The son of Shiva and Parvati, Shree Ganesh, is the God of Good Luck and Auspiciousness and is the Dispeller of problems and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the God of wisdom, wealth, health, celibacy, fertility and happiness. In the panchayatana puja, Ganesh is glorified as one of the five prime Hindu deities (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti and Ganesha) whose worship confers immortality and liberation.
In Dravidian times, Ganesha was worshipped as an elephant, signifying the wisdom and majesty of the universe. The invading Aryans, adopted the Dravidian godling and affirmed their belief in Ganesha. Ganesha made a ceremonial entrane as an Aryan god. ‘The auspicious god’, he would be worshipped at the beginning of all rites, an unbroken tradition that continues to this day.
In myths, the birth of Ganesha is celebrated as a divine twist of fate. The most popular myth brings alive the story about the elephant head. It all began when Parvati, wanted to bathe. She needed privacy and since there was no one at hand, she created a guard with the sweat and oils from her body. She brought the figure of a young man to life and told him to stand guard while she bathed.
When Shiva, her husband returned and strode towards their home, he found his way blocked by an unknown soldier. The soldier blocked Shiva’s entry. Shiva was furious, a duel began. The soldier fought well, but was no match against the might of Shiva, who killed him. Parvati came out and saw the dead body, she demanded he be brought back to life.
Shiva sent his hordes to collect the head of the first living being, who was sleeping with head facing north. The north was associated with wisdom, and was also the direction from which the Aryans had invaded.
Airavat, Indra’s white elephant paid the price for Shiva’s blunder. While Airavat slept facing the north, Shiva’s hordes beheaded him. His elephant head was carried away for the dead body. An incensed Parvati demanded that her child be promoted to the status of a primary god. Shiva and all the other gods knew this was the only way they could placate her and Ganesha took his place before all the gods.
All rituals (samskaras), begin with the worship of Ganesha. His image invokes the universe, his head signifies wisdom and his body is globular, Vishwaroopa. Ganesha represents the majesty of the animal kingdom with his head and his vehicle the mouse shows subjugation of pestilent rats. .
His trunk is twisted into an embodiment of ‘Om’, the syllable that created the world. To combat evil, he carries weapons the discus, trident, sword and shield. A broken tusk is a reminder of his battle with a demon, and the fight with the forces of evil. Yet, the same tusk is used by him in the writing of the epic, the Mahabharata. When Vyasa wanted to compose the Mahabharata, Brahma suggested Ganesha be his scribe. Vyasa agreed and Ganesha brought his broken tusk to writing quill. Vyasa dictated the entire epic in verse. Ganesha recorded every word for Gods and men alike.
He carries a modak (sweet dumpling) in one hand, for his appetite is insatiable, and conscious of his role the other hand shows in the ‘abhaya mudra’(do not fear, I am here to protect).
Another legend, explains Ganesha’s role in changing astronomy. In the month of Shravan/Bhadrapad, after a feast of modaks Ganesha was on his way home. He was riding his mouse, a snake slithered into their path, the mouse tripped and Ganesha took a tumble. His stomach split, and the modaks fell out, Chandra (the moon) was watching and he began to laugh. Ganesha picked up the snake and used it as a belt to hold his stomach together. He looked up, cursed Chandra and banned him from the night skies.
Soon the gods and humankind were dazed glare of the relentless sun. There was no respite of darkness when the moon was banished from the sky. The gods took a delegation to Ganesha and pleaded their case. Ganesha gave in, but made an astronomic condition. The moon would never shine like before. Full moon would be just once a month (earlier every day was a full moon). On other days the Chandra as a reminder of his misdemeanour would wax or wane!
Ganesha straddles the divide between the believers of Shiva and Vishnu. Ganesh idols are worshipped both by Shaivites and Vaishnavites. Ganesha temples are seen in almost every village in India. Chubby and gleeful and elephant headed, Ganesha easily finds his place in the hearts of Gods and people.