Who is Ganesha?
Ganesha, also known as Ganesh, Ganapati and Vinayaka, is a Hindu god with an elephant head and a human body, the son of Shiva and Parvati. He is the god of wisdom, intelligence, prudence, abundance, politics, and new beginnings. He is also a patron of the arts, letters and sciences. Ganesha is one of the most popular gods in Hinduism.
The name Ganesha comes from the Sanskrit win and īśa. Win means 'group', 'crowd' or 'people'; while īśa it is a suffix that means 'lord', 'master' or 'ruler'. Hence, Ganesha means head of the group of semi-divine beings in Shiva's entourage. It also means lord of the people.
Ganesha is credited with the ability to clear the path of obstacles and bring good fortune to the one who does good. Therefore, all Hindu rites and ceremonies, as well as significant negotiations or events, begin by summoning his blessing. Likewise, in all the Temples of India an image of Ganesha is placed on the door as the guardian of the enclosure and protector of the faithful.
Annually the festival of Ganesha is celebrated, called Ganesha chaturthi. The celebration is tied to the lunar calendar. It takes place over ten days between August or September. The festival includes public and private expressions of devotion to Ganesha.
During the Ganesha chaturthi, altars with clay images are prepared in homes and public spaces; concerts, plays and community service activities are held. On the last day, the images are carried in procession to a water source where an immersion ritual is performed, after which the clay images are diluted. This final ceremony is called Ganesha visarjan.
Ganesha symbolism and its meaning
The image of Ganesha is represented in many different ways. This is partly related to the different stories about its origin and meaning. Therefore, although Ganesha's physical characteristics remain almost unchanged, his attributes, posture, and scene frequently change.
Ganesha Physical Characteristics:
Ganesha's physical characteristics include the head of an elephant, the body of a young man with a bulging belly and a single tusk. This last feature deserves Ganesha the name of Ekadanta, which means 'a fang'.
The lord of the Gana is represented with four hands (sometimes two or six) that carry different attributes. One of the hands is extended in blessing.
The meaning of its physical characteristics is as follows:
- Elephant Head: The elephant represents sagacity and wisdom.
- Big ears: signal of attentive listening.
- Pronounced eyes: a sign of concentration to see beyond the obvious.
- Trunk: represents efficiency and adaptability.
- Fang fragment: sometimes, between the fingers of one of his hands, the tip of the broken fang appears. It alludes to the sacrifice Ganesha made by cutting off his tusk and using it as a pen to write the Mahabharata.
- Bulging belly: represents Ganesha's ability to swallow and digest the sufferings of the world in order to protect it and make possible a life of peace.
- Four arms: symbol of the four elements of nature over which it has power.
- Outstretched hand: offers his blessing to those who follow the spiritual path. It may bear an inscription (such as Om) or grasp the tip of the split tusk.
Attributes of Ganesha:
The most popular attributes of Ganesha are the rope, the lotus flower, the ax and the plate with Hindu sweets (laddu). Ganesha can also carry a snail trunk or a golden scepter. Likewise, it may appear accompanied by a rat, which acts as a transport.
The meaning of some of its attributes is as follows:
- Trishula: Shiva's trident that, according to some legends, would have cut off Ganesha's human head. It is a symbol of time (past, present and future), as well as the superiority of Ganesha.
- Ax: tool to cut attachments and destroy obstacles.
- Lotus flower: in oriental culture it is considered a symbol of perfection due to its symmetry and beauty. Likewise, it is a symbol of self-knowledge and inner fulfillment due to its harmony and balance.
- Rope: represents that Ganesha is beyond the control of the gunas (passion, goodness and ignorance), and that he can grant them to whoever he determines. That is why it is believed that the rope helps to approach spiritual goals.
- Sweet (laduu): the laduu It is a Hindu sweet that Ganesha likes very much. It represents the reward or benefits to the devotees for their spiritual actions.
