Ganesha is the elephant-headed God that is beloved by nearly all Hindus. Regardless of sect, branch, region, or family, it would be rare to find a Hindu who didn’t have a Ganesh murti or some type of Ganesh symbol.
Why Worship Ganesha* Stories * Symbolism * Holidays * How He Is Worshiped * Mantras and Bhajans
Why Worship Ganesha?
Ganesha is known as the remover of obstacles (Vighneshwara). He is the one to pray to before starting any new endeavor. Often he is also honored first before starting any other form of worship. He also protects homes and cars. It’s not unusual for people to place a Ganesh statue or medallion on the front dash of their cars. Ganesha is also associated with learning and study. It is he who transcribes the Mahabharata while the poet Vyasa recites it.
There are a few different stories of Ganesha’s birth, but the most well known one is that Shiva’s wife Parvati wanted to take a bath while Shiva was away but there was no one to guard the door. So she formed a little boy from clay and breathed life into him. She instructed him not to let anyone in while she bathed.
A little while later Shiva returned and was furious that the boy at the door would not let him in to see his wife. In his rage, he cut off the boy’s head. Parvati came rushing out and was horrified by what Shiva had done. She told him that this was their son.
Full of remorse, Shiva hurried to find a replacement head and a young elephant was the first creature he came across. So he took the elephant’s head to restore Ganesha and brought him back to life.
Circling the World
Some people say that this is the reason that Ganesha is worshiped first in any undertaking. Some were curious to know which of Shiva and Parvati’s two sons was the wiser and so a contest was set up. (Other possible reasons: to get a fruit, to establish who was elder). The two boys were asked to circle the world as quickly as possible and the fastest would be the winner.
Kartikeya was much more athletic than Ganesha, with the large belly and elephant head. Kartikeya (also called Murugan) took off swiftly, but Ganesha did not follow. Instead, he circled his two parents. Asked why, he said that his parents were the world to him and for such a clever answer, he won the contest.
Ganesha and the Moon
“Ganesha, was once on his way back from a feast, after having had His fill of sweets and delicacies. He was riding His pet mouse, when a snake crosses His path. The mouse is scared of the snake and starts trembling all over throwing Ganesha off balance, and to the ground. Ganesha gets up and surveys the scene. The moon in the sky looks at this funny scene and starts laughing out aloud and makes fun of the spectacle. After a bit, when the moon wouldn’t stop his jeering, Ganesha gets irritated. He breaks off one of His tusks, and throws it at the moon, leaving a dent on the moon’s surface. He also curses the moon, that he would slowly wane and disappear, and not be visible to anybody. Ganesha also finds and ties the snake that crossed His path on His tummy like a belt. The scared moon now feels ashamed of his behaviour and begs the Lord’s forgiveness, after which the benevolent Lord Ganesha modifies his curse, and says that even though the moon would wane and disappear from sight (as originally cursed), he would also slowly grow back and be visible in his full glory and splendor in the night sky. However, in memory of this incident, the devotees of Ganesha are forbidden from viewing the moon on Shukla Paksha Ganesha Chaturthi day (or rather, night). There is also a story which says that a horrible misunderstanding or some kind of trouble would befall them if they do so on purpose and do not atone/ask forgiveness for it.”
It is sometimes said that the moon in this story represents someone who laughs at the honest attempts of others to gain mastery over the mind and senses.
In some versions of this story, Ganesha trips and falls, breaking his tusk and the moon laughs. This is the reason given why he is drawn with one tusk broken off. Other stories say that he broke off his own tusk in order to write down the Mahabharata. Another story of the tusk is:
“When Parashurama one of Shiva’s favorite disciples, came to visit him, he found Ganesha guarding Shiva’s inner apartments. His father being asleep, Ganesha opposed Parshurama’s entry. Parashurama nevertheless tried to urge his way, and the parties came to blows. Ganesha had at first the advantage, seizing Parashurama in his trunk, and giving him a twirl that left him sick and senseless; on recovering, Rama threw his axe at Ganesha, who recognizing it as his father’s weapon (Shiva having given it to Parashurama) received it with all humility upon one of his tusks, which it immediately severed, and hence Ganesha has but one tusk.”
