ord Ganesha, also known as Vinayaka (the prominent leader), is the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, literature and worldly success. He is thought to derive from an animistic deity, possibly a Dravidian (aboriginal) sun god. Lord Ganesha is a propitious god, promising success, prosperity, and peace and is invoked before any sort of enterprise. It is his responsibility to decide between success and failure, to remove obstacles or create them as necessary. His pot-belly symbolizes a pitcher full of prosperity, a sort of abdominal cornucopia.
Lord Ganesha has many names. The main ones are Ganapati (Lord of the tribe or attendants), Vighnesvara (controller of all obstacles), Gajanana (elephant-faced), Gajadhipati (Lord of elephants), Lambkarn (long-eared), Lambodar (pendant-bellied) and Ekadant (having one tusk).
Lord Ganesha is said to have been the son of Parvati and Shiva. His task in life was to guard his mother and once while doing so he foolishly failed to recognize Shiva himself who had come seeking his consort. Trying to defend his mother’s bath, Lord Ganesha was beheaded by Shiva who later was persuaded by Parvati to revive him. He promised Lord Ganesha that he should have the head of the first creature who happened along. An elephant, the wisest of animals, appeared and became the involuntary donor in the first successful head transplant in history.
Lord Ganesha was a glutton. One evening, having stuffed himself to capacity, he decided to take a postprandial ride on his favored mount, Mooshika, a rat or shrew. Along the moonlit road they chanced upon a large snake and the startled rat bolted, throwing the gross god. Lord Ganesha fell heavily; he hit the ground so hard that his stomach burst open. Gathering up the remains of his self-esteem, his ample guts and the snake, Lord Ganesha wittily used the reptile as a belt and tied himself up together again. Howls of derision shattered the peaceful scene; it was the moon who had witnessed the whole incident with great relish. Lord Ganesha lost his temper and angrily looked about for something to throw at his tormentor. Finding nothing suitable, he ripped off one of his own tusks and hurled it at the moon. He added a vindictive curse that every so often the moon would lose its power of giving light.
Another explanation of his missing tusk is that he plucked it out in his enthusiasm to write down the Mahabharata, the Hindu religious epic, at the dictation of sage Vyasa. He was after all the Hindu god of learning and the patron of letters. Would that all in the literary world were as kind, gentle and well-meaning as Lord Ganesha.
Lord Ganesha is depicted with having four arms. These symbolize him as the universal ruler establishing four categories of beings — firstly those who can live only in water, secondly those who can live in water and earth, thirdly those who can live only on earth and lastly those who can fly in the air. Moreover it is also Lord Ganesha who instituted the four castes and four Vedas. One hymn in Sri Bhagavat Tathva, an ancient scripture, says:
“In heaven this child will establish the predominance of gods, on earth that of men, in the nether world that of the anti-gods and serpents. He causes the four principles of the elements to move and is therefore four-armed. In one hand he is shown to have a shell, in another a discus, in the third a club or a sweet cake and in the fourth a water lily.”
The vehicle of Lord Ganesha is a mouse. As rats generally succeed in gnawing their way through every obstruction, the rat symbolizes this god’s ability to destroy every obstacle. Being an elephant he passes through the thickest of wild growth in a forest, uproots and tears to smithereens the thickest trees hindering his path and fells out whatever comes in his way. While drilling holes like a mouse he can also slip through the narrowest of spaces and thickest of the walls. Moreover, the mouse is deemed to be the master of inside everything. The all-pervading Atman (soul) is the mouse that lives in the hole called Intellect, within the heart of every being. It hides itself behind the inscrutable shape of illusion.
The legend about Lord Ganesha having preference over all other gods establishes his sharpness of intellect. There was a keen competition among all the gods to gain the first place of worship amongst the laity. It was decided that the god who would return first after traversing the whole universe shall be declared the winner. All gods and goddesses ran on their fast vehicles. Lord Ganesh with his pot-bellied body and mouse’s vehicle could never hope to compete. He took a round of his parents, Shiva and Parvati, and just sat there at the starting point. He was declared the winner because one who goes round his parents and touches their feet traverses the whole universe. Since then Lord Ganesha is always worshiped first and every other god takes a back seat. Another legend says that when Parvati saw an elephant’s head being fixed on her son’s body, she burst into tears and could not be soothed. To pacify her Brahma announced that among the worship of all the gods, that of Lord Ganesha should forever bear the first preference.
Lord Ganesha has two wives, one named Siddhi (Success) and the other named Riddhi (Prosperity). Of course one who pleases the Lord automatically comes into the good books of his two wives!
As the Lord of Obstacles and the personification of those qualities which surmount all difficulties, Lord Ganesha is often honored at the outset of any project or test and consequently has become particularly popular with modern businessmen and students. He is the typical lord of success in life and its accompaniments of good living, prosperity and peace. In all ceremonies (except funeral rites) Lord Ganesha is first invoked. He is revered by most Hindus, whether followers of Shiva or Vishnu.
Lord Ganesha represents the unity of the Small Being, the man, with the Great Being, the elephant. It is the blending of the microcosm with macrocosm, of drop of water with the ocean and of individual soul with divinity.