- Rat: represents the desires that must be controlled. This rodent is named Kaiamuhan. Legend has it that it was originally a demon that Ganesha defeated and turned into a rat. Since then, when he does not appear serving him, he uses it as a vehicle.
The Hindu tradition collects more than one version of the story of Ganesha. Therefore, it is not always easy to determine with precision and clarity its origin. The best known version is that of the book Matsya Purana, but the versions of the Brahmavaivarta Purana and from Varaha Purana, among other.
Version of the Matsya Purana
While Shiva spent a season of meditation in the forest, Parvati felt lonely and wished to have a child obedient to her. So, Parvati created Ganesha, and ordered him to protect her from intrusions while taking a bath. When Shiva returned, Ganesha prevented him from entering. Unaware of who it was, Shiva engaged in combat and cut off his head.
Parvati explained that this was her son and he was only following orders to protect her. Realizing the deadly mistake, Shiva wept bitterly. As nothing calmed Parvati's suffering, Shiva sent for a head to revive his son, and the first one found was an elephant's head.
Before resurrecting him, Parvati asked the gods to grant her gifts to her son. His request was heard. And thus, Ganesha received the gifts of all the gods, such as the wisdom of Sarasvati and the abundance of Laksmí. For his part, Parvati gave him a sacred bond and Shiva gave him the lordship of the Ganas, from which it derives its name.
Version of the Brahmavaivarta Purana
Parvati wanted to have a child, so Shiva advised her to perform the rituals in honor of Vishnu, which lasted for several days. Returning, Parvati found in her room a child with the substance of Krishna. Happy for the birth, the other gods went to meet the child, but Sani (planet Saturn) did not dare to look at him, because his wife had cursed him, promising that everything he saw would be destroyed.
Incredulous, Parvati persuaded Sani that nothing would happen. But when he saw it, Sani separated the head from the body of Ganesha, which flew to the sky and rejoined the substance of Krishna, leaving the body lifeless. In dismay, Vishnu descended into the Pushpabhadra River, and encountered an elephant. He cut off his head and brought it to Parvati. Ganesha was resurrected and Shiva appointed him the head of the Gana.
Version of the Varaha Purana
The version of the Varaha Purana He says that the immortal and wise beings were worried because evil was practiced without any obstacle, so they asked Shiva for advice. As he listened to them, he gazed at Parvati and there was a glow on Shiva's face from which a bright young man of captivating beauty was generated.
Jealous, Uma cursed him with an elephant head and a big belly. Faced with this curse, Shiva went to his son and made him head of the Gana, giving him his name. Likewise, he declared that success would come from him for those who did good and failure for those who did evil, and promised that he would be worshiped first than the other gods.
Ganesha's Broken Fang
There is more than one story to explain how the son of Shiva and Parvati lost one of his tusks. According to one of the accounts, Vyasa asked Ganesha to write under his dictation a Hindu epic poem called Mahabharata. He also made it a condition for him not to move forward in copying the verses until he truly understood them.
While Ganesha was writing, his pen failed. In order not to interrupt the effort, Ganesha sacrificed his tusk and used it as a feather. Since then, he is considered a protector of understanding and letters.
Another account tells that Parasurama (an avatar of Vishnu) went to visit his master Shiva while he was sleeping, but Ganesha was guarding the door. Ganesha and Parasurama clashed, and Parasurama threw his ax at him. As soon as Ganesha recognized that the ax belonged to Shiva, he humbly allowed it to run its course and cut off his tusk.
Parvati wanted to curse Parasurama, but Krishna dissuaded her, as Brahma's promise to Parvati had been that her son would be worshiped before the other gods.
A third story tells that Ganesha had to face the demon Kaiamuhan, who had taken the path of evil after receiving the blessing of immortality. As the blessing prevented Kaiamuhan from being injured by the weapons of war, Ganesha sacrificed his tusk, threw it at the demon, defeated him, and turned him into a rat. Since then, the rat is his servant and his vehicle.
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