Ganesha elephant’s head God
Ganesha has an elephant’s head, four to ten arms, a pot belly, and is usually red or yellow in colour. His vehicle is a rat. In his hands he holds a rope, an axe, a goad, a dish of sweet-balls etc. The fourth hand is in the boon giving position. It is said that with the axe Ganesha cuts off the attachment (to worldly things) of his devotees and with the rope pulls them nearer to the Truth.
A son of Shiva, he is one of the most popular gods and is called ‘the remover of obstacles’. He is worshipped at the start of a ritual or the beginning of a journey. Endowed with a gentle and affectionate nature he is also known as a god of wisdom. His images are found in practically every household and also on the outskirts of villages, as a guardian deity.
He is the Lord of the Brahmacharis (celibates). There are several accounts of Ganesha’s birth. According to one, Parvati, wife of Shiva created him from the scruff of her body to guard her door and when Ganesha refused to admit Shiva, the god cut off his head. On seeing Parvati distressed about this, Shiva promised to replace the head with that of the first living being he would chance upon. This happened to be an elephant. According to another account, Ganesha was conjured out of a piece of cloth by Shiva to produce a son for Parvati. Later Shiva brought about the boy’s death by decapitation, and then in order to placate Parvati, he called on the gods to find him a new head. After much searching they gave him an elephant’s head. The tusk broke when it was cut from the elephant’s body, therefore Ganesha is normally shown with a broken tusk.
The symbolism sometimes alluded to him is that his obesity contains the whole universe, his trunk is bent to remove obstacles and his vehicle the rat can creep through small holes to achieve the same goal i.e. remove obstacles to reach religious ends.
Manifestations of Ganesha
According to the Ganesha Purana, Lord Ganesha had four manifestations.
In the manifestation Mahakota Vinayaka he has ten hands, is riding a lion and is dazzling with brilliance. Shri Mayuresh has six hands, is fair complexioned and is riding a peacock. Shri Gajaanana has four hands, is riding a mouse and is crimson coloured. Shri Dhoomraketu has two hands, has a smoke-coloured complexion and is riding a horse.
Another group of eight incarnations are:
(1) Vakratunda, riding a lion.
(5) Lambodara, all riding on a mouse
(6) Vikata, on a peacock
(7) Vighnaraja, riding on the serpent Sesha
(8) Dhoomra Varna, like Shiva.
Apart from the above, Ganesha has thirty-two other manifestations. Popular amongst them are
Vighnesh (remover of obstacles),
Ekadanta (the one-toothed one),
Modakpriya (one who loves sweets),
Ganapati (head of the semi-divine Ganas).
The most fearsome incarnation of Ganesha is that of Vinayaka, who is said to bring about catastrophe, madness and misfortune if he is displeased.
Ganesh-chaturthi (August-September) is observed all over India, particularly in Maharashtra state to celebrate the birth of Ganesha. A clay idol of Ganesha, sometimes eight metres high, is brought in the house, worshipped for two to ten days and then taken out in a procession and immersed in the sea or a lake. Coconuts and sweetened flour-balls are offered to him. Devotees are advised not to look at the moon on this day as it had behaved unbecomingly towards Ganesha once. The moral interpretation of this symbolism is that one should avoid contact with people who have no faith in God and religion.