mudgala Purana, Ganesha uses a mouse (shrew) in five of them, a lion in his incarnation as Vakratunda, a peacock in his incarnation as Vikata, and Shesha, the divine serpent, in his incarnation as Vighnaraja.[80] Mohotkata uses a lion, Mayūreśvara uses a peacock, Dhumraketu uses a horse, and Gajanana uses a mouse, in the four incarnations of Ganeshalisted in the Ganesha Purana. Jain depictions of Ganesha show his vahana variously as a mouse, elephant, tortoise, ram, or peacock.[81]

Ganesha is often shown riding on or attended by a mouse, shrew or rat.[82] Martin-Dubost says that the rat began to appear as the principal vehicle in sculptures of Ganesha in central and western India during the 7th century; the rat was always placed close to his feet.[83] The mouse as a mount first appears in written sources in the Matsya Purana and later in the Brahmananda Purana and Ganesha Purana, where Ganesha uses it as his vehicle in his last incarnation.[84] The Ganapati Atharvashirsa includes a meditation verse on Ganesha that describes the mouse appearing on his flag.[85] The names Mūṣakavāhana (mouse-mount) and Ākhuketana (rat-banner) appear in the Ganesha Sahasranama.[86]

The mouse is interpreted in several ways. According to Grimes, “Many, if not most of those who interpret Gaṇapati‘s mouse, do so negatively; it symbolizes tamoguṇa as well as desire”.[87] Along these lines, Michael Wilcockson says it symbolises those who wish to overcome desires and be less selfish.[88] Krishan notes that the rat is destructive and a menace to crops. The Sanskrit word mūṣaka (mouse) is derived from the root mūṣ (stealing, robbing). It was essential to subdue the rat as a destructive pest, a type of vighna (impediment) that needed to be overcome. According to this theory, showing Ganesha as master of the rat demonstrates his function as Vigneshvara (Lord of Obstacles) and gives evidence of his possible role as a folk grāma-devatā (village deity) who later rose to greater prominence.[89] Martin-Dubost notes a view that the rat is a symbol suggesting that Ganesha, like the rat, penetrates even the most secret places.[90]

Heramba-Ganesha with consort, 18th century Nepal

Ganesha is Vighneshvara (Vighnaraja, MarathiVighnaharta), the Lord of Obstacles, both of a material and spiritual order.[91] He is popularly worshipped as a remover of obstacles, though traditionally he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked. Hence, he is often worshipped by the people before they begin anything new.[92] Paul Courtright says that Ganesha’s dharma and his raison d’être is to create and remove obstacles.[93]

Krishan notes that some of Ganesha’s names reflect shadings of multiple roles that have evolved over time.[29] Dhavalikar ascribes the quick ascension of Ganesha in the Hindu pantheon, and the emergence of the Ganapatyas, to this shift in emphasis from vighnakartā (obstacle-creator) to vighnahartā (obstacle-averter).[94] However, both functions continue to be vital to his character.[95]

Ganesha is considered to be the Lord of letters and learning.[96] In Sanskrit, the word buddhi is a feminine noun that is variously translated as intelligence, wisdom, or intellect.[97] The concept of buddhi is closely associated with the personality of Ganesha, especially in the Puranic period, when many stories stress his cleverness and love of intelligence. One of Ganesha’s names in the Ganesha Purana and the Ganesha Sahasranama is Buddhipriya.[98] This name also appears in a list of 21 names at the end of the Ganesha Sahasranama that Ganesha says are especially important.[99] The word priya can mean “fond of”, and in a marital context it can mean “lover” or “husband”,[100] so the name may mean either “Fond of Intelligence” or “Buddhi’s Husband”.[101]

Ganesha, Chola period, early 13th century.

Ganesha is identified with the Hindu mantra Om, also spelled Aum. The term oṃkārasvarūpa (Om is his form), when identified with Ganesha, refers to the notion that he personifies the primal sound.[102] The Ganapati Atharvashirsa attests to this association. Chinmayananda translates the relevant passage as follows:[103]

Some devotees see similarities between the shape of Ganesha’s body in iconography and the shape of Om in the Devanāgarī and Tamil scripts.[104]

According to Kundalini yoga, Ganesha resides in the first chakra, called Muladhara (mūlādhāra). Mula means “original, main”; adhara means “base, foundation”. The muladhara chakra is the principle on which the manifestation or outward expansion of primordial Divine Force rests.[105] This association is also attested to in the Ganapati Atharvashirsa. Courtright translates this passage as follows: “You continually dwell in the sacral plexus at the base of the spine [mūlādhāra cakra].”[106] Thus, Ganesha has a permanent abode in every being at the Muladhara.[107] Ganesha holds, supports and guides all other chakras, thereby “governing the forces that propel the wheel of life“.[105]

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