Earlier this year in March, a baby girl born in a village in Aligarh in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh attracted flocks of worshippers yearning to catch a quick glimpse of the girl and make their offerings. What is so special about this girl? She was born with a trunk-like protrusion between her eyes, obscuring her nose. Doctors state that it was most likely due to gene mutation triggered by malnutrition and high pollution levels. However, villagers believed that she is an incarnation of the elephant god Lord Ganesha, one of the well-known deities in Hinduism, as the protrusion looked similar to Lord Ganesha’s trunk.
Figure 1: Girl worshipped as reincarnation of Lord Ganesha
Hinduism is often labelled as a religion of 330 million gods. Each God and Goddess is symbolic as they offer an aspect of a principle. The entire array of deities is needed to complete the picture of God’s manifestations. Therefore, we hope that this post about Lord Ganesha will be able to help you people gain a deeper understanding of Hinduism as a religion in India. There are many interpretations and myths surrounding Lord Ganesha’s birth, form and duty as a deity. Nonetheless, what we will cover is only one of the many interpretations available, and why we chose those interpretations is because we deem them to make the most sense. It is subjective and not the absolute truth.
Figure 2: Lord Ganesha along with his parents, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati
Ganesha was created by Goddess Parvati as a guardian for her privacy. Ganesha was the son of Lord Shiva (Hindu God of Destruction) and Goddess Parvati (Goddess of Love and Devotion). In order to have a bath privately, Goddess Parvati ordered Nandi (Lord Shiva’s Bull) to guard the door and allow no one to pass. However, when Lord Shiva returned, Nandi allowed him to enter due to his loyalty. Angered, Goddess Parvati created Ganesha by breathing life into sandalwood paste used for bathing, declaring Ganesha to be her own loyal son.
Ganesha took up the post of a guardian faithfully, and denied the entry of Lord Shiva when Goddess Parvati was bathing. Lord Shiva, unaware that Ganesha was his son, was furious and fought him, resulting in Ganesha’s head being severed off. Upon seeing her headless son, Goddess Parvati was outraged and threatened to destroy the heavens and the earth. In order to pacify his wife, Lord Shiva sent his gana (followers) to bring back the head of the very first living thing they encounter, facing north. They brought back an elephant head. It was then joined to the body, forming Ganesha. Gana represents followers of Shiva, while isha represents lord. Therefore, Ganesha was appointed as the leader of Shiva’s ganas, worshipped by many.
Significance of Lord Ganesha’s form
Just like most Deity stories, the body of deities has a significant role or symbol to play in human’s society, especially the body of Lord Ganesha. I will discuss the significance of Lord Ganesha’s form according to the body arrangements.
Firstly, we have to start from the head of Lord Ganesha. Its unique elephant head gave it a distinct feature of Lord Ganesha. Elephant represent wisdom and knowledge. Therefore embracing Lord Ganesha with such elephant qualities. His trunk and his head is shaped into an Om, which is one of Hinduism’s most sacred symbols. It represents the primeval sound of creation and also the most powerful mantra in prayer and meditation.
His human body signifies the earthly existence of human being. The belly of Lord Ganesha represents generosity and total acceptance, where we are supposed to digest either good or bad experiences. Lord ganesha’s has four arms that each arm would hold an object that symbolizes a significant teaching. Lord ganesha’s right hand holds a hook or Ankusa and the left hand holds a noose or Paasa. These 2 tools are used to tame elephants and Lord Ganesha’s mind is of an wild elephant. With these two tools, he is able to calm and allow the mind to concentrate, contemplate and meditate. Another arm would holds a dish of sweetmeats which imply the sweet gains reaped by practicing good deeds. As Bhagavad Gita makes it clear that a person should always focus on the karma and not the fruits of it, Ganesha is never shown enjoying the dessert he holds in his hands, thereby making it clear that he is not attached to the outcome of his good deeds. His last arm is always seen in an blessing post which means an ideal person would wish for societal well being.
Role as a deity
Lord of Learning and Knowledge
Figure 4: Lord Ganesha writing Mahabharata with Vyasa
In many images, Ganesha is depicted as one-tusked. It is believed that one missing tusk was used to write the epic of Mahabharata while Vyasa recite it. Mahabharata has been seen as one of the two pillars that create the Hindu culture of India today. With such an accomplishment and importance of his role in Mahabharata, Ganesha is revered to as the lord of learning and knowledge.
Ganesha has many names, one of them is Vighnaharta, meaning "remover of obstacles". Although many pray to him to remove obstacles, Ganesha is also believed to be the one who create the obstacles (Vighnakarta). Why? One tusk also symbolizes showing a single way to God, giving Ganesha the nickname of Ekadanta. In addition, another name of his is Vakratunda, meaning "he who straighten the crooked". Vakratunda, Vignakarta and Ekadanta together are interpreted as Ganesha putting obstacles to straighten the crooked behavior and ideas of humans and therefore showing the right path to God.
Lord Ganesha’s importance is so prominent that many people worship him, albeit in different ways. Ganesh Chaturthi is a celebration of Ganesha’s birthday; the main event include immersing a new Ganesha statue in water, symbolizing Ganesha washing away your troubles. Some students who believe in the role of Ganesha would also chant Ganesha’s mantra to ask Ganesha to help them in their studies and obtain good scores in school. Although the interpretations of Ganesha changes and developed throughout generations, Lord Ganesha still place an important part in Hindu society today.