“One anecdote, taken from the Purana, narrates that the treasurer of Svarga (paradise) and god of wealth, Kubera, went one day to Mount Kailash in order to receive the darshan (vision) of Shiva. Since he was extremely vain, he invited Shiva to a feast in his fabulous city, Alakapuri, so that he could show off to him all of his wealth. Shiva smiled and said to him: ‘I cannot come, but you can invite my son Ganesha. But I warn you that he is a voracious eater.’ Unperturbed, Kubera felt confident that he could satisfy even the most insatiable appetite, like that of Ganesha, with his opulence. He took the little son of Shiva with him into his great city. There, he offered him a ceremonial bath and dressed him in sumptuous clothing. After these initial rites, the great banquet began. While the servants of Kubera were working themselves to the bone in order to bring the portions, the little Ganesha just continued to eat and eat and eat. His appetite did not decrease even after he had devoured the servings which were destined for the other guests. There was not even time to substitute one plate with another because Ganesha had already devoured everything, and with gestures of impatience, continued waiting for more food. Having devoured everything which had been prepared, Ganesha began eating the decorations, the tableware, the furniture, the chandelier. Terrified, Kubera prostrated himself in front of the little omnivorous one and supplicated him to spare him, at least, the rest of the palace.
‘I am hungry. If you don’t give me something else to eat, I will eat you as well!’, he said to Kubera. Desperate, Kubera rushed to mount Kailasa to ask Shiva to remedy the situation. The Lord then gave him a handful of roasted rice, saying that something as simple as a handful of roasted rice would satiate Ganesha, if it were offered with humility and love. Ganesha had swallowed up almost the entire city when Kubera finally arrived and humbly gave him the rice. With that, Ganesha was finally satisfied and calmed.”
Why Lord Ganesha is Worshiped First?
Interesting question, right? Let us explore the answers from different view points.
1. The Vedic Perspective: It all begins with Lord Ganesha!
The Scripture Ganapati Upanishat Says:
Avirbhutancha sristyadau prakriteh purushaat param |
Lord Ganesha appears even before the creation of prakriti(nature) andpurusha(consciousness).
This is a very important mention in our Scriptures that links Lord Ganesha with commencement of any task. He appeared before beginning of important task like creation of the world! This is means he is eternal and presents himself to remove any obstacles during the process of creation.
In India, Lord Ganesha is prayed before starting almost any work. He is worshipedfirst in all rituals in almost all streams of Hinduism, e.g. Shaivaites(Shiva followers), Vaishnavas(devotees of Vishnu), Shakteyas(worshipers of Shridevi) and others.
In fact, Lord Ganesha has become synonymous with the beginning. You can often hear people in India saying – “We will do Shri Ganesha of that work soon”. This means that they are going to begin the work immediately! You may be wondering now: what is the strange nexus between Lord Ganesha and beginning of the work? OK. Let us understand it some more!
2. Popular Perspective: Ruler and Remover of Obstacles
It is described in the Scriptures that Lord Ganesha is the ruler and remover of all obstacles. So, he has another name: Vighneshwara, the lord of obstacles. In his capacity of ruler of obstacles, he is both Vighnakarta (creator of obstacles) andVighnaharta(remover of obstacles).
We always wish to complete our work successfully without any obstacles or hitches. Don’t we? So, we need to worship Lord Ganesha for his blessings right in the beginning of all our works.
3. Tantric Perspective: Lord of Strategic Psychic Chakra – Muladhara
Let us look at another reason from yogic perspective. Just think about it. Anything we do must fall into one of the two categories: material or spiritual.
As we discussed earlier, Lord Ganesha rules muladhara chakra in our psychic body.Muladhara is the interface between material and spiritual worlds. This suggests that Lord Ganesha controls everything in both these worlds. So, his Grace is crucial in the material world(Earth) and beyond(spiritual world).
In other words, he is the giver of material enjoyment on the Earth (bhoga) and liberation (moksha) from endless birth and death cycle. He gives the fruits of all our works or actions whether they are material or spiritual. This is the esoteric reason why we should pray Lord Ganesha, before we start any endeavor and to achieve success without any obstacles.
