Ganesa is the Hindu god of wisdom and art in hindu mythology. He is a benign deity generally assumed to offer help when invoked to overcome difficulties.
He is depicted in human form with an elephant’s head, or less frequently with up to five heads, and a trunk, which removes obstacles, sometimes bearing one tusk on a stout and obese body that contains the universe.
His four arms can carry many attributes particularly a shell, a discus, a mace, and a water lily. His sacred animal is the bandicoot. He is invoked before going on a journey, moving a house, or opening a new business.
According to one legend his elephant head was acquired after his mother put him outside of the house to guard the doorstep while she took a bath. He bared the way of his father whereupon Shiva inadvertently decapitated him.
His mother vowed to secure a head for him from the first passing creature, which happened to be an elephant.
Another account suggests that when Parvati took Ganesa to show him off to the gods, Sani (Saturn) burned his head with ashes and the compassionate Vishnu provided the elephant head to save his life.
The popularity of Ganesha results from his frequent appearance in temples of other Hindu deities. His sculptures are sometimes painted red.
Because of his gentle nature he is also a common household guardian. He is mentioned in late Mahabharata revisions and the Brihaddharma-Purana and other texts. A.G.H.
Ganesha mythology and attributes
Ganesha, also spelled as Ganesa, is one of the most beloved and widely revered deities in Hinduism. Known as the god of wisdom, intelligence, and learning, as well as the remover of obstacles, its unique iconography and mythological stories hold great significance in Hindu culture.
Origins and Family
- Son of Shiva and Parvati: Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva, the destroyer and regenerator, and Goddess Parvati, the goddess of fertility, love, and devotion.
- Creation by Parvati: According to one legend, Parvati created Ganesha from the flakes of her skin to guard her while she bathed.
- Elephant Head: Ganesha is instantly recognizable by his elephant head, which is rich in symbolic meaning.
- Human Form with Elephant Features: He is typically depicted in human form with an elephant’s head and trunk. The trunk is believed to remove obstacles, embodying Ganesha’s role as Vighnaharta (remover of obstacles).
- Single Tusk: He often has one tusk, with the other broken off, symbolizing his role in writing the Mahabharata.
- Obese Body: His stout body symbolizes the bounty of nature and often contains cosmic elements, signifying the universe.
- Four Arms: In his four-armed form, Ganesha carries various objects like a shell, a discus, a mace, and a water lily, each symbolizing different spiritual concepts.
- Bandicoot Rat: The bandicoot or mouse is Ganesha’s vahana (vehicle), symbolizing humility and the ability to penetrate even the most difficult of places.
Role and Worship
- Remover of Obstacles: Ganesha is invoked before the beginning of any endeavor, such as journeys, moving houses, or starting new businesses, for his blessings to remove potential obstacles.
- God of Wisdom and Learning: He is associated with wisdom, intelligence, and learning, making him a favorite deity among students and scholars.
- Acquisition of Elephant Head: One popular legend narrates how Ganesha got his elephant head. In one version, Shiva, not recognizing his own son, decapitates him and later replaces his head with that of the first creature he finds, which is an elephant. Another account involves the gaze of Sani (Saturn) burning his head, and Vishnu providing an elephant head to save him.
- Scribe of the Mahabharata: Ganesha is said to have transcribed the epic Mahabharata as dictated by sage Vyasa.
- Popularity: Ganesha’s popularity extends beyond religious boundaries, often depicted in the temples of other Hindu deities and as a common household guardian.
- Representation in Art: His images and sculptures are found in various artistic forms, sometimes painted red, symbolizing the earth and nature.
- Mention in Scriptures: Ganesha is mentioned in late revisions of the Mahabharata, the Brihaddharma Purana, and other texts, highlighting his importance in Hindu mythology and religious practice.
Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, p. 86