According to Tantras, during the creation of our body and mind mechanism,Mother Kundalini starts her creation from the top chakra Sahasrara. She finishes her creation process at the bottom most chakra Muladhara and starts sleeping spiritually so that we(or our Individual Self) will be functional in the material world. So, our material life starts from Muladhara chakra, controlled by Lord Ganesha.
In Kundalini yoga, a Realized Master awakens the Mother Kundalini to initiate a worthy disciple to undergo spiritual transformation to experience complete realization by merging with the Universal Self. Therefore, our spiritual journey also begins at Muladhara chakra ruled by Lord Ganesha.
Thus, introduction of ourselves to both material and spiritual worlds first happens at this strategic interface of Muladhara chakra. Lord Ganesha rules this chakra.
By now, we have clearly understood that Lord Ganesha is the ruler of obstacles andmuladhara chakra. If we need to complete any task successfully, we need the Grace of Lord Ganesha in advance. So, he is the important deity to be worshiped firstbefore we begin any work, may it be material or spiritual.
We hope it is crystal clear now! Before we conclude, let us remember to pray Lord Ganesha first, i.e. before we begin any work next time! OK?
Namami tam vinayakam |
The Lord of Success
The son of Shiva and Parvati, Ganesha has an elephantine countenance with a curved trunk and big ears, and a huge pot-bellied body of a human being.
He is the Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. In fact, Ganesha is one of the five prime Hindu deities (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga being the other four) whose idolatry is glorified as the panchayatana puja.
Significance of the Ganesha Form
Ganesha’s head symbolizes the Atman or the soul, which is the ultimate supreme reality of human existence, and his human body signifies Maya or the earthly existence of human beings. The elephant head denotes wisdom and its trunk represents Om, the sound symbol of cosmic reality. In his upper right hand Ganesha holds a goad, which helps him propel mankind forward on the eternal path and remove obstacles from the way. The noose in Ganesha’s left hand is a gentle implement to capture all difficulties.
The broken tusk that Ganesha holds like a pen in his lower right hand is a symbol of sacrifice, which he broke for writing the Mahabharata. The rosary in his other hand suggests that the pursuit of knowledge should be continuous.
The laddoo (sweet) he holds in his trunk indicates that one must discover the sweetness of the Atman. His fan-like ears convey that he is all ears to our petition. The snake that runs round his waist represents energy in all forms. And he is humble enough to ride the lowest of creatures, a mouse.
How Ganesha Got His Head
The story of the birth of this zoomorphic deity, as depicted in the Shiva Purana, goes like this: Once goddess Parvati, while bathing, created a boy out of the dirt of her body and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When Shiva, her husband returned, he was surprised to find a stranger denying him access, and struck off the boy’s head in rage. Parvati broke down in utter grief and to soothe her, Shiva sent out his squad (gana) to fetch the head of any sleeping being who was facing the north. The company found a sleeping elephant and brought back its severed head, which was then attached to the body of the boy. Shiva restored its life and made him the leader (pati) of his troops. Hence his name ‘Ganapati’. Shiva also bestowed a boon that people would worship him and invoke his name before undertaking any venture.
However, there’s another less popular story of his origin, found in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana: Shiva asked Parvati to observe the punyaka vrata for a year to appease Vishnu in order to have a son. When a son was born to her, all the gods and goddesses assembled to rejoice on its birth. Lord Shani, the son of Surya (Sun-God), was also present but he refused to look at the infant. Perturbed at this behaviour, Parvati asked him the reason, and Shani replied that his looking at baby would harm the newborn. However, on Parvati’s insistence when Shani eyed the baby, the child’s head was severed instantly. All the gods started to bemoan, whereupon Vishnu hurried to the bank of river Pushpabhadra and brought back the head of a young elephant, and joined it to the baby’s body, thus reviving it.
Ganesha, the Destroyer of Pride
Ganesha is also the destroyer of vanity, selfishness and pride. He is the personification of material universe in all its various magnificent manifestations. “All Hindus worship Ganesha regardless of their sectarian belief,” says D N Singh in A Study of Hinduism. “He is
I pray that Lord GaneshaMay Lord Ganesha shower his kind Grace on all of us!